HG Data

HG Data’s 0th Intl Hack-A-Thon

Note: This post is about work. Yes, contrary to what a lot of people think, I do actually have a job. And, no, not every adventure has to be on a trail, out in nature, or on the road…adventures can happen wherever you are, even at work!

HG Data’s 0th Intl Hack-A-Thon opened with a twist…the twist of a cap coming off a bottle of beer at 8:53 in the morning. The epitome of working hard…or hardly working!
(If my manager is reading this, we were working hard…really hard.)

Chris and Tracy kicking off the 0th Intl Hack-A-Thon right... HG Data
Chris and Tracy kicking off the 0th Intl Hack-A-Thon right…at 8:53 AM.

What is a Hack-A-Thon? Yeah, I asked the same question. Here is the definition from our Vice President of Product Development:

A Hack-A-Thon is where our team of developers work for 48 hours on items that aren’t in the immediate plan, but are important. We’ll be using some of the changes, but more importantly, it’s a time for us to get ahead of some of the backlog items that help us accelerate new items in the future. This is a bit of guided Hack-A-Thon and it is meant to be fun. The engineering team will be here late tonight, or even throughout the night, working on their items (though an all-nighter is not mandatory).

Techies are all nodding their heads…the rest of us still have a blank stare. So what does it actually mean?

Hack-A-Thon Logo

No, our employees were not hacking into computer systems and stealing information, it wasn’t an Anonymous political hacking event, we didn’t take down anyone’s servers (except maybe our own, on accident). And it wasn’t a strategically organized social event for a bunch of introverted nerds (our developers are actually pretty cool, they have NERF battles weekly and I’m keeping an eye out for an awesome NERF weapon myself).

For the rest of us…the 0th Intl Hack-A-Thon was a two day event where all of our technology developers sat in one room busting out projects and trying out new ideas, fueled by Starbucks, Red Bull, Rockstar, donuts and pizza, all while popping TUMs like Flinstones vitamins, staving off the heartburn. The idea was to throw all of our bandwidth at a focused set of projects for 2 straight days and see what happened.

For me, it meant sitting in a room full of nerds (I mean that in the most endearing way possible…they are way smarter than me), doing my own sales calls and marketing projects, and drinking beer (ummm…I love my job…).

Everyone in the company piled into the conference room for the opening ceremonies, aka, Victor explaining what the heck we (they) were doing.

HG Data's 0th Intl Hack-A-Thon Opening Ceremonies
HG Data’s 0th Intl Hack-A-Thon Opening Ceremonies

There were a few ground rules that everyone must follow, simple, but important.

  1. Taylor, be quiet. (Sorry Taylor, Victor actually said that, so I kept it in the report)
  2. You can be loud in the War Room but be respectful in the main office…other departments still need to work, like Chris, you have a lot of stuff to sell today, right? (Crap, how did I make it into the rules?!?)
  3. If you drink, don’t drive. Just sleep in your cubical. Or Chris, just park your house out back. (Really, I’m in the rules twice!? I’m not even in this department!?)

In any event, it sounded a lot better than standing in my cubical all day and I was in! All of the developers had their own spots saved at the War Room tables and I put my name at the end of one of them, planning to hang out for the next 48 hours and attempt to stay out of their way.

First things first. The kickoff meeting ended and our CEO drove us to our Senior Product Engineer’s condo to pick up his vintage PAC-MAN arcade game for the Hack-A-Thon (did I mention that I love my job?).

Intense games of Galaga..
Intense games of Galaga..

The day progressed and pods of developers moved from monitor to monitor doing some sort of coding, creating, breaking, or fixing, I’m not really sure. I brought my laptop into the War Room and started checking off to-do’s for the day. Around lunch the office filled with a delicious aroma when multiple trays of Mexican food arrived. The afternoon started slow, everyone needing a nap from the plethora of calories ingested and digesting.

Not only was it the 0th Intl Hack-A-Thon…it was also the end of the sales month, and the end of the sales quarter. That might not mean much to software developers, but sales professionals can feel the pressure build just by reading those words. While the War Room was full of coding developers, my laptop was maxed out with sales calls, last minute contracts, and product deliveries. At 4:59 PM we submitted one final contract and delivery for the month/quarter and sat on pins and needles. If we hit our numbers for the quarter we would get a kegerator for the office (seriously, who wouldn’t love my job!?).

At 5:01 PM the quarter closed and Taylor Swift music was blasting in the Hack-A-Thon War Room (note, we have no female coders, we’re still not sure whose playlist includes Ms. Swift, Victor?). Luckily, Dave saved the day and changed the song to House of Pain – Jump Around!

My home for the Hack-A-Thon - HG Data
My home for the Hack-A-Thon

Some of the office employees started to leave for home. The Hack-A-Thon crew dispersed a bit too, but several team members stuck around to eat leftover Mexican food and continue developing, or whatever they were doing. I cracked open another brew and continued working as well. Eventually I was ready for sleep, and with nowhere else to go, I laid out my “bed” in my cubical and guarded the office for the night.

The next morning the War Room was buzzing early (well…not too early, our developer team shows up around 9:00 AM…I’m typically 3 cups of coffee in by then). The team continued working on projects and I posted up in the corner and made sales calls and worked on marketing projects. Lunch was provided again (Chinese food this time) and Victor treated the company with homemade pies to celebrate the 4 year anniversary of HG Data.

Eight members of the Noza team founded HG Data and 4 years later the company was hosting a Hack-A-Thon, preparing to move to a bigger office, and up to 44 employees. Craig and several of the founders shared a few words, everyone celebrated with pie, and then it was back to work.

Day two, and the Hack-A-Thon drew to an end. I watched as the group of engineers shut down computers, packed away laptops, and started leaving the office. Had we accomplished anything? I’m sure that we had, but I have no idea what it was. What did I learn?  I’m pretty sure that when our engineers see the intro to the Matrix movies they probably understand what all those numbers mean. I still have no idea what they were doing, but once it’s ready, I’ll try to sell it!

Impromptu Push-Up Competition a the Hack-A-Thon - HG Data
Impromptu Push-Up Competition a the Hack-A-Thon

A few team members stayed late again, cleaned up, ate leftovers, and shared a few brews. Eventually I took up my post again, sleeping under my desk and guarding the office. I’d never been part of a Hack-A-Thon before, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be invited to be part of one again (I tried to stay out of the way!).  I had fun, learned a bit about software development, and generally enjoyed hanging out with my friends in the office.

I also learned that in a real Hack-A-Thon the entire company is invited. It is really for anyone in the company that has a new idea to team up with the developer of their choice and try to make that idea a reality. For our next Hack-A-Thon I wonder if I can talk one of our developers (Peter?) into helping me build an app to make our future kegerator totally automated and have my beer perfectly poured and ready before I get there from my desk (you know…cause I love my job…).

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