Earlier today, I wrote that I was hacking on a project and didn't have a lot of time to write. Now I've got a bit of time to tell the rest of the story.

Today was our first annual Hack Day in the Search and Marketplace Group (SMG). Inspired by the hackathons run at companies like JotSpot, today was dedicated to hacking.

The Plan

Organized by Chad and supported by the rest of us on the Technology Development team, the plan was simple: give people a whole day to hack on prototypes, pet projects, ideas, learning a new tool, etc. Make sure there's ample food and drink available: coffee and snacks in the morning. Pizza, beer, and caffeinated drinks for lunch. Then more beer, snacks, and finger foods for dinner. At 5pm we'd gather in a conference room to let anyone demo what they'd done with their day.

A fair amount of planning and speculation went into the day, and we really didn't know what to expect. How many people would participate? How many would finish hacks by the end of the day? Would it be worthwhile?

The Day

Cameron and Jeremy Hack
Originally uploaded by caterina.

Not to be left out, I managed to recruit Cameron Marlow and Caterina Fake to help build the hack I'd been threatening to work on. (The picture in included for those of you who like to pick on me for spending less time coding than I used to.) I worked on the back-end piece in Perl, interfacing with some of our public APIs (and one not-yet-launched API). Caterina designed an attractive user interface. Cameron hacked on some Perl, PHP, and Greasemonkey code so that the front-end and back-end could meet in the middle. We started around 9:30am.

By 3:30pm, it had become apparent that we bit off more than we could chew. The del.icio.us announcement and related coverage made it difficult to focus at times earlier in the day. So we had to scale back our ambitions a bit and focus on building just enough to demonstrate at the end of the day.

At 5:05pm things weren't quite working yet. I had a bug in my server that meant it crashed after serving every request, so I had to restart it. It would serve the right data, but you could only get one call to it between restarts. Grr! (Amusing trivia: I ended up re-using some of my old server code written over 4 years ago and still in the Yahoo! Finance CVS tree.)


Cameron and I headed over the training room #3 to watch others show off their hacks and see if we could get ours in a workable state. I was shocked to see that the room was packed full of people. I mean "standing room only" full. There was a very real sense of excitement and anxiety in the room--the kind that comes with showing something to a crowd for the first time. :-)

SMG Hack Day
Originally uploaded by caterina.

We brought some food upstairs (thanks, Tara!) and everyone attacked the snacks and beer while the lightning style demonstrations began. I settled in to watch for a while and was impressed with what I saw. There was quite a backlog of people waiting to demo. It was a far larger group that I expected we'd have.

After an hour of watching (and eating), I sat down next to Cameron, popped my notebook open, and tried to focus some of my attention on tracking down the last few bugs in my piece of our hack.

The Result

Around 7pm, Chad made a "last call" for people to get their names on the whiteboard and get in line to demo. By a stroke of luck, I managed to find and fix the last two bugs I had roughly five minutes before the night was over. So we hopped into the end of the line and gave our brief demo when the time came.

It was a blast!

Everyone had a great time. The folks who hacked got the feeling that only comes from racing against the clock to get a prototype built and then showing it to a room crowded full of you peers-the same ones who applaud and cheer when you finish the demo. Those who dropped in to see what we'd done with our Friday easily got swept up in the fun and excitement of seeing all these great ideas up on the big screen.

I'm sure this will be the first of many Hack Days to come...

All in all, today was a good day.

See Also

Posted by jzawodn at December 09, 2005 10:13 PM

Reader Comments
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Hey, man... We're just Old School 'round here.

on December 9, 2005 11:05 PM
# Aaron Brazell said:

I was thinking more along the lines of Ruby on Rails with SVN. Yeah, probably a bit too much for the 'Gans to bite off with such limited time.

Sounds like fun, man. Too bad more companies didn't take the time to let employees shine.

on December 9, 2005 11:52 PM
# jim winstead said:

ship it!

on December 10, 2005 07:22 AM
# Bill said:

Dig the IBM Model M in the picture, Jeremy. My cubemates *love* mine... :-)

Sounds like a fun day!

on December 10, 2005 09:21 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

It's the One True Keybaord!

on December 10, 2005 10:53 AM
# Larry Wright said:

I was going to ask if that was a Model M, but someone else beat me to it. So, the next obvious question is, is that Emacs or Vi?

on December 10, 2005 01:43 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Emacs and cperl-mode.

on December 10, 2005 01:52 PM
# Joe Zawodny said:

You can't leave the story unfinished. Give us at least a hint of the hack you were working on or am I just supposed to know what hack you have be threatening to work on. Let me guess - it produces a candle stick chart not of individual stocks, but your entire portfolio? That is not as easy as it sounds since you need to work with at least the 5minute data to do this right. I know that wasn't it, but it was the only way I could ask for that feature.

on December 10, 2005 02:31 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I'm hoping we'll figure out which of the hacks can be made public fairly soon.

Since ours used at least one not-yet-public service, it's probably gonna have a wait a bit.

on December 10, 2005 02:38 PM
# dan isaacs said:

Still using that damn clicky keyboard? No wonder they gave you a corner cube 10 miles from HQ.

on December 10, 2005 07:19 PM
# Ken Norton said:

Hey Jeremy,

This is really great to see. The Hackathons at JotSpot have been amazing and it's impressive to see such a big company get in on the act too!


on December 10, 2005 11:03 PM
# Mike Kruckenberg said:

A cool idea, not just to get some stuff done but to build excitement. And thanks for posting the details, gives others of us some leverage when pushing for giving more flexibility and creativity to developers.

on December 12, 2005 06:49 AM
# Douglas Clifton said:

Nice Pic. Emacs? Bah! ;-)

on December 12, 2005 01:13 PM
# Douglas Clifton said:

Nice pic. Emacs? Bah! ;-)

on December 12, 2005 01:13 PM
# BillyG said:

sounds like ya'll had a blast, wish I was there to see it

fyi: I couldn't comment to the storage story a minute ago "server not found" same problem as in this one? lol j/k

p.s. nightly script for backups to an external HD

on December 14, 2005 03:16 AM
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