Big kudos to Chad Dickerson of the Technology Development Group for organizing Hack Day at Yahoo! Essentially, HackDay was a day for people at Y! to work on whatever pet project they wanted, with free food and an element of competition thrown in to motivate folks. As others have noted, it was a fun experience that really resulted some amazing projects.
For some of us at the Berkeley research lab, it also meant a trip down to the Santa Clara HQ. I assembled a team of four people, and we carpooled down to the SMG offices, where we loaded up on free caffeine and cool “WARNING: Hacking! Do not disturb!” stickers from Chad, and then locked ourselves in a conference room for the next 8 hours to frantically plan and code. Amazingly (especially for a bunch of social media researchers with no hardcore engineers on the team), we emerged at the end with a functional prototype of what we had set out to build. I can’t talk about the specifics of what we worked on yet, but the general idea for my team was something involving implementing features on top of the Flickr API. While I was pleased that my team managed to hit our target, I was absolutely blown away by some of the stuff presented by others. “You did that all today?” was a frequently overheard question.
For management, something like HackDay shows that giving engineers a day of “work on what you want” (with some constraints) can be an amazingly productive endeavor. The presentations ended up going into overtime as there were nearly fifty hacks to be presented.
The Hack Day experience was also a great reminder of how fun working in the Yahoo! environment can be. We had multiple people willing to help us out or point us in the right direction when we hit snafus (One engineer built a custom PHP module for us–over the phone from his house in Indiana–in order to help us out. When we hit a problem with the Flickr API twenty minutes prior to presenting, we just walked down the hall to FlickrHQ and Cal Henderson immediately pointed out the problem in our source code.)
Thanks Chad, for organizing this, and I hope it becomes a frequent occurrence in the future. But as Bradley pointed out, “the next one will go until midnight!”