CogoBlog

Cogo's First Internal Hackathon

Hackathons are a great way to foster collaboration among your teammates and give people the chance to learn something new. Recently, my team at Minerva Analytics—an early stage vertical at Cogo—decided to hold a hackathon to achieve just that.

There’s a wide range of coding ability on our team. Some of us studied Computer Science in school, some picked up coding skills on their own, and some started learning as part of their on-boarding process when they arrived at Cogo. One of our team’s core values is to try to learn something new every day, so we wanted learning to be the primary focus for this event.

Minerva Analytics team

The Minerva Squad

We also really value teamwork and collaboration. There are 19 of us on the Minerva team. While that may seem small to some, we’re one of the largest teams here at Cogo, which means it’s not always easy to really get to know everyone. With the hackathon, we wanted to give people the opportunity to work and learn with teammates they might not frequently interact with.

Planning & Organizing

We only had about 8-ish hours on a Friday to hold the event. To make sure that we made the most of the available time, we started our planning by using Slack polls to identify topics of interest. Then we surveyed people to assess skill levels and find interest matchups. This gave us crucial information that went a long way in helping to organize a successful event.

Thanks to the responsiveness of my teammates, hackathon teams were organized a few days prior to the event. Teams were chosen based on their preference in the three project focuses we collectively decided were most interesting to us: React, React Native, and Slack bots. We’re big fans of React here, and love extending Slack to help us with our daily tasks, so focusing on those three topics made perfect sense.

Slack + React = Magical Goodness

Slack + React = Magical Goodness

Picking the focus areas ahead of time enabled us to organize targeted workshops in the days leading up to the hackathon. These workshops were essentially guided tours for creating new React/React Native/Slack apps. Each lasted around an hour and was designed to give everyone a good foundation to build on for the hackathon. These went over really well; everyone said they left feeling more prepared to dive into their projects.

The Hack Itself

The day of the event, we hacked like crazy. A few of us, myself included, served as advisors and hopped around from team to team offering advice and assistance with debugging. Keyboards were mashed, heads were scratched, and bugs were slain as everyone furiously worked to get their projects into a working state.

Anyone who’s been to a hackathon knows how hard it is to get a project ready for a demo in such a short period of time. Having only 8 hours made this especially difficult, but everyone managed to come up with something cool to show off. By the time demo presentations began at 5:30, we had:

  • A Slack bot that tracks the number of Cogo snacks you eat and tells you the monetary value of your snack perks;
  • A Slack bot that tells you how much of any given item you could buy with our team’s current monthly revenue;
  • A Slack bot that helps us organize lunch orders from our favorite sandwich shop: Izzy’s (a weekly tradition at Cogo known as Thursdizzy’s);
  • A React app that surveys users after showing them a story that varied based on random AB leg assignment;
  • A React Native app that tracks how long it takes you to close your Github issues and helps you get better at estimating the amount of time a project will take.

Watching demo presentations

Presentation Time

By the time demos were over at 6:30, we were exhausted. The cure for our weariness came in the form of barbeque from our neighbors at The Smoke Shop. It was the perfect bookend to a long day of coding and team building.

Takeaways

The whole event was a resounding success and everyone enjoyed the chance to build something new with teammates they don’t normally work with. I sent out a survey afterwards to get feedback on the event and these were my personal favorite responses:

  • “We got to try new things in a fast pace environment and enhance our team bonding”
  • “More regular hacking hours on [side] projects”
  • “Overall, awesome day”
  • “I think we should do this again”

The hackathon was a lot of effort - not just for me as the organizer but for everyone who participated. But the benefits to our culture were transparent— not just throughout the day, but in the days after. It was energizing to see people excited to learn and experiment with new technologies, and everyone coming together to enable each other’s success helped us grow stronger as a team.

Given the focus on learning and the smaller scale, this hackathon might have looked and felt different than a normal one, but that’s okay! The important thing is to make sure that everyone feels like they got something valuable out of the experience. And as we organize our next hackathon, no matter what the focus is, that’s exactly what we want to happen.