By Ted Bardusch, Vice President, Technology and Operations
For the last two years at Marchex, we’ve held an event called Hack Days. This internal hackathon gets the creative juices flowing and helps push us beyond our own self-perceived limitations.
As a career techie, I’ve participated in my fair share of hackathons. Twelve, to be exact. And I’ve found that one of the biggest challenges is not developing the next “Like” button. It’s actually figuring out the optimal length of time a hackathon should be before creativity hits a point of diminishing returns. Is it a 24-hour binge? A 48-hour all nighter? (Anyone past their 20s would say, NO!)
It takes a while to get it right and I think we’ve finally found our sweet spot. Our recent Hack Days in May began on a Monday morning and ended with Friday afternoon demos. No sleep deprivation required. This produced some of the best work I’ve ever seen. AND we even got our winners featured on the evening news.
How did we crack the “time code”? Lots of experimentation.
Late last year, I spoke with our President, Pete Christothoulou, about trying a different approach to Hack Days. It would be held in May, six months from the last hackathon, and for a full week.
That six months in between is key. It allows enough of a “hacklog” (or backlog) to build up. It also gives us enough time to implement a project from a previous hackathon to test it out and see if it holds water.
For any company, holding a hackathon comes with a sacrifice. It means that teams have to table their daily demands. We had two teams decline in May because they had very full plates.
But overall? It’s so worth it. You get to watch ideas come to life that you never would otherwise. We saw everything from an animated map of call sources to an audience-participation-based horse race for keywords coming in live to the ad systems. The intelligent filtering and privacy protection projects were clear favorites.
And we team leaders got to reward that creativity in an equally creative way.
This year, we surprised our winners. I’m talking about roll-off-your-chair-in-the-company-meeting surprise.
One person from each team would get THE BOOTH during our quarterly company meeting.
Yes, THE BOOTH. No, not the Star Trek “agony booth” of the original series’ “Mirror, Mirror” episode.
This was a money booth.
The bills were $5s, but we treated them as $50s and made the awards based on that. Third place got 30 seconds to grab as many bills as possible; second place, 45 seconds; and first place, 60 seconds. The teams won a total of $11,450. (Descriptions of their work are at the bottom)
The coolest part? Marchex matched the winning amounts from each team and donated it different charities of the teams’ choice. It was so cool that Q13 even showed up to film it.
In six months, tune back in to see what we’ve cooked up for the next round!
— Ted Bardusch
Top three teams:
1st place: Further improved data security while making systems more efficient. (Won $3450 in the booth) Team members: Colin Meyer, Brenna Westervelt, Jason Flaks, Ryan O’Rourke; Julia Hsieh
2nd place: Improved our detection of call spammers, reducing the reaction time from minutes to seconds. (Won $2950 in the booth). Team members: Ambrose Sterr, Govind Ramanathan
3rd place: Created a display that shows how many calls our advertisers are getting. It’s nicely formatted with a fun animation. (Won $5,050 in the booth). Team members: Matthew Johnston, Anna Zeitlin, John Paul Wallway and Kevin Chu