• Posted by Intent Media 31 Mar
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Hack Day: March 2014

One of the best things about working in tech at Intent Media is the fun we all have while working. I’m not just talking about the obviously fun stuff like playing foosball or watching the dogs chase their own shadows. We also seem to have an inordinate amount of fun battling with checkstyle and debugging EMR jobs. I think it’s a great sign for our future how much we all seem to enjoy doing the stuff that is, in fact, our real jobs.

All of this goes double for when we’re really trying to have a bit of fun with things during my favorite regular IM event, Hack Day. We have Hack Days about once every quarter. The goal is to work on something outside what we would normally do. Of course, we’ve had lots of great products come out of Hack Days and make into customers hands. We’ve also had a ton of success with other Hack Day projects that focused on improving our office, our kitchen, and just our experience at work. This latest Hack Day was no exception to our long track record of successful Hack Days with tons of awesome projects. Here’s a recap.

Day 0: Pitches Be Crazy
On Wednesday night of this Hack “Day”, we kicked off with a pitch/brainstorming session. At first, it started off a bit slow, making it look like there weren’t quite as many ideas in the queue as before, but that quickly changed once we got warmed up. We like to continually broaden our technical horizons, and it definitely came out in the range technologies people wanted to play with. We already use bunch of Clojure and Cascalog, but people were itching to find ways to take that further. Others even wanted to bring in Clojure’s arch frenemy, Scala. The range of interesting ideas in mobile was also really cool to see, given that only a small portion of us are normally developing for mobile on a daily basis. The non-technical proposals were also pretty ambitious, albeit with only one mentioning the explicit goal of world domination.

Although the schedule has people officially starting their hacks on Thursday morning, before the end of Wednesday, Mike managed to basically complete his proposed project, getting app to app deeplinking up and running on a phone in what must have been minutes.

Day 1: On Like Donkey Kong
As Thursday morning rolled around, the office quickly filled up with people diving into their hacks. It was pretty clear that a lot of people were very excited about the possibilities of their ideas and wanted to make the most of their time. A random office visitor on Thursday could easily have been confused about the nature of our business, mistaking us for a massively parallel mobile app development studio. Of course, depending on where they wandered, they could have encountered folks trying to hack our engineering hiring process, source brand new pizza boxes, or tune a ukulele. We do value versatility in our team.

As the day turned into night, several teams were still hacking, constructing, and singing away, powered by beer or Red Bull, depending on their preference. My personal favorite snacks were the dates still on the branches, flown in directly from Tunisia.

Day 2: The Demo of Smaug

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Even though some folks were up and hacking all the way into the morning, Friday came around anyway, with just hours left for people to polish their hacks (or just get them running). Fueled by doughnuts, coffee, and panic, people spend the final few hours of the morning getting everything ready to demo. One dev who had already been up all night managed to make it to a doctor’s appointment to find that he was going to have a son and still made it in time to show off some awesome fully functional hacks.

Once “keyboards down” was called, we all met up to rest and enjoy a massive Mexican spread and debate just how dangerous the hot sauce was before the demos. Like a lot of events at IM, the demos were started off with the announcement another awesome sales success. It was a great reminder that all of our fun had been fueled by the success of our business and the satisfaction of our customers.

Our first non-technical hack started us off, with the public debut of “For All Intents and Purposes”, our new Intent Media theme song. It was written and recorded in the short span of Hack Day and was obviously a huge hit.

Diving into our technical hacks, Adrian explored some fascinating pricing research that he summed up well with, “As you can see, we Australians always get screwed.” Following him, Marc showed us how he could give our advertisers superpowers, with a sweet Hulk smash. Double D threw down a bit of monitoring judo, using a tiny bit of Python and Collectd to find some performance numbers in need of a takedown. Following that David was another David, sporting a snappy Michigan tie and an immediately useful app for internal idea collection, built on top of Rails and Mongo.

Representing QA, Michelle walked us through two different projects, both of which were plagued with bugs that she found in external tools. Naturally, she filed those bugs on those tools and still managed to show off how monkey testing using gremlins.js could work for us. Tom followed her with another Javascript project focused on taking even better care of our partners and their customers. Frank demoed his browser extension for travel shopping reminders, and more than a few people asked for immediate access for their personal gain.

Ori knocked more than a few socks off with his two projects. The first was a TeamCity utility for OS X that looked better than the stuff from JetBrains. He topped that with what Kurt called, “what looks like another whole company.” Using Ruby, SendGrid, and Heroku he put together an app to help us painlessly share meeting notes. Andrew also started a bit of a frenzy with his dBeaver replacement, dBieber. “Yes, Justin Bieber plays every time you issue a query.” He also teamed up with Pete to show off a great way to take our hotel pricing data to the next level, automatically bubbling up the best deals.

Our other non-technical hack, led by Lynne, was our first private office. After over 5 years of sitting shoulder to shoulder, the team decided that when Damon returned to the office after some travel, he should find his desk lovingly remodeled into a quaint Italian villa, built out of pizza boxes. Castella D’Amon has more amenities than most Manhattan apartments, including its own phone line, A/C, a wine rack, and a disco ball. Look for it on Airbnb, sometime soon.

Another Tom came up with another project, this one designed to ease the pain of dealing with multiple irritating CRMs. Mike and Mike demoed a beautiful and fully functional iOS app with all sorts of neat features like location autocomplete, app to app deeplinking, and persistent search parameters. Geoff skyped in to show off “a semi-wet Mason jar of dirt”, that turned out to not be a bomb, but in fact an exciting way to connect up our office plants to our monitoring tools.

Amasa tried to solve some of the difficulties of remote testing on iOS and demoed a great and super useful solution. John showed off his substantial engineering chops by using Scala and the Play framework to massively improve the performance of some important partner communications processes. One of the Mikes got back up to talk to our internal chatbot, Bender, whom he had recently wired up to Slack, in the hopes of moving our chatting to a better platform. Camila looked to our international future with a slick solution for ad translation. Bravo! Then, I and my dog summarized a data team project on using ensemble methods to make better, more stable segmentation models.

The last project to demo was a fairly large effort by Ivan, Johnathan, Kurt, Adrian, and Brian. Called the Recruiting Tornado, it was focused on making our engineering hiring process better and more transparent. Using an absolute maelstrom of fun tech, it was built on Clojure, Om, Clojurescript, React, and Datomic. Getting awesome engineers into the company is a huge priority for all of us, and it really showed in the amount of work that went into this demo.

Wrap-Up
This latest Hack Day was a success by any measure, with tons of useful products being put together in a day-ish. The sheer breadth of the projects was really impressive. Moreover, I think a lot of us were tremendously energized to see how much we could accomplish in so little time. Some of that is due to a solid tech stack to build on top of, but I think most of that was due to us having a bunch of great people who get excited about what they do. It was a great time for everyone, and I look forward to doing it all over again next quarter.

Jeff Smith
Data Engineer

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