House of Hack — our yearly hackathon

Visiba Care have always had recurring hackathons. Most of the time they have taken place inside the office or during the pandemic remote. The length of these hackathons have been 1–2 days. From last year we evolved one of these hackathons to what we call House of Hack.

The concept is simple: find a house with enough space for about 30 people and conduct the hackathon in that house. Of course we needed to make sure that there was ample space for the actual hackathon as well as great wifi. After some searching we found a suitable, nay — perfect house. Great wifi, a large hackathon area, individual bedrooms and a large enough kitchen. This years event started Monday afternoon and ended Wednesday (EOB).

Our goals of the hackathon are twofold: competence and fun. The competence part is for each member of our product development department to enrich their competence, perhaps do it in new areas. The fun part is the whole department being out of the office together for two nights and two full days. For those who could not attend it was possible to join the hackathon remotely.

It was mandatory for all participants to, in advance, add what project they were going to work on in a collective document. A couple of days before the hackathon we had a meeting where all suggested projects were presented to all participants. From that presentation everyone was urged to either join in one of the presented projects.

Outside of the hackathon time we organized a couple of non-mandatory activities for fun. Some examples were a Mario Kart tournament, Robo Rally tournament and a tasting of rare and exotic soft drinks.

Our hackathon schedule

Here is our schedule from this year’s house of hack. This year varied somewhat from last year and some details has been removed.

Monday

  • 17:00 — Arrival and unpacking
  • 18:00–19:00 — Dinner, Hamburgers — prepared together
  • 19:00 — Free time, socialize
  • 20:00 — Mario Kart tournament
  • 21:00 — Exotic soft drink tasting

Tuesday

  • 07:00 — Morning walk (or run)
  • 08:00–09:00 — Breakfast
  • 09:00–12:00 — Hackathon part 1
  • 12:00 — Lunch — Sandwich cake (“smörgåstårta”, google it) — purchased
  • 13:00–17:00 — Hackathon part 2
  • 18:00 — Dinner, TexMex/Taco buffet — prepared together
  • 20:00 — Robo Rally tournament

Wednesday

  • 07:00 — Morning walk (or run)
  • 08:00–09:00 — Breakfast
  • 09:00–12:00 — Hackathon part 3
  • CODE FREEZE
  • 12:00 — Lunch — pizza — purchased
  • 13:00 — Presentation projects
  • 15:00 — Award ceremony
  • 15:15 — Wrap up and travel home

Projects

The projects this year were a mix of proof-of-concepts with the product and exploring new techniques. Here are some examples:

Cellula Figma plugin
Cellula is Visiba’s design framework. The purpose of this project was to create a plugin to enable our design framework to easily be applied to designs created in Figma.

Outlook-integration POC
The goal of this proof of concept was to investigate how to subscribe to a Visiba calendar in Microsoft Outlook using iCalendar (ICS). The POC was successful however the limitation of up to 24 hour update on the ICS flow was a huge issue.

Data export POC
As a complement to the normal functionality of reports within Visiba Care we explored the possibility to use our Data Warehouse as a source for exporting anonymized data towards other BI systems using Logic Apps.

canVS
A POC for a game with a shared painting canvas for multiple users to paint on. Described as a multiplayer MS Paint.

Picture viewer and editor in the call
Proof of concept for sharing photos while in a Visiba video call. With these photos the participants can also highlight with a paint brush to aid discussion of the pictures.

Our recipe

The following points are a couple of important things we have identified as key success factors for conducting the House of Hack.

The right venue
The venue is a main point. Preferably a house some distance from a big city to keep everyone together during the event. It’s better to have individual bedrooms, rather than big sleeping rooms for 10+ people. This is so that everyone can have a good night’s sleep, without being interrupted by the participants individual bedtimes — some like to go to sleep early, while other want to stay up late socializing. It is also important to have a good space for the hackathon activities.

Presenting projects in advance
Make sure that all projects are presented before the event starts. This will help participants to decide what project they are interested to work on and with whom. It also gives participants the possibility to better self organize around any work that needs to be done beforehand. You want to minimize the risk of any participant coming to the hackathon not knowing what to do.

Project presentation is mandatory
Make it mandatory for everyone to have a presentation of their project at the end of the event. Even if they do not come up with something finished, they can demo what they achieved so far or what they have discovered or learned from the project. Also encourage that participants put some effort into their presentations using for instance PowerPoint as a complement.

Award ceremony
Do not miss the award ceremony at the end of the event. We had everyone rate each of the presented projects using forms and the top three projects were awarded a prize. The prices should be more fun than expensive. We have a tradition of having different types of rubber ducks as prices.

Make it a recurring event
We believe that you should start a similar series of events as a recurring thing. Once a year for us is sufficient and will be a milestone to look forward to during the rest of the year.

Branding for the event
To elevate the event we supplied every attendee with a custom printed t-shirt with the company logo on the front and the event logo on the back. In the main hackathon area a huge (four by two meters) banner with the logo was hanged on the wall.

Enough snacks and drinks
Make sure that there is a sufficient amount of snacks and drinks so that everyone can have their fill. This also scales very well when you get to thirty people.

Evening activities
Make sure that the activities that are outside of the hackathon part do not take place during the hackathon. It interrupts the flow of the participants and makes them lose focus. Also make sure that you do not have too many activities and that they are not mandatory. For example we aimed for two activities per night, no more.

Hackathon area
Make sure the hackathon area is always available for those who want to hack outside of the suggested schedule.

The food
A good mix between making the food yourselves and buying for example pizzas are the best. Also, do not over complicate the food, no one is there for the food anyway. One of our traditions is to have a TexMex/taco buffet where everyone can request what to include in terms of toppings. And we include everything!

Clear schedule
Communicate the schedule beforehand and make it clear. We communicated the schedule two weeks in advance so that everyone knows what to expect. Also inform the other departments in the company.

Evaluate the event after
Have every participant fill out an evaluation form after the event, look into the results and see what you can improve upon for the next instance.

Final thoughts

The event has always been very appreciated by our participants, it’s a fun and great break from the normal office work. Also the event is relatively affordable since the highest cost is the venue and when you do all the food by yourselves it scales very good cost wise.

We will surely continue the tradition of our yearly house of hack and the evaluation from the participants point in the same direction.

Jonas Carlsson and Kaj Mählqvist

Jonas Carlsson and Kaj Mählqvist
Team leads at Visiba Care

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