Hackathons — Driving Innovation

By Charles Bai

The idea of an internal hackathon began in January, when our CTO mentioned how a hackathon could help boost company culture and push TribalScale’s innovative boundaries, particularly within the IoT and Emerging Technology fields. This idea definitely interested me and I immediately jumped at the opportunity to organize this event.

As an organization that preaches the endless possibilities of IoT and a connected ecosystem, we decided to create a theme that would focus on further connecting our office space. We would create solutions that utilize connected devices(beacons, Amazon Echo, and Mobile devices) that would solve real world problems that our employees face daily.

At that time, we were 15 employees. Three months later, having grown to 30 people, the event looked very different from our initial vision. With more employees and the spirit of competition, our format was born. Four of our founders, Emir, Josh, JB, and Mitch, would be pit against one another, each leading a team in a challenge to be known as Hack-the-Office. Once our employees got wind of the challenge at hand, the turnout was far better than we could have imagined.

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The event went off without a hitch. Engineers, Product folks, and Designers alike gathered to create connected solutions. Friends and family were in and out of the office, offering helpful advice to shape the environments that would better our work lives. We could never have imagined the innovation that would come from this 30 hour sprint.

On Monday, we reconvened for a regular work week, with blurry eyes and coffee en masse. The long awaited unveiling of the products from our labour came at lunch that day. Demos were underway with three of our leaders taking the judges’ seats. The first to be unveiled was Mitch’s team’s creation of the Chuck Bot, a hilarious Slack-integrated bot that would remind the users of blocked tasks on Pivotal Tracker using Chuck Norris references. Emir’s team followed with the ‘Smart Meeting Room’. Utilizing beacon technology, people would be checked into rooms, and important web pages, like GMail, Pivotal Tracker, and Slack would automatically be opened and logged into. The hack was integratable with Android watches as an additional user interface, a great added touch.

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Josh’s team created a hack where guests would be able to ping people in the office through a Slack Bot by seamlessly interacting with the Amazon Alexa voice user-interface. Although an awesomely innovative idea, it had its competition. Team JB had a similar concept. The team created an iOS concierge app that delivers messages to people in the office through Slack by utilizing the iOS speech recognition framework, SpeechKit. An iPad is placed at the front door. Upon ringing the doorbell, the guest is greeted by “Botler” the integrated voice user interface. From there, the guest tells Botler their name and who they are meeting with. Botler notifies the employee and asks the guest to take a seat. It was a tight competition, but ultimately the elegant UX and simple-to-use UI of team JB’s hack proved to be the winning factor.

This is the kind of innovation that can only be fuelled by sleepless nights, Red Bull mornings, and healthy competition. Our next foray into the hackathon world will be open to the public. We’ve learned a lot from our internal hack and we’re looking forward to building a community of innovation.

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