You may remember that mabl hosted our first-ever hackathon in April this year. It was somewhat rushed, as it was a spontaneous response to “Quarantine 2020” meant to support our team as we transitioned to fully remote work. In the end, we had a lot of fun, presented some exciting new ideas, and collected feedback in anticipation of making our next hackathon even better. 

At the time we didn’t realize how important the second event would be. After six months of social distancing, mablers - like the rest of the world - miss the day-to-day interactions that made daily life more interesting. While Slack and Zoom have made the transition easier, no one thinks they’re enough to replace the energy of being together in the office. One of the main objectives of this latest hackathon was to help revive that energy as we head into 2021. 

Based on our April hackathon, we made a few changes: 

  • Double the fun: Our first hackathon was only one day. At the time, many teams found that the time passed too quickly - especially considering that they needed to prepare a presentation. To showcase their creativity and talent, we dedicated two full days to our November hackathon. Most team members thought it was the right duration (although, unsurprisingly, a handful wanted more time).

  • Engage the entire mabl community from start to finish: We were lucky to have an amazing and diverse group of judges for the hackathon, including a couple who hadn’t judged an event like this before. We took several steps to make the process as smooth and efficient as possible for them:
    • Invite judges to (optionally) attend the hackathon kick-off. This gives them context on the tone of the event, rules, expectations, etc.
    • Sync with the judges right before the final presentations. We just had them arrive 15 minutes early for a quick AV check and to review expectations.
    • Provide a mechanism to capture notes. The teams were eager for feedback. We created a simple form in surveymonkey (one questionnaire per team) so that judges could capture impressions in real time and we could share the raw feedback with the teams.

Demo Day

Hackathon 2.0 featured seven teams, with one to four members each. The teams had two days to prepare a project and a ten minute presentation that would be presented to the rest of the mabl team and our panel of judges. 

The judges were given scorecards to rank each team on technical achievement, business value, quality (always a priority at mabl), presentation, and creativity. 

As usual, I was amazed by the creativity and ingenuity of the mabl team. Several hackathon projects resulted in valuable enhancements to our product that could be shipped without a lot of additional effort, so we made space for that in our engineering schedule. 

One of those enhancements, the ability to add comments to any mabl test directly from the output page, is already available in the product. We expect several others to make it to production in the coming weeks. Stayed tuned to our blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn to see these new features as soon as they’re released. 

That said, there are some projects that won’t become part of our product for the foreseeable future - either because they aren’t the right fit or because the incremental effort to complete the work is too high, and that’s perfectly fine! For us, shippability is a nice bonus but it’s important to be clear that it shouldn’t come at the expense of quality or fun!

In the end, it was a close competition with all teams scoring highly across every category. More importantly, it gave the mabl community a chance to create and connect outside of the usual work routine. As expected, the teams seemed to enjoy preparing for the presentation, showing off the work, and getting feedback from the judges. But the most significant impact is that we inspired one another. I loved seeing everyone else's projects! And the team clearly agreed when asked their favorite part of the hackathon:

  • Seeing all the impressive projects
  • Seeing all of the amazing projects at the demos.     
  • Presentations!   
  • Seeing the reaction of the team
  • The presentations of course!

What’s Next?

The team overwhelmingly supports hackathons every six months, which is the plan moving forward. No matter what the next six months bring, we’ll be planning hackathon 3.0 for next spring to give our team the chance to create, innovate, and most importantly, inspire each other once again.

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