OneHack: Our DevRel Internal Hackathon

Published December 14, 2018 by Myrsini Koukiasa
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On the 29th and 30th of November, we held the inaugural OneHack in the Vonage London office. OneHack is a new series of internal hackathons run by our Developer Relations team which we’re planning on running in more global Vonage office locations in 2019. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of the planning that went into the hackathon and recount what happened at the event.

What did we set out to do?

We realised we spend a lot of time supporting our users, enabling each other and developing our products, however, we didn’t get much actual hands-on time using our APIs and SDKs. We also wanted to encourage creativity and innovation, bring everyone together and generally have lots of fun!

What did we ask teams to hack on?

The challenge was straightforward: build an innovative app or service that integrates at least one of the Nexmo or TokBox APIs and SDKs. There was no set theme so as not to stifle attendees’ creativity. Teams could build whatever they wanted as long as it adhered to our company’s Code of Conduct. We ended up with an array of ideas from sentiment analysis through face recognition on video calls to an emergency responder system. We decided to offer prizes including a best overall hack as well as prizes for best use of each of our products. To encourage teams to present there was also a “best broken hack” prize – we feel some teams went for this prize deliberately to win the festive Lego.

Who did we collaborate with?

We kicked off the planning process about three months before the hackathon. We developed our goals and the concept and brought together a working group to get feedback from. The first thing we settled upon was the dates, a critical point to the success of the event. For the next events, we’ll try and settle on a date even earlier to work around product releases and other deadlines.

Throughout the planning we collaborated with many different internal teams – Engineering, Product Management, HR, Recruitment, Facilities, Senior Leadership in our London office, Corporate Communications, IT and the Network team. Our panel of judges was also made up by colleagues, including the Head of Engineering at Nexmo and the Product Managers of our API and SDK products.

Branding

After a brainstorming session, we decided to name our hackathon, OneHack. It symbolises all the different entities in our company coming together for this single event. We went with a slight homage to an 80s retro theme and created stickers and t-shirts, the hackathon staples. We also created an exclusive OneHack London sticker for teams who presented to remember the hackathon by.

How did we communicate with our attendees?

We used various forms of digital and in-person communication to keep people informed and discuss OneHack with everyone involved. Specifically, we created a dedicated channel on our internal Slack and a Workplace group where we posted regular updates. Our internal Wiki acted as an information and resources hub – in the future, we may move this to our Intranet to allow better access across all the Vonage BUs. We used Typeform for registration and sent weekly updates through Campaign Monitor. We also spoke to colleagues during office updates and our Engineering team’s happy hour. Finally, for those not able to attend we live streamed key parts of the hackathon via Crowdcast.

Who attended?

Anyone could join as long as they were an employee, irrelevant of their coding knowledge. In fact, about 15% of the attendees visited from other offices and BUs in an effort to increase cross-border collaboration. Notably, 58.9% of the colleagues registered for OneHack were from our engineering team, 15% Product, 5.4% Pre-sales engineering, 4.1% Support and the remaining smaller percentages from other teams. Based on the feedback we’ve gathered so far, one of our goals for 2019 will be to make OneHack even more inclusive for novice coders. We’re considering running more workshops in the time leading up to the event, or running two separate tracks – a beginner friendly and one for the more experienced developers and designers.

What was the schedule?

OneHack ran over two days on a Thursday and Friday so people could use the weekend to recover before returning to work on the Monday. The first day included opening talks, workshops and more fun activities as the evening progressed, like relaxing massages and movies. Those who were able to stay in the office overnight got to sleep on comfy mattresses or kept going by  using our food and drink energy bar.

On Friday, we ran presentation rehearsals in the morning and team presentations in the afternoon. We concluded with an Award Ceremony and celebratory drinks in the early evening.

Overall, it was important for us to include activities other than hacking over the two days to give hackers the opportunity to have breaks. On another note, and based on some of the feedback we’ve so far received, we’ll try to run workshops, idea-creation and team-matching activities a few days before the actual hackathon.

How did we run it?

Our Community Engagement team was leading the planning of the hackathon. They had a lot of help from the rest of Developer Relations – from delivering workshops to inflating unicorns (true story!) they helped run the event on the day. As a remote team, we fully appreciate every opportunity to come together. So OneHack was a lot of fun to be collectively part of, on top of getting a lot of valuable feedback for our products.

How did we incorporate wellness?

Last week we published an article with tips on incorporating wellness into your hackathon. Here’s how we took care of the OneHack attendees.

We catered for dietary requirements, and went for more filling healthier options like salad bowls and Poke for main meals or eggs and avocado toast for breakfast. In all honesty, we did indulge with amazing cake and biscuit hybrids called biskies that our attendees loved!

For those wanting a break from hacking we offered massages, ran additional activities and had new food and snacks brought out regularly to get people out of their seats.

We had designated quiet spaces, with air mattresses, blankets and sleeping masks available, that were separated by gender. We had some toiletries available and our office has shower facilities, making it easy for those who stayed to freshen up. We ran a 32-hour event and some attendees stayed overnight, however, everyone had the option to leave the office and return the next day. 59% of our attendees so far said the duration was just right but we will look into diversifying this for future events.

What did teams build?

The winning team, Soteria, created an emergency responder system for vulnerable clients to automatically contact friends, family and emergency services if having difficulty. To achieve this, they added in-app messaging using the Nexmo Client SDK, social and SMS messaging using the Messages and Dispatch API, features of the Voice API and video using OpekTok.

Overall winner and best use of Stitch Developer Preview: Team Soteria – Kostas Kapetanakis, Deniz Gokcen, John Rickwood and Jean-Philippe Chenot

Best broken hack: Team Magic Face – Marc Marchal de Corny, Dylan Basdeo and Matthieu Steffann. Created a sentiment analysis system for video conferences.

Best use of VAPI: Team PoC – Jamie Chapman, Christian McArdle and Baptiste Viloin (not pictured). Created an integration between Nexmo’s APIs and New Voice Media.

Best use of Messages and Dispatch API: Team Zen – Enric Jaen Viloldo, Svetlana Beliakova, Phil Holcombe, and Alexander Fokin. Created a ZenDesk integration that improves the customer support experience.

Best use of OpenTok: Team Mystery Club – Alexandra Todirica, Karen Manktelow, Benny Zuffolini and Arthur Wilton. Created an app that enables friends to perform a fun task together via video.

So how did it all go?

Overall the first OneHack was a blast! Our attendees had fun and got hands-on time with our products. From the feedback we’ve gathered so far, they’ve given a 9.2/10 score for OneHack overall. We’re continuing to collect feedback to make our internal hackathon even better for all those attending and running the event. Stay tuned for more updates as we take OneHack on the road in 2019!

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