Just a cat-obsessed writer ninja in a Hackathon world

Last week I finished my first hackathon, which is a pretty cool achievement considering that when I first arrived at Rightside in April I didn’t even know what a hackathon was. Not to mention the fact that I’m not exactly the person anyone turns to for technological assistance–a writer with brutally primitive technological skills.

So when eNom Lead Software Engineer Ron West and Tech Evangelist Sean Ottey, began talking enthusiastically about this Hackathon, I had my doubts about my ability to contribute anything substantial.

Thankfully, they offered free pizza at the weekly planning meetings so I started going for the pizza and got hooked by the energy and just plain potential of being able to step out of my routine for two and a half days to work on something exciting and possibly even a little bit risky. And especially to work with people I don’t normally see or talk with on a daily basis.

Ron and Sean divided the hackathon projects into two categories: technical and nontechnical, making sure there was room at the table for people with different interests and skills. And yes, most of the projects were technical. We are, after all, a tech company. But even a tech company has challenges and needs that can’t be solved by coding, or other things that technical people do that I can’t really describe or comprehend.

Hackathon leaders at Rightside
Sean and Ron and energy drinks

I spent the two days of Hackathon in a small dark room with Paige Graffunder from Technical Support, Carolyn Evans from Search, Rich Brown from Compliance, and Rick DeCamp from Aftermarket–none of whom I regularly collaborate with. I recall lots of food–Ron, Sean, and the Facilities team kept us well supplied with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, making me feel like a hobbit happily consuming my early midafternoon snack. Employees–I won’t name names–drank too many energy drinks and got lost looking for conference rooms in corners of the office they hadn’t seen before. Paige slept in the office, and I would come in each morning to find her settled in with a coffee and an increasingly bleary expression. She was working on three projects and was the primary designated technical person on our project.

It was exhilarating watching ideas develop so quickly, taking shape right before our eyes, and wondering what was happening in other conference rooms and other Rightside locations (Austin and Denver were both participating, and Denver’s notorious for winning Hackathons).

At 12:30 on Friday afternoon, we shuffled to the second floor presentation area where a whopping 18 teams were going to present their projects. Cue nervousness. We were, after all, presenting a website jokingly dedicated to the concept of weaponizing cats. (Along with a much broader message about arming employees to better utilize their registered domain names.)

Screenshot of kitty.army
Kitty Army invasion!!!

The two and a half hours that followed were a blur of enthusiastic brilliance. There was a program called God mode that would allow technical support to more efficiently manage customer inquiries. Two employees ate dog food to help raise awareness for new domain extensions.

The Overman's create a Hackathon project
No Moverman was hurt filming this. We made sure his dog food was gluten free.

One of the five Denver teams came up with a plan to enable customers to donate savings from special sales to charitable causes. As a rapidly growing company, keeping colleagues, departments, and contact information current is a challenge; one team came up with an interactive organizational chart, and another built an app to store and update contact information across all devices. All of this, of course, is much more complex and thoughtful than it sounds in a concise and imperfectly-remembered summary. But rest assured, I came away from the experience with the impression that I work with some pretty smart people and, more importantly, smart people who want to utilize their intelligence and skills to improve the company and, more broadly, the world.

It might sound a bit simplistic and naive, but there’s something profoundly satisfying about seeing an idea through to the very end, not because your manager told you to or because it’s part of your job description, but because it’s yours and maybe, just maybe, your idea will inspire or help someone. And, if you happen to work for a company willing to provide your weight’s worth of pizza and teriyaki and bagels and candy along the way, then so much the better.

Rightside Hackathon basics
Principles of the Hackathon

I don’t know if I can rightfully call myself a hacker, but I do know I’ll be first in line to sign up for the next Hackathon, and not just for the pizza.

Send comments to blog@rightside.co.

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