Shannon Babincsak

programmer, web developer, constitutional law geek

I Wish Every Work Day Was a Hackathon Day

I just participated in my fifth ADTRAN hackathon and won People’s Choice for the second time. The idea? A HipChat bot that you can program on the fly (thanks, Pat!). Considering it’s a chat bot and we named it Bender, the image above is very fitting. However, while I’m still pretty happy from winning some cool swag (a t-shirt and a new mug!), part of me is sad because I have to return to daily work.

I wish every work day was a hackathon day.

But Why?

You might be wondering why I would want to subject myself to the torture that is pulling all-nighters in a crowded room of people who won’t be showering the next 48 hours every day. Valid question!

Work hackathons are unique in that, unlike normal hackathons, you aren’t expected to pull all-nighters. At ADTRAN, the hackathon is just one work day, and it’s up to you how much of your time you want to spend on your project. No all-nighters or crowded rooms of smelly people.

Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t put in a lot of time, though, because I do. I’m not going to say how late I’ve stayed, so I’ll just say that it’s late enough to notice how gross the elevators smell after the hot air has been trapped inside for hours… and late enough to have to take the stairs because the elevators stopped running.

So, while I end up working way more than my 8 hours on a hackathon day, it isn’t required or forced. I don’t have to subject myself to any suffering as a result of staying up 24 hours and staring at a computer screen for almost that long (I can already imagine the killer headache I’d have). It’s pleasant!

Fun Fun Fun

So why do I want every work day to be a hackathon day? Because it brings me back to school when we could make our own teams and work on something fun together. You could talk and crack jokes as long as you got the work done. It was work, but it didn’t feel like work. That’s the best kind.

Don’t get me wrong. I also enjoy being able to work on new or different technologies that I don’t normally get to use at work; even one of my favorite projects started out as a hackathon project. When I look back on all my hackathons, though, my best hackathon memories are just experiences from working with a groups of friends, like:

  • Demoing our crappy very simple “ADTRAN Life Alert” mobile app for the first time (yes, it’s as awesome as you think it is)
  • Photoshopping Uncle Bob saving the Life Alert lady in front of a TA5K in an ADTRAN lab (done by yours truly)
  • Discovering and then cursing how HipChat doesn’t support Markdown (seriously, it’s 2016 and you’re like the only chat program that doesn’t support markdown)
  • Celebrating a victory after listening to two teammates struggle for hours on how to properly handle HipChat’s weird whitespace/encoding stuff when getting multi-line messages of what needs to be Python code

Is it possible for every work day to feel like a hackathon day? Probably not.

Here’s to hoping, though.