Hackweeks @ Nitro ... The Why, The What, The How

2017-07-29 Software-Engineering Management Culture

As already discussed: I am obsessed with building cars!!!

Not in the sense that I want/need to build cars, but in the sense that Henry Ford famously once upon a time (apparently not) said, that if he would have build what customers wanted, he would have build faster horses.


Luckily he was able to complement the input from the customers (we want faster horses) with a view of what is possible (cars). I am convinced that it is one the responsibilities of the engineering organization in a product and technology company to provide this view. Hence my focus on building organizations that foster creativity and allow innovation.

But how to get this creativity going? One very popular measure are Hack-a-thons and/or “20%” work environments (means you can spend 20% of your time on something that you like/on whatever you like).

Dilbert on Hackweek

I have done Hack-a-thons and have played with the 20% thing, but the Hack-a-thons are very small and can only produce very limited results/proof-of-concepts and the 20% is also not really working (mainly because you never really find the time and if you have time, then nobody else has time and that means you working on something alone, while everybody else is working, which does not really make you feel good).

A year ago, at Nitro I decided to try something new, something different and introduced quarterly Hackweeks.

|Q3-2016|Q2-2017| |Q1-2017|Q4-2016| |||

The results have been spectacular. The concept works like this …

  • Hackweek always happens in the first week of the quarter
  • The Hackweek has a theme (the last one was about “The Game of the PDF-Throne”; my Hackweek project was about killing services that have been touched by a WhiteWalker; I guess you get the idea :)) and with every theme come prizes in three categories (best project; biggest team; funniest project name)
  • Before the Hackweek, you need to articulate what you want to do, why you want to do it and who you want to work with
  • Every Hackweek project needs to produce a 3 minute video/screencast to show/demo the results/impact of the Hackweek project (running code wins). All of the videos are shown to the entire company in a show-and-tell session the Monday following the Hackweek (all rumors that teams are spending the weekend in frantic video editing sessions are unfunded and exaggerated :)).

By now we have build an impressive library of ideas and artifacts that we are actively using with customers and investors and that we are obviously using to inform our roadmap (to make sure we are building cars, not faster horses). We are also aiming to productize at least one the projects/ideas that come out of Hackweek every quarter.

For me this works much better than anything that I have tried or done before, because it is a dedicated time with no interruptions (we also cancel all meetings in that week), where you can work with 2-3 people on something significant.

Last but not least, I am using Hackweek to also get side projects done/finished. This time (besides killing the wight) I implemented The Neophyte’s Guide to Scala. Enjoy!!!