CloudHealth Hackathon: A Retrospective

May 15, 2017
4 minute read

by Paul Lothridge

Ten minutes into the judging and I was already astounded by how very difficult it was going to be for us to narrow this down to 8 finalists, from nearly 20 entrants, and on to just 3 winners. The venue was our new space on the 7th floor of 280 Summer Street (our illustrious Boston headquarters), which started the day feeling like an empty cavern. It was now a sea of peer judges and energetic yet sleep deprived innovators and problem solvers.

There was an undeniable sense of purpose about the ‘hacks’ on display and the impact they could have on our product, the company, our culture, and -- ultimately -- our customers. Trifolds and all, the CloudHealth Spring Hackathon had been given a grade school Science Fair format, and it really made it exciting to jostle about the teams as they delivered their pitches. I couldn't help but feel an urgency and excitement about the prospect of getting as much of this stuff into the product as soon as we could.

Sizing up the Competition

This sentiment of “challenge accepted” was exemplified by teams with names like, “Team GA in a Day,” “RI Awesomizer,” and “We're Sick of Coming in 3rd, We're Going for the Win.” The latter presented a fully conceived and functional CloudHealth User Community that I was sure would win. As it turned out, they were in the final 8 but not a top 3 winner. The competition was that good.

At “The Governator,” there was no mistaking the mashed aroma of java, malt and hops. It was the office cold-brew coffee kegerator that had been hacked to now sport a beer tap and, curiously, an Amazon IoT button as well. This button happened to use an AWS Lamba function to signal a “governance expert” to come meet you for “conversation about governance and policies,” and a cold brew of your choice. It didn’t appear as a top-8 finalist, but who are we kidding? It was a culture play with social context. The IoT button may have been window dressing, but no participants were complaining about now having both brew types on draft in the office.

In the end, it was “Unpaid Time Off” placing 3rd, where the hack exposed the inefficiencies in having workers that stay launched 24/7, despite being inactive many hours of the day. The approach aimed to decrease costs by dynamically scaling the size of worker pools based on the amount of work needing to be done.

In 2nd Place was “Team GA in a Day.” This dream team aspired to address a chunk of the backlog of remaining work to bring support for a major enhancement to what we would declare as a Generally Available (GA) product. Congratulations to all of the team members for a valiant effort! They’ve amassed a pile of PRs to deploy, and we’re all anxiously awaiting next steps.

Drum roll….

First place eked out a win by just a single vote. Continuing the pattern of unconventional names, our overall winner had everyone at CloudHealth Technologies failing at the correct pronunciation (I’ll keep you in suspense for a couple more paragraphs). This hack proves that elegant simplicity can and will exist, and if pushed to production, it will no doubt delight its users.

So, what had everyone cheering? Search. That’s right, it was search.

In this case, perhaps with a nod to Spotlight Search in OSX, it was called “CHPotlight.” With a click of a magnifying glass icon in the menu, a modal overlay with a search box pops into view. From there, and with only a few keystrokes, the world of CHT features and actions will predictively begin to appear in a drop-down. Our winner, Jérémie, was stunned that his quick search hack won, “among all those awesome projects!” No need to be surprised, as it was your peers that voted! Congrats!

Parting Thoughts

The projects of our 8 finalists raise some strong points for the direction of CloudHealth Technologies’ product, culture, and the company as a whole. When we think in terms of the jobs our users are trying to perform, we’ll continue to create opportunities to make those jobs easier. Making search-driven navigation an easy option might (after the fact) appear as an obvious improvement, but serving up solutions that seem obvious after-the-fact takes effort, discipline, and practice. It requires thinking in terms of the value for our customer -- something that’s baked into our DNA at CHT.

Fostering this kind of thinking throughout the org, not just in Product Development, is how we’ll scale everything we do. Many of the hackathon teams were cross-functional slices of the organization and it made this Spring Hackathon super inspiring and competitive. This type of perspective diversity is key to our ability to learn, innovate, communicate, and lead. Most days aren’t hackathons, but it’s great knowing we’re surrounded by energetic and (hopefully not so) sleep deprived innovators and problem solvers, all working to make a customer’s job easier.