Kamla Bhatt, is a researcher and a technology trend watcher. She is also the host of a popular Internet radio show: http://kamlabhattshow.com
Have you ever wondered where and how some nifty applications and widgets originate and how they reach us? How does it happen? Is there a structured way of innovating and creating these applications? Or, is this done in a fun-filled environment with no constraints except to create something new and interesting? It is the latter that seems to be catching the imagination of companies and developers and it is called hackdays. A hack is sometimes described as a clever or a quick fix in the world of technical developers.
Companies have held internal hackdays to foster innovation and creativity among their developers. Increasingly, those internal hackdays are now being opened to external developers.
Yahoo! is one such company that is holding hackdays for external developers. Hackdays originated as an internal exercise within Yahoo! and in the past year the event has been hosted for the outside world to come and participate and create some interesting and useful mashups and applications.
For instance, Yahoo!’s Our City was born during Yahoo!’s internal hackday. Sensing that there is a great opportunity in the creative process of hacking, Yahoo! has held hackdays in its company headquarters in Sunnyvale, California and one in London. At both these events hundreds of developers participated in a 24-hour marathon session and built some interesting products and as David Filo, co-founder of Yahoo! mentioned, one of these hackers is looking to start a company. Recently Yahoo! held its first hackday India in Bangalore. The goal was to provide an atmosphere for people to network and collaborate said David Filo, who flew down from Yahoo!'s headquarters in Sunnyvale, California.
And magic did happen and I witnessed it by hanging out with a bunch of hackers, who let their creative juices flow. I realised how the right atmosphere, food and music, the important fuelling ingredients for developers can do wonders to their creativity and productivity. They built their prototypes or hacks on Yahoo!’s APIs like flickr, maps and delicious among others.
What did the developers think? To say they loved it would be an understatement. Parushuram Narasimhan, whose hack Maps Doodle won him a prize said: “The experience was totally awesome. An interesting application to hack, delicious (not the website delicious, but delicious as an adjective!!) food, bean bags, and all of this topped with a Nintendo Wii is, I am sure, sufficient to get any passionate programmer geared up for coding. Staying overnight and chipping away at a code felt like college, and I had fun all through the time.”
As Ashish Gupta, managing partner of Helion Venture Partners, a venture capital company, pointed out: “I think it’s a great event for fostering entrepreneurship for a few reasons. One, it gives people the opportunity to hang out with other entrepreneurs under intense pressure to perform — great friendships can come out of it. Two, it gives people a view into what a big player like Yahoo! values and makes available — this kind of knowledge is hard to get in general.”
Raghunath Rao, who is a technical evangelist at Adobe India’s Bangalore office who participated in the event said: “The amazing thing about hackday was that in 24 hours, I was able to develop an impressive application by working with people I never knew, by combining Flex with technologies I had only heard about.” That is the key. The fact that Raghunath did not know all his team members prior to the hackday and yet they managed to create an application called Flickoff within a few hours is what makes it all the more amazing.
Swaroop CH, who was part of the Flickoff team, had some wonderful insights after participating in the hackday event. “I guess this is how it feels to be in a startup — doing a lot in less time, and as Jason Fried once said, embrace the constraints. Constraint is what brings about innovation.” (Jason Fried, founder and head of 37Signals, a web-based company, is a cult figure in the developer community).
At the end of the hacking session, 31 teams presented their creative hacks to a panel of seven judges that included David Filo, Brad Horowitz, Ashish Gupta and others. A handful of winners were announced and the prizes ranged from technical books to iPods and Nintendo Wii. So, don’t be surprised if in the next few months one of these creative hacks shows up as a smart tool or widget and before you know it you would have started using it.