OpsLevel HackDays

Hacking Away

OpsLevel just completed its inaugural HackDays and company getaway.

We all piled into a few cars and drove up to a beautiful cottage near Parry Sound, Ontario. Surrounded by some of Canada’s best scenery of trees, lakes, and trails, we first set about for 24 hours of programming. Given our geography, we thought about calling the event “Hack the North”, but that name is taken, so “OpsLevel HackDays” it is.

How we run HackDays

HackDays at OpsLevel are run pretty similar to other companies. Here are the “rules” that we sent out:

  1. You have 24 hours to work on anything you want to
  2. You can work alone or in groups
  3. Every hackday project has to be demoable

Why we run HackDays

It may seem odd that an early-stage startup would devote a full day of time to HackDays, as opposed to working on more immediate items from the product roadmap, but there are some important reasons we do HackDays.

  1. It makes a better product
    HackDays are a great incubator for new ideas. Giving people the ability to explore anything they want leads to new ideas being considered and bigger bets being taken. The limit of 24 hours also forces people to focus on making something demoable, such as a mockup or rough prototype, and not necessarily a perfectly built solution. This ties in very closely with our cultural value of Focus & Efficiency.

  2. It empowers the entire team
    Another one of OpsLevel’s cultural values is Empathy. We want everyone on our team to understand our customer’s use cases so well that they feel the same joys and pains our customers feel when using our product. At OpsLevel we have a product backlog that’s roughly prioritized in terms of the impact and HackDays gives folks on the team time to work on not necessarily the highest priority thing, but on solutions that are still important to them and by extension, our customers. Allowing people to “scratch an itch” affords them the opportunity to have direct ownership and acts as a pressure relief valve from the regular cycle of product development.

  3. It broadens the collective set of skills
    As part of HackDays, people generally end up learning about new APIs, tools, frameworks, or technologies. It’s a useful opportunity to explore a new area and develop new expertise. This broadens individual skillsets and inevitably, the skillset of the team, leading folks to be more T-shaped as contributors. It also feeds into our cultural value of Growth Mindset.

  4. It builds team cohesion
    There’s some very light competition as part of HackDays in that everyone wants to give the “best” demo. At the same time, there’s also a wonderful atmosphere of people helping each other. The net result is that HackDays improves the team’s dynamic as they work together to solve problems.

The results

We had 6 fantastic demos! The projects included:

  • Custom checks
  • Manual checks
  • Websockets for dynamic refresh
  • Improved integration of Slack teams
  • An integration for tracking deploys
  • Automated lunch ordering

We’re now looking at how to properly build these out and roll them into our product roadmap.

More Fun Stuff

After the HackDays, we spent Friday afternoon and Saturday enjoying cottage life. Barbecue, water activities, roasting marshmallows, and all kinds of fun party games. Here are a few fun pics:

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