As we’ve grown over the years, it’s been critical to find ways to experiment, learn, build, and grow outside of day-to-day client work. Internal hack days (usually a Friday and/or Saturday) have become part of our culture, driving ideas/inventions and spurring raw creativity across the entire company. For a recent hackathon, we set a few categories/parameters to form teams around: the Spotify API, VR exploration, and LittleBits.

Check out a quick recap of what went down, and enjoy our quick list of 5 hacks to make your hackday more hack-tastic!

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Wait…What is a hack day?

Hack days take on different forms at different companies, but typically it’s a one or two day event where people work together to create something new. It’s a great, low-stakes opportunity to learn new skills and explore ideas.

Here at ISL we regularly schedule hack days to tackle ideas that have been tossed around. Sometimes we’ve seen great things come to fruition and sometimes not, but we’re always looking to refine our process, stretch our idea muscles, and encourage ideation.

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Make it an event.

A hack day should feel more like a fun event rather than a day at work. We gave our most recent one a name—”Hacksplosion”—and asked people to RSVP.

Begin with the right amount of preparedness.

A hackathon is just a day or two, so you should go in knowing what you’ll be working on so you can get right down to business, rather than spending half the event ideating.

Invite everyone.

Hack days are a developer tradition, and our development team actually does have regular hack days on their own, but having company-wide hack days can bring more perspectives to the table. It also provides opportunities for team members to work with people they don’t usually get the chance to work with. It’s like a ropes-course with really creative results.

Have “rules”.

While the event should be organized and goal-oriented, be open to projects taking detours. This year a few members of one team detoured and created a kissing booth (two participants could kiss and trigger a sparkler and audio clip of fireworks). Sudden inspirations are OK!

Share work and commit to next steps.

Establish where in production your product should be. Do you want something not-perfect but ready to ship? Is there a goal to get to a certain point or are you simply exploring an idea? Have the teams present their projects and the end of the day, explaining the progress from the hack and its future course.

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What did we work on?

We set out with three teams: a VR project, a Spotify-connected app, and hardware.

The VR Team

The team used Google Cardboard to create a game that takes place in our office. “We wanted to experiment with as many cool things as we could put in a Cardboard experience as possible,” Julian Gindi, Lead Infrastructure Engineer says. It includes a 3D game, a point-of-view intro video, and ambient sound recordings to make it feel as though you’re actually in our office.

The Spotify Integration

The Spotify-connected app, named Maestro, allows users to simultaneously play a playlist on multiple devices. By the end of our event, the team was able to demonstrate the application using their phones. The project uses a Node JS based webstack: there’s an iOS component that talks to a server written in Node JS.

The Hardware Project

The hardware team set out to explore littleBits, an open-source kit of electronic building blocks, with the longterm plan of creating a custom Bit for the system. Out of the exploration came a device that triggers a sparkler and fireworks sounds when a couple kisses. “We think a brand like Coca Cola would love it,” explained hardware engineer Taylor Guidon. Weeks after the hack day, the hardware team created a prototype of a custom Bit. We’ll keep you updated on when it’s released into the open-source community.

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If you’re interested in taking a look inside our hack day and learning  more about the projects, check out this video below!