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Hacking creativity: Making time for innovation

Rohan Pearce | July 8, 2013
Yahoo!7 and Atlassian are two companies that are giving their employees the space to be creative with hack days.

In all, around 45 people took part in the April hack day, working on 27 projects, with some of them also being submitted to Yahoo!'s global hack day, which draws entries from offices in the US, Beijing, Taipei, Bangalore as well as Sydney.

Hack days are also a big part of life for engineers at Atlassian, an Australian company that produces a range of well-known collaboration tools for software developers. Originally known as 'FedEx days', the 24-hour hackathons were renamed 'ShipIt' days after some friendly prompting from the US courier company.

The software company holds ShipIt days every quarter, and they have also been integrated into the company's on-boarding process, with new graduates who join Atlassian participating in their first ShipIt day as part of the Hack House program.

ShipIt days have been held at Atlassian for some eight or nine years now, says Matt Ryall, a Sydney-based software development manager who works on the company's wiki-based collaboration offering for enterprises, Confluence.

"The goal is really to get the engineers in the company to propose and implement new ideas and prototype some of the things that we wouldn't do in our normal schedule of work," Ryall says.

"We have a roadmap planned out for six or 12 months for most of our products, and those features are well specced out and planned in advance. So ShipIt days give the engineers a chance to try something a little bit different...

"They have a problem or an idea for the product that they think might be useful, and then they've got 24 hours to try to hack something together and present it to the rest of the company."

The best ideas can gain traction within Atlassian and either be incorporated into existing products, or in some cases, such as the company's testing tool, Bonfire, become new products in their own right.

At the end of a ShipIt day, employees use an online voting tool to cast a ballot for their favourite idea, and prizes are handed out. Categories include performance and security, and not infrequently an existing Atlassian customer will be brought in to participate in the judging.

"Personally, it's a wonderful reminder of why I wanted to get into programming in the first place," says Atlassian developer Edith Tom.

"During university, I fell in love with that emotional rollercoaster that comes with working on a really hard programming problem and being able to solve it, then being able to share that elation with your peers.

"And working at a place where other people are as easily compelled as I am to code into the early hours of the morning [is] a really nice feeling."


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