Hack Days

A few months ago we had Auburn’s first Hack Day, and our second is already planned for July. We found the day to be a huge success, so we thought we’d share how we did it, what we did, and how we found it as benefit to the whole company.
Hack Days can run over 1 or 2 days (often depending on the amount of people involved, or the complexity of projects), and they’re a chance for everyone to work on something new, something they’re passionate about, or something they just want to explore. The hope is that not only is everyone’s enthusiasm renewed a little bit, but someone might just come up with a project that grows into something bigger, or that might benefit the agency as a whole.

Getting things started

Before the Hack Day begins, everyone should be given a few weeks notice to come with a project proposal. Create a pitching event where people can talk about what they want to do, and perhaps recruit co-workers who are interested in helping out – working in teams is a-okay. A project could be anything, such as learning how to use a new tool or creating something from scratch. Some projects might require preparation, so do as much as you can before the Hack Day.
A Hack Day only really has one rule, and that is that no usual work should be done on this day. Ignore your inbox (as much as is practically possible) and focus on your project. Create a fun and relaxed environment, make it feel different to every day; order in breakfast, or play music for everyone to enjoy.

Our Hack Day

The first Auburn Hack Day saw some really interesting ideas; we had someone build their very first app which could do currency conversions, one team tried (and very almost succeeded!) in building and launching a website in one day, we had experiments with Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, and some data driven redesigns of popular websites. As a whole, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the day, and the break from the usual to try something different.
At the end of the day, have a session where everyone presents their project to the rest of the team. Take some time to reflect on what the initial idea was, how it went, problems that arose and how they were resolved, and the final product! It should be a celebration of everyone’s hard work and recognition for the skill involved. As long as you’ve all learned something, the day is a success. Some projects may build into the day-to-day of the company, while others can be saved to be explored on future Hack Days. Take note of the day and what’s been done, either in an internal wiki, or some kind of document.
Hack Days are a great way to keep your team engaged in what’s new, and to give them the chance to explore within or outside of their discipline. It’s healthy, and a good idea, to give your team time out from the day-to-day; it makes for happier, more fulfilled individuals who will find it a pleasure to do their job.