Last week we held the 4th Annual SignalFx Hackathon at our headquarters in downtown San Mateo. It was our largest and most impressive hackathon to date! 60 participants formed 29 teams to hack, and hack, and then hack some more in an epic battle for glory and treasure. Here’s what we did and what happened.

Hackathons at SignalFx

We have always done our hackathons a little differently. First, we have them for 3 full days instead of a day or two, allowing more time for teams to develop ideas or take on more challenging hacks. We also include the whole product organization, such as product managers, documentation specialists, and technical writers, because we want to encourage more cross-functional collaboration. In terms of timing, we hold the hackathon during the middle of the week so that our engineers from remote offices can fly in, hack, and return before the weekend. Our hackathons also take place in the summer so that our talented interns have a chance to participate and bring their energy. On the last day, we conclude with a Hackathon Forum. Each team presents their project to the company and the winners are announced and receive their prize…with the real prize being bragging rights for the rest of the year. Last, to help keep everyone energized and focused, we cater breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and more because coding really does work up an appetite.

To encourage the competitive spirit, teams compete for prizes in 4 different categories, with Supportability and Operability added this year due to the rapid growth in size and maturity of the engineering and product team.

Award Categories

  • People’s Choice: chosen by popular vote by the hackathon participants
  • Most Productizable: close to getting shipped and solves an important use case
  • Supportability: best addresses a common issue faced by Customer Support
  • Operability: helps make operating the SignalFx service easier

SignalFx’s 4th Annual Hackathon: Hack 4 Your Life

New Hires Started Out With A Bang

Overall, the response to this year’s hackathon was quite overwhelming despite some of our initial concerns – Will the food and drinks be as awesome as in past years? Would the many fresh, new hires be able to do interesting projects given their newness to the product and codebase? Will we end up doing hackathon presentations for a whole day now with the expansion of the engineering and product teams? Let’s just say we should not have worried.

Our new team members and larger size only enhanced the spirit and fun of the event. What’s more, not only did our newer members participate, they participated with the most energy. Many more teams were able to be formed this year compared to previous hackathons, with a mix of new and experienced engineers and teammates from other departments. In fact, two of the four awards went to such cross-functional teams! This reaffirms that our SignalFx culture will continue to have a bright future.

The Hackathon Forum

On the last day during the Hackathon Forum, the effort put in and collaboration across team members showed through in the final projects and presentations. This year, teams made a special effort to make their presentations fun and memorable, by putting on quite a show for the audience. While this may have something to do with chances of winning the People’s Choice award, we will certainly encourage this trend going forward! For example, we saw a hilarious reenactment of the cult classic movie, ‘The Room’, where a team went all-out with a 4-person cast – the lead actor channeling James Franco channeling Tommy Wiseau in the role of Johnny – all in an effort to present their hack to reduce triage time for critical alerts in production.

This Hackathon Was So Meta

The diverse set of projects ran the gamut from new chart visualizations (tracking drones on a world map, anyone?), to real-time metrics ingest from logs, to SignalFx tutorial videos with hand-drawn animation, to improved search experience in the product. One of the popular themes this year was metadata analysis – SignalFx has always been strong in handling large volumes of metadata from diverse and ephemeral environments, and this trend carried through to the hacks. Examples were dimensional analysis to answer questions about analytics usage (to help customer support and operations) and datapoint submission (to answer questions about the nature of time series data being sent by our customers and understand when/why it changed). Last but not least, our interns put on a great show by developing and demonstrating a native mobile app using React Native to view charts and alerts.

The Hackathon Winners

People’s Choice

No More Tears: No more tears for customer reporting issue, support person handling incoming requests, engineer fixing issues. The project helps streamlined reproducing steps from end to end without losing any data.

Most Productizable

Allows users to link detectors and charts. This in turn makes it easy to know the health of a chart or dashboard at a glance, and when troubleshooting an alert, to get a list of relevant dashboards to drill into.

Supportability

An integrated search tool to help users find SignalFx resources like blog posts, technical docs, product docs across our knowledge repositories.

Operability

“tsdbtop- a TSDB data visualizer to visualize how data flows through the SignalFx time series database. 

The Disaster Artist

I love hackathons. They are about ideas and creative expression and collaboration – things that make working in our industry so fun and rewarding. But it wasn’t all wine and roses in the SignalFx hackathon this year. My personal project was a disaster. In true hackathon fashion, a few hours before presentations, where I was surely going to dazzle everyone with a brilliant project solving everything but world hunger, my code started crashing. For the life of me, I could not figure out why. But let us look at the positive side – ‘The Room’ and Tommy Wiseau and James Franco notwithstanding, if there was an awards category for ‘The Disaster Artist’ in this hackathon, there can be no doubt who the winner was going to be.
We’re already looking forward to the next SignalFx Hackathon with new engaged talent, new clever ideas, and new productive ways to help our customers become more successful. Interested in learning more about career opportunities in engineering, product, or service, take a look at all of our open positions here. We’re hiring! 

 

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About the authors

Arijit Mukherji

Arijit Mukherji is CTO at SignalFx and passionate about monitoring. He was one of the original developers of Facebook’s metrics solution (ODS), and subsequently managed the development of Facebook’s networking tools, data visualization, and other infrastructure monitoring software. While focused on the monitoring space for more than a decade, his diverse career of over 20 years also spans IP telephony, VoIP conferencing, and network virtualization.

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