It’s Sunday evening and I’m having my weekly catch-up call with my parents. They ask how the previous week was. “Great!” I tell them. “It was Hack Day at work!”
“What is Hack Day?” is their response.
How do you explain Hack Day to to your parents? I start with the logistics. Hack Day is a two day event at Knewton where we all set aside our normal obligations and our normal teams. We can work on any project we want, ideally with a group of people we don’t ordinarily work with.
Knewton sponsors Hack Days three times per year. Each lasts two days, typically a Thursday and Friday. Everyone participates — this isn’t just for technologists.
This most recent Hack Day’s theme was “Productivity & Tooling.”
Time is your most expensive resource. Discover ways to get more meaningful work done throughout the day: automate mundane tasks, improve communication, reduce inefficient meetings… . The bigger the impact, the better the chance of winning!
Teams were encouraged to work on a project related to this theme, but it wasn’t required. In addition to this special category, there were four areas in which hacks could win (yes, there are winners, but no losers!):
Culture: Improve the lives of the people working at Knewton.
Performance: Improve our processes (could be speed improvement, tweaking adaptivity algorithms, cost saving, etc.)
Product: Improve Knewton products (e.g., feature enhancements, new features, new product concepts, etc.)
Business: Improve how Knewton works with partners.
Teams can form organically, or people can post their ideas and recruit members via our Hack Day Trello board.
The festivities kick off on Thursday morning with breakfast and an inspiring speech. Teams work together all day Thursday and Friday. By Monday morning, each team posts their finished hack to the Trello board with a link to the product, presentation, demo video, or anything else that can demonstrate their work.
Knerds have a day to vote on these hacks, then the winners are announced!
The following week the winners present their hacks to the entire company. Some of these hacks will earn sponsorship from Knewton’s senior management team and be folded into the company roadmap. In many cases, even hacks that don’t win or get sponsorship will still become a part of Knewton’s products, processes, or cultural life.
So now that you know a little bit about how Hack Day works, let’s get to this Hack Day’s winners! The winning projects for Knewton Hack Day April 2015 are…
Productivity & Tooling
StudentViz: Interactive Tools for Visualizing Student Progress
Team: Hillary Green-Lerman, Erin Case, Erin Moore, and Chris Cotter
StudentViz creates interactive visualizations based on how students are currently using Knewton-powered products. The Knewton team can then use these anonymized visualizations to improve features of Knewton Recommendations and Analytics for students. StudentViz can also be used to demonstrate how differentiated instruction works for partners interested in integrating Knewton technology into their products.
An Edible Garden
Team: Stephanie Killian, Jesse Sternberg, Emily Litwin, Homin Lee, Sam Hutchinson, Celia La, Erin Moore, Mike Baldwin, Miroslava Sotakova, and Zohar Yardeni
There’s a great outdoor space on our recently acquired 20th floor, and the remains of a garden from the previous tenant. This team took the opportunity to clean up what was there and plant some new things. Even Gloria the chocolate lab got in on the hack.
Fix All the Infrastructure
Team: Benjamin Pollack, John Davies, Rafi Shamim, Raghav Sachdev
When you’re busy with the day to day efforts of improving education, sometimes the smaller things — like infrastructure — fall a bit behind. This team’s goal was to upgrade or replace all of our outdated infrastructure. They successfully upgraded our Nexus and Gerrit and installed Phabricator.
Knerds: the iOS Game
Team: Charlie Harrington, Dan McGorry
With the help of designer Dan McGorry, London-based BD Director Charlie Harrington built his very first app! ‘Knerds’ is a simple and fun iOS game that teaches you the names of your co-workers through brute force, cuddly mascots, and spaced repetition (because it’s addictive). Here’s a blog post from Charlie describing the game.
The Knewbie Guide
Team: Nick Orton, Annie Naftel, Dave Garfinkel, Jesse St Charlies, Joana Ricou, Pattricia Trujillo, Steven, Tanya Livingstone
The Knewbie Guide is an new and improved onboarding guide for new employees. In addition to standard details about the office and Knewton benefits, the guide includes info about Knerd sports teams, social groups, and activities — all in one place.