Future Proof Labs Hack Day, Winter 2015

| Culture + Technology

On February 5-6, Future Proof Labs (Undertone’s Research & Development venture) hosted our first ever hack day at our San Francisco office. A hack day (or hackathon) is an event where engineers, designers, project managers, and anyone interested in building things comes together to create solutions around a given theme. It’s an exercise that’s becoming more and more common inside innovative companies, as it allows employees to break their routines and explore new areas while fostering teamwork.

hack day
The theme of our winter event was „Hacking the Undertone Values: Teamwork“. Specifically, we challenged our participants to think about the communication issues we have as an organization that’s spread around the globe. Their charge was to come up with solutions that helped remote teams communicate, collaborate on projects, and just have fun or share culture.

We had a great turnout for a first-time event. Five teams were organized with representatives from the New York, Chicago, and San Francisco offices, and there was a healthy mix of technical, creative, and project management skills on display. The event began with a short introduction of the theme as well as several small „workshop“-style presentations on various technologies that could assist the participants in creating their solutions. A list of covered technology is given below.
Most teams worked late into the first evening, finishing around 10pm local time. Hacking continued the next day until 2pm, at which time the teams were required to present their projects to the group including the judges: Jon Arme (Senior Software Engineer, Chicago), Brian Fife (Senior Director, Research & Development, Boston), and George Durden (SVP Technology, San Francisco). All of the projects were very solid and it was difficult to pick two teams to award the prizes.

hack away
The team consisting of Jason Hewes, Crow Norlander, Jeff Liu, Sagar Giri, Priyank Bhawsar, and Caroline Brewer won the „Judges‘ Choice for Best Hack“ with their enhancements to Undertone’s newly acquired telepresence robots. They were able to develop a custom driver interface that added auto-driving capability as well as an internal location mapping system using beacons! It was an impressive feat considering the timeframe allotted and the amount of technology leveraged.

There was also a „Hackers‘ Choice“ award (based on audience vote) which went to the team of Kai Hu, Kishora Yedur, Rajeev Prabhakar, and Steve Liu. Their project, titled „Undertone Fun Facts,“ was a web-based application that provided intuitive visualizations of all of the important „insights“ data from Undertone’s ad server and analytics. In essence, it tells the story of why our services are so valuable. This team took really useful data that the Insights team works with daily and made it accessible to everyone at Undertone.

Walter Koning, Meghan Conley, Michael Barin, Jessica Helm, and Dayna Hall joined together to create a new company-wide informational concept called the „Undertone Video Minute“. Their system would serve a short, humorous video on the TV screens in each office to inform employees of the latest Undertone news. A simple web-based interface would allow for video upload and archiving.

Arun Supramanian, Haosun Wu, and Raghavendra Byrappa created „BinIT!“, an Undertone-specific knowledge base system. Using open web technologies that drive sites like Stack Exchange and Quora, BitIT! allows Undertone employees to ask questions to the organization at large. Based on topic or team-based „bins,“ the questions are directed towards those individuals most likely able to answer the questions. Answers can then be shared and rated based on their correctness. The team also had a creative way of showing answers to questions: by using Undertone’s high impact ad formats. Think: a question of the day is shown as a ScreenShift when employees go onto internal websites.

Ram Rengamani came up with a system for Undertone-specific „Crowdsourcing“. Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services by soliciting contributions from the public as a whole. In Ram’s concept, Undertone employees could post requests for internal help: tasks requiring creative skills, coding skills, or other areas of expertise. Each employee would have a „bank“ of points assigned to them. A job would require „payment“ of a certain amount of points. Those people completing jobs would have points added to their account. The point bank could be a factor in our current appraisal system when it comes time for end-of-year reviews (or awards like the Undertonies).

hackday collage

hack day quotes

Overall the event was a big success, and we definitely have more Hack Days in our future!

Jon is the development lead for the R&D group within Undertone, also known as Future Proof Labs. He is responsible for the conceptualization and creation of next-generation advertising experiences as well as providing technical guidance on emerging technology for Undertone's marketing and sales groups. Jon, a CS grad from Northwestern University, has been in the software development industry for almost fifteen years. When not playing with Arudinos, or coding, he brews hoppy ales and will play an occasional round of golf (for money). He can be followed on Twitter at @bennybrau.


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