Box Hackathons: 16 Hours of Coding, Magic and Pizza

Writing software at a start-up company comes with a lot of perks. It also comes with a hefty project load, which makes it easy to get caught up in the development cycle and lose sight the big picture. We never want this to happen to engineers at Box, since we believe that our software developers – in addition to having great coding skills – have some pretty awesome product ideas.

Getting ideas onto a piece of paper, into a market requirement document, or into a project tracking system so it can be prioritized and approved can take a long time. And this can deter a developer's psyche, which yearns to build, achieve, and showcase before the next great innovation comes along. With all of this in mind, and in order to encourage our team to tap into their big ideas full throttle, we hold (roughly) semi-annual all-night hackathons.

The overall spirit of the Hackathon is for each developer to choose something that gets him or her excited, but would otherwise never get the priority for prime time development efforts. It’s a chance to build a working prototype and prove their idea all in one night, and to show off your finished – or almost finished – efforts to the entire company. The rest of the team (i.e., non-engineering folks) is even invited to join in on the fun, too, by either simply cheering on the hackers, or coming up with their own projects.

This time around, we kicked off our hackathon on Thursday night with food, drinks, cake, music, and of course, t-shirts.

In addition to engineers, we had a strong showing from the rest of the company – ranging from a hilarious recruiting music video to a homegrown web app that allows Boxers to give "props" to other employees, we saw some pretty cool hacks the next morning from the entire team.

There was a great spirit of creativity, innovation, and encouragement in the air throughout the night. For a lot of us, the evening went by in a flash, and my own memories are a haze of coding, pizza, and Aaron doing magic tricks. The next morning, we shuffled into our lunchroom where Brenda, our amazing office manager, was making crepes, quiches and other delicious breakfast goodies. After a long night of coding, it was refreshing to have something other than Red Bull and pizza in my stomach.

We then headed back to finish our projects before the lunchtime deadline, where each participant gets to present their idea to the company. A judging panel made up of a diverse assortment of Boxers, and of course, Aaron Levie, determines who gets the grand prize. This year, we awarded the top three finalists a choice of one of the following prizes: dinner at a fancy restaurant, an iPad 2 or a helicopter ride around San Francisco (yes, seriously). The competition was pretty intense and – for now, at least – the results will remain top-secret.

Post-hackathon, each team is encouraged to hone their prototypes and think about how to release their ideas into the product, so expect to see some interesting innovations coming out of Box HQ over the next few months :). We’re already looking forward to the next Hackathon, where we might even ask outside developers to join in on the fun.

...and now back to some codez.