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I was thinking about organizing a "Hack Day" at work, think google's 20% time but just for 1 whole day (maybe just once per year or quarter). Similar to Atlassian Fedex Days I'd like for all the developers in our group to have a free day to work on any kind of project / technology they like and then show it off.

Ideally, developers have fun programming without worrying about their day to day projects or technology restrictions and at the same time we can generate some cool ideas that could turn into future projects or patents etc.

Do you have any tips / suggestions for me?
- Has anyone organized something similar before?
- Any pitfalls to watchout for or tips for success?
- Any resources I should request to make the day go better? day more productive /enjoyable?
- Should I encourage / enforce groups? Or is it better for people to work on things individually?
- What can I use to persuade management to support this?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

If this is going to be a rare occurrence (at most once a month), then it probably fits closer to a "development team kickoff" type of event than a "20% time hackathon" type of event. With that in mind, here are some ideas:

  • Try to make it a competition, with prizes. Especially if it's once a year, I'm sure you can convince your management to offer gift certificates/other prizes to the person or team which does the most interesting work (as judged by their peers). Go for lots of small prizes rather than a few big ones. Or, at least, offer plaques or badges of honor that participants can show off later
  • Try to get everyone in the same room at the same time. If it's not possible to do the work in the same space (probably not), at least get everyone in the same space at the beginning of the day, and then again, at the end
  • Pay for food/pop for the day
  • Especially if it's a rare occurrence, make it an in-group thing. Don't involve external groups/departments in the day or its evaluation
  • Offer open-ended problems to work on as ideas, ones which can justifiably be somehow related to your work but don't have to be. Or, at any rate, set up some sorts of goals that people can aim for, with enough leeway so that the methods can get really creative
  • Take pictures, and make them available to the participants
  • Don't enforce groups, or participation, in any way
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2  
+1 for the last one. –  Maxpm Sep 14 '11 at 23:31
    
Good input! It will be rare, I can't imagine if being more than a few times a year (if at all) any input for wooing management? –  TJB Sep 15 '11 at 4:48
    
You've got most of it already. To make it easy, find out what your management's goals are for the quarter/year and map it to them. Anything from employee morale, retention, training, team-building, recruiting (if the projects end up as open source for all to see), marketing (if you end up doing cool things), and research –  blueberryfields Sep 15 '11 at 15:23

Even if it's just a one day thing, have a place for people to post their ideas beforehand. Coming into work and being surprised that you have 8 hours to spend on your own project would catch most people unawares. Announce it at least two week in advance.

People are going to have ideas. Some ideas are better then other. Have a place for them post their ideas. Somewhere public. People will talk about what's needed, what's brilliant, and what's doomed to failure. Casual prep-work for development day.

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Yeah, I was thinking about starting a wiki for people to write up ideas / areas of interest ahead of time, that could also help to form teams if some people are interested in an idea someone posted etc. Very good input, thanx! –  TJB Sep 15 '11 at 20:00

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