Blown away (again) by Hack Day

I organized the second Hack Day at Yahoo! this past Friday, and it was extraordinary (check out some of the Flickr photos tagged “hackday”). Rather than write a long post with my own analysis, I’ll leave it up to some of the participants (it was extraordinary because of them anyway — I just try to lend minimal order to the beautiful chaos of it all):

Ed Ho, “Hack Day 2 at Yahoo!”:

Today is one of those days that makes me proud to be a Yahoo. The sheer number of hacks was overwhelming (again) and the quality of each improved as well. What I saw today was nothing more or less than I knew was possible when I joined Yahoo!. Yahoo! has an incredible number of smart programmers, and they are full of ideas and energy. The spirit had even captured our offices around the world and we had multiple hackers in other countries who had stayed late into the night (past midnight their time) just to have the chance to demo their developments to the rest of the Yahoo world. It was magnificent.

It was clear this time around that people had been thinking long and hard about their ideas and they were ready to execute. It’s personally satisfying to see programmers execute on such innovative ideas without PRD’s, MRD’s, Functional Specs and those obsolete remnants of waterfall development cycles. Powerful wizardry was going on at Yahoo today and I’m happy.

Matt McAlister, “Top 10 Reasons why Hack Day rocks”:

How do you explain the benefit of Hack Day in one sentence? Hack Day bubbles up significant yet tangible product strategy advances from across the organization while simultaneously feeding all that workforce optimization and touchy feely crap without paying a team of expensive Stephen Covey robots to tell you what you already know. It’s also super cheap.

Be sure to read the rest of Matt’s post — it’s good stuff about what real hands-on innovation means. (I have always absolutely hated the usual corporate team-building activities. I was always the one quietly scowling in the background as my co-workers role-played irrelevant situations while a professional “facilitator” asked me if I was having “fun.” Hack Day is very intentionally the antidote to that sort of pointless corporate activity. Bonus link on this topic: Douglas Rushkoff’s Fun AT work vs. Fun AS work.)

David Beach, “More on Yahoo! Hack Day 2”:

It was a huge success. There were so many hacks. Way more than last time. The quality and thinking behind the hacks was also improved. This tells me the initiative is working. People see the value of this and are taking advantage of the opportunity to express themselves in this manner. I believe that it’s one of the best things Yahoo! has done. At least internally.

The room was packed. I don’t think I can discuss specific hacks, but there were very clever innovations presented. I believe there were many more search hacks this time. Upcoming, Y! Widgets, Flickr, Autos, Shopping, 360, Local, Travel, WebJay, Maps, Messenger, Mail, and more were all represented and hacked in one form or another. I’m sure you’ll be seeing many of them appear live on the site in the near future. Actually it would be cool to somehow identify the new feature or service as something that was developed through Hack Day when it goes live. At the very least the orgs respective blog should blab about it.

I don’t know when the next one will be, but I’m preparing. I said earlier that I’m going to learn to program and I meant it. I taught myself pretty much everything I know this far, so why should I stop now? I’m starting with Ruby on Rails, because I hear it’s elegant and simple, plus I believe I can understand object oriented structured. I’m also going to brush up on web standards, CSS, and XHTML. It’s been awhile and much has changed since I every seriously had my hands on the stuff behind the page. First I believe that this is the only way to get some of my ideas out there, and second, I fit in with nutty programmers and designers more than I do with PMs. I’ve done the design thing, so now I’m going to try the other side. We’ll see how that works. L8r

(You go, Beach!)

JR Conlin, “Past our prime? Bullshit.”:

Had to get out of the Hack Day Presentation show. It was a packed room, with nearly 100 hacks being presented. This is stuff whipped up in a day, folks. Viable products that seriously kick ass. Add in the 70 or so from the one last quarter and… well… anyone who thinks we’ve got a bunch of lazy dinosaurs working here needs to have their head examined.

Seriously. Cool. Stuff.

(Hopefully a bunch will be ready to roll out soon.)

The coolest thing about Hack Day is that it goes far beyond one day — the kind of inspired development that is showcased on Hack Day is happening every day now (Take it from me — I stay extremely busy curating just a fraction of it). Hack Day is a day for the celebration of hackerdom, a tip of the hat to the artists among us who express themselves in code, a recognition of the pure joys of creation. Yes, hackers are artists. As I wrote in one of my old InfoWorld columns: ” If art is making order out of chaos, then software developers are artists at the highest level.”

Something very special is going on at Yahoo! and I’m absolutely giddy that I have something to do with it. It’s a lot of fun being continually amazed.

Update: Found an interesting article in the Sunday NYT: “Here’s an Idea: Let Everyone Have Ideas.” That’s the spirit of Hack Day. Key quote from the article:

According to Tim O’Reilly, the founder and chief executive of O’Reilly Media, the computer book publisher, and an evangelist for open source technologies, creativity is no longer about which companies have the most visionary executives, but who has the most compelling “architecture of participation.” That is, which companies make it easy, interesting and rewarding for a wide range of contributors to offer ideas, solve problems and improve products?