It’s no surprise that engineers have more ideas bouncing around the back of their minds than time to work on them. There are always a million things in the queue that have to happen first. A few months ago, some of my co-engineers and I were venting about it over some beer, and started talking about what we could do. We came up with the idea of a company hack day. It’s a perfect solution: a time to bring these ideas to life, try something new, and move quickly, without everyday deadlines looming.
The real goal of a hack day is to build something, usually from scratch, in a single day. The idea itself doesn’t matter so much—it’s more about getting that idea built so that it can be demoed at the end. The code doesn’t have to be perfect or even elegant...that can be fixed later. But it should be functional to give your idea life. It’s amazing what can be built in a day.
Squarespace held its very first company hack day a few weeks ago on a Saturday in January. The day included about 15 engineers, who all started coding at 10AM. The office had a vibe of quiet intensity—with most of the day spent diligently hacking out code. Of course, there were numerous breaks for food, drink, and discussion. At 10PM the coding stopped and each group demoed what they had built. (This is always my favorite part.) It was incredible to see what everyone had put together in such a short amount of time, and a lot of fun to show off the result of our efforts.
Some developers had worked in groups, and some alone, but everyone tackled an area they were particularly interested in. A few people explored their own wishlist third-party integrations like audio-players, while others had some fun with bookmarklets. And of course, we'd never leave out the hack-day-standard map with real-time data visualization.
When you think about it, a hack day is an act of creative expression. It’s also an incredible source of new ideas, approaches, and a great learning experience, all of which made it a real boost of energy for the team. For me, it evoked memories of late nights spent in my university’s computer lab, hacking out code with my teammates in a rush to meet our deadline. I always found this rush exciting, especially the sense of moving quickly to bring something from idea to functioning program. I’m glad we got to bring that to Squarespace.
We can’t wait to do it again.