Why I Hack on Hack Day

At Visible Measures, every quarter, our amazing engineering team organizes “Hack Day”, a 24 hour hackathon during which our folks work on ideas, cutting edge research, and experiments.  After usually working late into the night and early the next morning, there are demonstrations of all the Hacks for the entire company to see and then vote on.  I encourage people across the organization to participate as it’s great fun.  The winner of each Hack Day gets to hold the proverbial “pimp chalice” (see image below) until the next Hack Day.  

I also try to do a Hack for each Hack Day, even though my coding skills are as stale as a 10 year old bagel. Why do I bother?

I hack on Hack Day because:

  1. I want to show support and solidarity with the most dedicated, passionate, innovative, and selfless engineering team I have ever known
  2. it reminds me of how brilliant our guys really are. The sheer scale and diversity of what they deal with is unreal. My little baby attempt at a Hack Day app is just no comparison, but my struggles with building it keep our guys’ skills in perspective for me
  3. I think that CEOs of companies should have some idea how the sausage is made and I think that is why many early stage tech founders should be able to code. Even if their code, er my code, is the software equivalent of a “learn your ABC’s” book

The bigger question here is, if you are an entrepreneur, shouldn’t you know how the various parts of your business work, at least at a high level?  OK, gotta get back to it. My app still doesn’t work right.

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Make It Great

A friend was recounting to me a story of a huge project he had to do for his very famous billionaire boss.  I am leaving out names to protect the well-known innocent.

My friend had a whole team of people working on this project, and given its relatively open scope, the team was a little unsure of just how broad and deep a view to take on the work.

After 2 weeks of very hard work, my friend requested a check-in with his boss, the billionaire who had requested the project in the first place.  My friend’s thinking was to be able to get some feedback from his boss to see if his team was on the right track. But ultimately, my friend was looking for some sort guidance in the way of “limiting parameters” for this project. He was trying to contain scope.

At the check-in meeting, my friend gives a brief update and then asks for some feedback from his billionaire boss. His boss looks at him for a moment. He pauses.

Then he says, “Make it great.” 

That’s it. That’s all he said. My friend was caught aback, but after thinking about it, he laughed. He had been selfishly looking for a way to minimize the work that he and his team would have to do, but instead, he was given a mandate to do an incredible job.

His team ended up over-preparing probably by a factor of 3, but in the end, the work was GREAT. And he learned a lesson that he said he would never forget.  When he told me this story, I was wow’d by it. What a great answer. 

Really, isn’t that the answer to any question of how to approach a project or anything that you are spending time on?  Make it great.

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