Last week, Zuto hosted it's first ever internal hackathon in partnership with Twilio.
It was an opportunity for software engineers from different squads at Zuto to work together, with many of us having not been able to meet in person yet due to lockdown. Along with the added bonus of Twilio staff, from across the globe, providing support over the two days.
For the majority of participants this was going to be their first experience of a hackathon. But this didn't cause many issues as the organisers made sure to keep everyone up to date in the run up to, and throughout, the event.
As the UK is still in lockdown, the event had to be held remotely. The organisers set up various Zoom meetings which enabled teams to work seperately, along with a virtual help desk room for when anyone needed assistance with their project, any Twilio products, or later on, their presentations and demos.
Then there were the challenges. As with any good hackathon the challenges provided an end goal, while allowing the teams the freedom to decide how to go about getting there by using Twilio products.
So these challenges were:
- Improve the pipeline view
- Improve the UI for task based working
- Enable customers to self serve using SMS
Each team was assigned one of these challenges.
Dan Smith, a senior Software Engineer at Zuto, was working with Team DC Comics - the winning team! - and had this to say about his experience:
I haven’t done a hackathon before, not that I didn’t think they were a good idea, more that they seem to involve working solidly for 24 hours, and that just doesn’t appeal.
This hackathon therefore was a bit easier since it allowed time to rest. This is quite important since I found the hackathon to be intense, but in a good way.
As the focus of this hackathon was on Twilio products I worked with AutoPilot, Studio Flow and Twilio’s Functions as well as building a simple API to serve as a backend for the Functions to call.
One of the really good things about AutoPilot are the templates; these provide very good examples on how to achieve common tasks.
I also got more familiar with the improvements that Twilio have made to their Functions. These include the ability to group them together and an easy way to register dependencies.
Overall, I would say it was a positive experience, a little draining due to the intensity but nevertheless well worth doing.
Similarly, Julian Monono (Principal Software Engineer at Zuto) from Team Pixel enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about Twilio products:
As most of my day to day is focused on the priorities for our Mission, the hackathon was a good opportunity to step back and try something a bit more ‘radical’ within Twilio.
The hackathon was a good opportunity to learn some more about Twilio products we don’t currently use (e.g. Sync) and to work ‘cross-squad’ on a focused problem!
The two days were a lot of fun and I learned that;
- You can make Flex look pretty with the right styling!
- Frontend is always fun!
- Understanding something new during a hackathon can be tricky when you have a cold
And also an insight from Melvin Iwuajoku, another Senior Software Engineer at Zuto who was working with the Team The (Best) Team:
I had done a few hackathons before. Though this one did not involve waking up with a sore neck after sleeping on the floor or a desk, it was just as intense and exciting!
Besides my machine deciding to "take some time off" just before the demo, it was a great two days collaborating across teams and I'm happy with what we achieved. We invested quite some time to understand the problem but once we got going it was great! Looking forward to the next one now.
What did I learn?
Applying custom branding on Twilio Flex UI is challenging but looks great when it comes together.
The Twilio platform including Flex offers us so many opportunities to help our sales partners.
A great aspect of hackathons is the opportunity to involve other people from the company who aren't software engineers. For example, Adam Bell, a Junior Product Owner at Zuto, was one of the organisers of the event and he had this to say about the two days:
The hackathon was really useful from a product perspective as it really helped showcase what might be possible in the future with Twilio and the findings from the day have already started to shape our immediate roadmap!
My role for the day was fairly fluid and I was floating across each of the squads, it was great to see ideas flowing and the different ways each team approached the business problem they’d been given to solve.
Hackathons like this help us test out a new ideas and quickly understand how we might be able to help our customers moving forward!
The three teams then presented their projects to the rest of the company during "Friday Demos". We were able to get great feedback from colleagues, along with ideas about how each idea could be implemented and expanded in the future.
And there are already talks about the next one!