Big Sofa's Hackday

Our Development and Product teams had their inaugural Hackday recently and it proved even more enlightening than anticipated. We’re really keen to get our teams thinking in an innovate and creative way, as well as learning new skills and this presented them with the perfect opportunity to do just that. We had some rough ideas for areas we wanted to explore that could provide value to our mission, but gave the team the free rein to go out and investigate the things that most interested them - even if they seemed a little wild and wacky.

I ended the day reflecting on a couple of things:

In a tech company we should all have an understanding of ‘how stuff works’

We didn’t just include our technical Developers, the Product team who have varying levels of technical skill also got involved. This gave us the opportunity to learn more about the workings of different technologies, APIs, engines, AI, machine learning and all sorts. In a complimentary fashion we gave the Developers ideas around application of the technology that had been unearthed and how it might be used to provide new services or improve our product to the benefit of users. We shared what we’d learnt with the whole Big Sofa team and educated them a little too. Following this success we’re exploring new ways of creating a tech savvy team, from talks to events to Learn to Code sessions – before long we’ll all be in the Matrix!

Everyone should and needs to get involved in the Product Vision

Getting such a diverse range of minds involved brought about ideas that would never have emerged from isolated teams. The proliferation of the ‘user first’ mantra in the Product world poses the threat of forgetting how to think more inventively outside of immediate user requirements. We need to remember that not only do we have to consider what our customers tell us about how they currently operate and their immediate needs within those constraints, but also look at how technology and the market is evolving, and the directions in which it is or could be moving. The developers taught us to think differently – start with the how and retrospectively explore whether it fits the what and why for a change. Sure, you have to be critical and can’t use exciting tech for the sake of it, but at Big Sofa part of our mission is to play a role in driving change across the industry and sometimes this can only be achieved by being a little radical. Needless to say our Road Map has expanded even more!

There’s some cool tech out there

Investigating new ideas proved there really is some cool tech out there. Looking outside the Market Research sector has open our eyes to the interesting stuff being explored – whether it’s in healthcare, media, retail or gaming there have been an explosion of start-ups. It’s amazing how much cross-over there is and how much unexplored potential some of these applications and engines have. We discovered tech built for very different reasons that we could use for anything from auto tagging content, to respondent identification and screening, consumer language analysis and many other possibilities.

Pizza and playing really does fuel developers

Some of our Dev team will tell you that when you’ve fixed your third bug of the day life feels a little wearing. Even some of our feature orientated or infrastructure projects can seem somewhat bread and butter. The Hackday proved a real re-energiser for everyone involved. It reminded us of the interesting and complex challenges we’re tackling with tech and re-enforced our vision for where we see our product going. It has led to greater engagement, better collaboration and conversation and encouraged a more thoughtful approach to tackling technical challenges. We can’t stop the team requesting training data and beavering away at all hours, trying things out and figuring out how to hook them into our platform!

We’re planning our next Hackday in another couple of weeks and looking forward to building on the progress we’ve made and continuing our exploration along new.