Alexa, honk Ian’s horn.”

Uncomfortable silence. You know the kind when you are in a demo and shit doesn’t work and the audience just stares at you. The air gets thick, you sweat a little and you shake your mouse really fast as if somehow applying intensity will change the outcome.

“Let me try that again….Alexa, honk Ian’s horn.”

More uncomfortable silence only to be broken by the sound of our CTO Ian Culling’s Tesla honking outside.

Success!honk-if-you-love-hackweek-photos

The audience erupts, cheering and laughing, while Denise Architetto and Shannon Cruey, smile having overcome the demo demons. They successfully demonstrated that you could use Amazon Echo’s Alexa voice commands to trigger a VersionOne Continuum™ automation pipeline to call the Tesla API to honk Ian’s car horn.

Inspired by Denise’s Echo project, Shannon paired up with Denise and extended the idea, just to see if he could do it. It was a spectacular display of what the spirit of hackweek is like at VersionOne. It’s all about: collaborating and developing ideas that we are passionate about.

It’s a coveted time in our organization where we get to set aside our daily responsibilities and work on our curiosities. The bi-annual event tends to stir up the kid in all of us. The creative pause gives us time to remember why we love what we do. And we get to build fun, useful, innovative stuff.

You might be thinking: what value does honking a car horn actually provide to the business? Or why would I give my team the time to work on such silliness when I have customers who are knocking at the door cash in hand for new features?

Hack Week is about infusing innovation into our organization and opening up the creative energy in our team by giving them the freedom to explore. Exploration opens the door to new ideas and new ways of looking at things.

It’s not about the end result of the Hack Week projects. It’s about the thought process, the experience, the learning, and of course the fun. Great ideas come when the mind is relaxed and this is a time when the team gets to expand their thinking beyond our quarterly objectives.

Innovation is a core value at VersionOne and this is just one way that we get to express that.  The company gets the benefit of seeing new product ideas, improved processes, and solutions to problems that have been around for too long.

In some cases, Hack Week projects turn into features that our customers come to love. This past hackweek produced more than 15 different projects, some of which have become feature candidates on our product roadmap. Estimably, an estimation game that allows teams to collaboratively estimate their backlog is a great example.  Estimably started as a hackweek project in 2013. It was inspired as a mashup between the planning poker method as popularized by Mike Cohn in his book, Agile Estimating and Planning, and the game Spaceteam, a collaborative game that encourages shouting and pushing buttons. The product was ultimately released in our Summer ‘14 release and has quickly become a customer favorite.

The benefits go beyond what’s delivered to the organization and our customers. Our people benefit too. Employees get the opportunity to work with people they might not normally get to work with. They get to learn and to explore new topics and technologies, as was the case with Alexa and the Tesla.

Honking Ian’s car horn will likely never make it into our product, but who knows, maybe asking Alexa to add a new story to your backlog during stand-up could be.

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