Or: Chaotic Group Projects Meet Social Distancing
If you look at the to-do lists and notes apps of BuzzFeeders in tech this week, you might be a little confused. A few folks are growing virtual plants, someone is making pancakes, and Paul appears to be checks notes “improving site retention with a juice-based rewards system delivered via mechanical pump.” Has quarantine cabin fever finally taken over?
Nah, it’s just Hack Week.
Hack Weeks and hackathons are relatively common concepts among tech organizations at various companies, and come in a lot of different flavors. Some places will limit total working time to certain hours of the day, or compress all the work into a shorter but nonstop (read: no sleep) sprint of two days, or set limits on technology or theme. BuzzFeed’s directives are relatively freeform: Build stuff. Be weird. Present (if you want) on Friday.
Oddly enough, despite this week being a proverbial single-arm-table-sweep clean of all regular teams, meetings, roadmaps, and projects, quite a few of our previous “hacks” have ended up in production. Multiple of our internal tools and a few parts of buzzfeed.com that our users see every day grew from engineers’ wandering minds during Hack Week. Despite our best efforts to be as minimally useful and productive as possible, we still somehow manage to produce good work.
We can’t talk about Hack Week this year without touching on the question du jour of all tech blog posts in 2020: how has it been impacted by the current ongoing (despite what Mickey Mouse wants you to believe) global pandemic? The honest answer is, it really hasn’t changed too much. Our teams are already distributed across multiple offices and homes both in and outside of the US, including both full-time and contract employees, so the majority of pre-planning and coordination already happened asynchronously. We’re using many of the same planning sheets and channels that we have in previous years. (Pro tip: Save planning documents in a drive folder. Go back to said drive folder a year later when you panic and realize you need to figure out what to do for Hack Week again. Thank your past self for sharing.)
The one area we’re missing out on this year is in the free food department. Previous Hack Weeks have included home baking from our Tasty tech team, happy hours, and bountiful bags of McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches.
No pandemic can stop BuzzFeed tech from doing what it does best, though: making stickers. (They’re h o l o g r a p h i c.)
Stay tuned this week and follow BuzzFeed Tech on Twitter as we move fast and break things!