Makisu Day: Rolling Up Innovative Ideas at Basis Technology

18 Apr 2013
Blog

Recently, Basis Technology decided to take a break from the routine of Agile/Scrum to have our first ever “hackathon” day. The only rules were:

  1. Pick a project that is related to Basis Technology and would be beneficial to our internal community or to the community at large.
  2. There are no other rules.

Employees generated over 30 project proposals. After some narrowing down of ideas and forming of teams, we ended up with nine projects for the day-long event. Most teams consisted of 2 to 5 members ranging from IT to support personnel to engineers to managers (including a VP).

So why do we call it Makisu Day? The reason is simple and twofold:

  1. In 1995, Basis Technology was founded as an internationalization and globalization services company with a leaning towards the Japanese language. We’ve always kept to that theme/culture.

  2. Makisu is the Japanese word for the rolling mat used to create sushi. By adding different ingredients along with rice on the mat, it’s then used to roll those ingredients together to create a sushi roll. We felt like Basis Technology was accomplishing the same goal by putting different people together and having them work together to create something interesting.

Most participants were extremely excited about Makisu Day, but there was still some apprehension. Some believed it would be impossible to have something working in 24 hours. Others were used to the routine of a two-week scrum cycle.

As the day started, it certainly took awhile for the teams to get going. Most teams took anywhere from 2 to 4 hours getting things set up including version control, development machines, deployment systems, etc. This caused even more dismay to those who were unsure about the event.  Eventually with much help from each other and the support of our IT staff, the teams were up and running.

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By the afternoon, there was a buzz in the air. The teams were energized. You could hear discussions erupt from time to time, while other times the focus was so intense that all you could hear was the sound of keyboards clicking away. Everyone was engaged and driven to by their goal.

One team had an idea to build a Chemical Tagger API into Autopsy. Autopsy is a graphical interface to the Sleuth Kit, which is a library of command line tools that allow you to investigate disk images. By adding a chemical tagging component to Autopsy it’ll allow for the detection of chemical names that people might want to pay attention to on a hard drive (i.e. bomb making chemicals).

Adam Malinowski, one of our senior software engineers on the Digital Forensics team, said, “Each of us [on the team] contributed equally and brought something unique to the table.  David brought NLP experience to deal with the Chemical Tagger API and led the brainstorming for other features we could add. Seth worked out the build/integration details, as well as documentation and issue tracking (note: came up with the project idea in the first place). Tim and I leveraged our development experience with Autopsy. The combination of skills made a perfect team and the task distribution happened very naturally.”

23 hours later: Everyone was asked to start preparing for the presentations.

24 hours after the start of Makisu Day: Work stopped as it was time to present the projects.

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Everyone in the whole company stopped what they were doing. As we gathered together for some food and drinks, anticipation filled the air.

Besides a five minute time limit, there was no specific format for the presentations. It was suggested that the teams stand up front for their presentations but otherwise they were free to organize their time as they saw fit.

Every team had something to present; almost every team had fully functioning code. All the presentations received cheers and some really amazed everyone.

Sadly, in the end there could only be one team to win the prize; a large Makisu the size of window (Big surprise: It was made from a wooden window shade). However, in the end Basis Technology and all of it’s employees were the winners (awwwww).  Everyone had fun. Some possible new features were created. People who never worked together got a chance to work with others in the company. And we broke down some habits and routines.

Laurie Crist, who started at Basis Technology just a couple of months before Makisu Day, said, “I enjoyed the unique interactions of a different team dynamic, and especially enjoyed working with and even meeting people from different departments. I hope we can do this again in 6 months or at least next year.”

Many shared this same sentiment. I’m happy to say that Makisu Day was a success at Basis Technology and another event is in the works for later this year.