Customer Hackathons: In the Trenches with Rosette EngineersFebruary 12, 2016
Basis Technology and Kyper Data Technologies engineers collaborate on code. Image by Alyssa Watson of Kyper.
It’s 9am, the coffee is freshly brewed, and fingers are hovering over keyboards, poised to start. As with most hackathons, there’s a palpable buzz in the room, muted discussions of engineers eager to put their skills and expertise to the test.
The week of January 18, we were fortunate to host three hackathons at our Cambridge office for our friends at Recorded Future, Kyper Data Technologies, and Diffeo, who took time from their busy days to focus on how to make best use of our Rosette software to add new features to their systems.
At Basis Technology, we pride ourselves in our high-touch tech support, and customer hackathons take that support to an entirely new level. They bring us closer to our customers, improve cross-organizational software integration, and boost customer productivity.
Why We Love Hackathons
The Kyper Data Technologies team at the January 20th hackathon. Image by Alyssa Watson of Kyper.
Tailored To the Customer’s Needs
A productive hackathon starts not with code and technical evaluations, but with a conversation. Each morning we begin with a discussion of the pain points our guests are experiencing, and a review the Rosette functionality that might best suit the problem at hand. This step is vital to getting the best value out of the day. Sometimes we cement the plans created from preliminary discussions, but sometimes we determine a new course of action. While Diffeo arrived with a clear goal, Recorded Future sought an in-depth discussion of how best to use Rosette to fix their problem. These few minutes of planning resulted in a more successful hackathon for each team.
“We figured there would be new features to add, but there was definitely more than we expected.” Staffan Truvé, CTO at Recorded Future, who flew his team in from Sweden, said. “If there’s someone who does something better than us, we’re always happy to use their software. Rosette’s name indexing function for example—we had created our own name matching capabilities, but it’s very useful that Rosette can match names in different languages. We didn’t have that. Entity resolution is another function of Rosette we weren’t aware of and it can improve our success.”
Actually Build Something
While each day starts with discussion, the ultimate goal is to actually build something by the time the clock strikes 5pm. A successful hackathon moves the customer from an abstract concept to prototype software. While it may not be perfect, that software is a huge first step towards creating a new feature that adds real value to the customer’s product.
“You’re never going to be able to write production code in one day,” Graham Morehead, Federal Solutions Engineer at Basis Technology, said “but that’s not the purpose of a hackathon. There’s a difference between dropping a manual on your desk versus inviting you to code something with the manual’s author in the room. That procedure of doing is going to ingrain best practices in the customer’s memory.”
Adam Falls, Data Manager at Kyper Data Technologies agreed: “When you’re working on a new idea, it’s experimental until you get far enough. That’s rarely at the top of the to-do list because you have more immediate things to work on. All of us here working at moving the ball forward makes it easier to transition those ideas from experimental to prototype for production.”
Hackathons also breed a unique focus and productivity compared to just another day in the office. We narrow the broad goals down to two or three projects for the day, and assign engineers from both companies to each problem.
“Dividing into teams taps into their natural competitiveness, and also adds focus. It creates dialogue within their organization in just one day,” our Director of Customer Engineering, Chris Mack said “It’s very healthy. At the end of the day, you have to demo something, you have to have something to show for how you spent your day.”
Recorded Future and Basis Technology engineers discuss the day’s plan over breakfast. Photo by Basis Technology.
The Human Connection
Even greater than the tangible products of a hackathon, is the rapport it creates between our team and our customers. Facetime during the hackathon strengthens a continuing mutually beneficial relationship.
Brainstorming doesn’t work well via email. You can’t bounce ideas off one another when there’s a two-hour wait time between each new thought. “The engineers at Basis have a good intuition of the right way to approach a problem with Rosette. I can ask them ‘Do you think this approach will succeed?’” Falls of Kyper said. “[In the room] with Basis engineers, we can more quickly find paths that have a higher chance of success.”
Conducting a hackathon at our office, we were able to pull the engineer who created the piece of code in question from their cubicle—if they weren’t already in the room—and get answers immediately.
“Being on-site at Basis enabled several conversations that were faster, better, and more in-depth than support tickets would have enabled—and that’s saying something, because your responses to our questions via email are excellent.” John Frank, CEO and Co-Founder of Diffeo, said.
The benefits of getting together in person goes well beyond the hackathon however.
“The implementation is easier working with Basis engineers, yes, but more than that, hackathons give us a chance to really get under each other’s skin. Instead of a formal customer-vendor relationship, you get to know the person as well,” Truvé of Recorded Future said.
Commitment to Customer Success
Running a hackathon is a significant commitment of time and resources for Basis Technology and our customers. Hackathons involve taking some of the most knowledgeable and talented engineers away from their growth-focused tasks and production schedules.
For our team, the benefits far outweigh the cost. We believe in the highest quality support going beyond the sale because we are passionate about solving problems in the human language technology space.
To open the customer hackathon experience to more, Basis Technology is launching a series of Rosette user conferences. The first conference will be in Washington, D.C. this April followed by San Francisco, Europe, and Asia—exact dates and locations TBD. We’re bringing the hackathon to you, and we hope you’ll join us.
Evaluating Rosette functions with Recorded Future. Photo by Basis Technology.
Recorded Future arms you with real-time threat intelligence so you can proactively defend your organization against cyber attacks. With billions of indexed facts, and more added every day, our patented Web Intelligence Engine continuously analyzes the entire Web to give you unmatched insight into emerging threats. Recorded Future helps protect four of the top five companies in the world.
Kyper Data Technologies
Kyper is a cloud-based Data as a Service platform that connects individuals, organizations, data publishers, and developers, making standardized datasets of any type and any size available all in one place. This DaaS platform gives you easy access to data, visualization tools, and collaborative work spaces on-demand, enabling you to quickly find the data you need to drive your ideas and organization forward.
Diffeo is a knowledge discovery company that helps people organize the world’s information by mining unbounded streams of Big Data and Big Text using entity coreference resolution and novelty ranking to enable entity-centric search of the Web and private content.