Hack Week #4: Hack to School

August 28, 2014

Last week was Hack Week at Signal, in its fourth energetic and productive installment. Twice a year, when the quarter’s development work has come to a close, Signalites get five days to work on whatever they want.

Hack Week is a highlight of the season, and for good reason. “We want to promote an environment of innovation, and this is one way we can ensure that happens here at Signal,” explains Signal CTO Eric Lunt. “It allows for unconstrained creativity.”

Some hacks from previous Hack Weeks have continued to make an impact. Signal’s tag inspector was born out of Hack Week, as was our currency plugin. And many internal tools, from the tablets outside our conference room to the internal toolsets used to manage accounts, originated as Hack Week projects.

The week gives Signalites a chance to work with new people and technologies–Hack Week naturally encourages opportunistic collaboration. “You get to take the one thing that’s been bothering you, and fix it,” said Jeff Bender, a developer on the vendor integrations team. “It doesn’t have to be specific to Signal, but it has to relate to Signal in some way. Pick the thing that improves your workflow, and make that better.”

paper airplane contest

Friday was Demo Day, where our Signal hackers presented their work in front of the whole company. The 28 hacks ranged from the whimsical (a hat to be worn by the build master) to the sophisticated (system status visualizations and reporting tools).

Here are a few of the hacks Signalites worked on last week:

Panopticon: Robert Quinlivan built a WebGL visualization that pulls data from our production metrics to display a 3D graphic that changes dynamically based on system load.

Call Tracking: Signal Fuse enables a business owner to collect and connect online and offline customer signals in real-time. As an example of the simplicity of integrating such information into a holistic campaign measurement and attribution solution, Cody Ray built a Signal Fuse plugin for Twilio’s OpenVBX system to seamlessly integrate Call Tracking for Twilio-based telephony systems.

Centralized logging tools: Andy Peckys, Josh Buss, and Cody Ray set up a version of the popular syslog => logstash => elasticsearch => kibana stack with Signal’s same operational requirements of high availability and ease of management, while satisfying their desire for a universal request ID, automatic field parsing, and compatibility across our various cloud environments.

Project Kaleidoscope: Adrian Lange, Eric Smith, and Rich Chang built a user interface for visualizing statistics of profile data stored in Cassandra, to help us better understand vendor reach and reveal inter-vendor relationships based on the stored data.

How do I…: Brian Peacock, Dave Farkas, Drew Myler, Jack Myers, and Sean O’Toole created a help system for web applications that provides users with step-by-step tutorials layered on top of the application in Signal Engage. Tutorials are created using an admin mode that generates steps as the administrator clicks through the application. The entire system can be integrated into any website using a simple script tag and a small HTML snippet. The application was built in JavaScript and uses a Rails backend running MongoDB.

Ben Vogt demo

Pages and Tags and History Flags: Certainly the crowd favorite, Ben Vogt’s presentation rhymed like a Dr. Seuss book, but his hack’s intent was serious: he added flags to make it easier for users to see which edits to their tags could affect tag performance. Or as Ben put it on Demo Day:

But the history is long, and it’s oh so dreary.
Scrolling and scrolling, how it makes me so weary
If only I could see on the graph the performance drop
And see what change I made that made the tag stop

Congrats, Signalites, on your excellent hacks!

Photos by David Michaels.

Laurel Wamsley

Laurel Wamsley was the Marketing and Communications Manager at Signal, and the editor of Signal's blogs. She worked previously at the University of Chicago, Rackspace, and NPR.

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