FOND Fest 2017:
A Biarri Networks Hackathon

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Workplaces can be high pressure environments, and Biarri Networks is no exception. We’re developing and selling things which are new to most of the market: unique software, and a unique approach to network design. And we’re working in an industry which is undergoing a renaissance, where new and bigger projects spring up every day, and where there’s always a surplus of work to do.

get project → deliver → get another project→ deliver → …

This pressure means we often fail to step back, appreciate what we’ve done, and think about new ways to solve problems. Which is a really important thing to do, as our business model and philosophy are based on finding new approaches to difficult problems. For us, and any other company with this model, it’s critical to ensure at least two things:

  1. An ‘experimentation and innovation’ mindset
  2. A reliable stream of valuable ideas

We want to practice and keep doing (1), and ensure we step back as often as possible to work on (2). The danger here, as mentioned above, is in failing to do the latter. But why can stepping back be so difficult? The most common answer is it’s just hard to find time. It’s hard to ignore work, let deadlines slip from your mind, and lift your thoughts from the hustle and bustle of the factory floor. So we ran an experiment – what if we didn’t rely solely on finding time to be creative, but instead gave ourselves time. In that spirit, everyone took three days off work, and joined a company-wide hackathon. We called it: Fond Fest.

What’s a hackathon?

Put sixty-odd intelligent and creative people in a room and tell them to do some smart people stuff. That’s basically what a hackathon is – a minimally prescriptive format which provides a venue for self-expression and creativity through problem solving. People come together, form teams around attacking a particular problem, and collaboratively come up with a solution. For us, it’s a fantastic way to practice that experimentation and innovation mindset, and to generate a bunch of valuable ideas along the way (see (1) and (2) above).

If you’re interested in running a hackathon at your own organisation, I recommend by Joshua Tauberer. This gives a general, (i.e. non-tech-specific) guide to hackathons. Especially the question those set on running a hackathon might not ask – is a hackathon the right format?

Running a FOND Fest

And so in late August of 2017, fuelled by coffee and sandwiches, Biarri Networks gathered in Melbourne for the inaugural Fond Fest, to try and re-think the way telecommunications networks are planned and built.

Here’s some examples of the sort of things we tackled:

  • Geospatial version control, e.g automatically tracking relevant geometric changes on design elements
  • How to automatically source open source data to produce premise-up costed designs anywhere in the world.
  • Ways to make learning how to use FOND fun and engaging for new users

After three days of Fond Fest; of scrapped ideas, customer personas, arguments, mini-golf and hastily-pulled-together examples, our output was myriad, and often complex. UI mockups, code snippets, web sites, organisational plans and brave new meme formats. To boil it down, each team had just three minutes to sell their solution to the rest of the company, competing to have their names immortalised on the Fond Fest trophy – the Golden Splice.

The Golden Splice

Behold! The Golden Splice.

It was a fierce battle, resulting in a split-decision, with two teams sharing this now vaunted prize. And then all rivalries were suddenly dropped, as the pizza had arrived.

The next step

A worthwhile way to spend three days? Probably. We’ve certainly succeeded in topping up our stream of valuable ideas. But the most utility for most people was probably derived from thinking laterally with a small, atypical project team.
And the lure of the Golden Splice pulls our thoughts to next year, where we’ll iterate on the format and keep the experiment going.

Keep splicing!

Are you keen to find out what it’s like to work at Biarri? Take a look for yourself!