Like the periodic whirr of locusts in the summertime, there is a hypnotic ebb and flow of small team discussion and synchronized keyboarding particularly after midnight under the glow of fluorescent lights with a dozen round tables, bins of chocolates and Red Bull, and nearby the disarray of an earlier invasion of pizza hounds. And then at the stroke of each hour, a brief interlude of trivia and door prizes that reminds the body to stand, stretch, and peruse our temporary domain. This is the setting of the annual FNC Forge, a 24-hour internal hackathon that grew out of the company’s Employee Driven Innovation (EDI) Program.
With over a 50% increase in participation over last year, the 2014 Forge was a resounding success. FNC had the privilege of Ross Bjork, Director of Athletics at Ole Miss, kicking off the event Thursday afternoon, Dec. 18, with a bang and a short-term loan of his heavyweight wrestling championship belt. Contestants represented a diverse footprint of departments, including a strong showing from the development group as well as Mortgage Trade, R&D, QA, Internal Systems, and Marketing. Likewise, the range of project techniques and targets was diverse from code refactoring to new product development, and from usability redesign on existing platforms to new consumer products. And all were illustrated by wonderful presentation.
Technologies included: C#, ASP.Net, MVC, JQuery, Ajax, Classic ASP, Xamarin, SqlServer, MTM, MDS, Elasticsearch, AngularJS, Redis, SignalR, RabbitMQ, Zulu, F#, XCode, Swift, iOS SDK, Protovis/D3. An abundance of KnockoutJS and Bootstrap gave many of the 24-hour solutions a slick, elegant look. I was repeatedly impressed by the teams’ forethought and clarity of plan. Each team I spoke with readily paused to give me an overview of their objective and a quick demo. Some teams went on to show precursors to follow-up work that promises to carry the same momentum as the Forge project, holidays notwithstanding. And with the exception of a couple of one-man teams, it was obvious to me that most teams held focused, out-the-gate discussions to help them coordinate their approach to the evening’s effort.
Bethany Cooper and Kim Byler did an excellent job at picking out trivia questions to hand out door prizes throughout the evening. While keyboards were still clicking at 3 a.m., there were already beautiful functioning interfaces to new routines and services. I heard more than one team comment on how what they were doing was clearly “not work.” This, in addition to the open dialogue and sharing of technology and methods, really seems now to distinguish the event as an opportunity for creativity and passion to flourish.
Albeit protracted, pushing four hours, the closing presentations and awards ceremony were well attended. President Glen Evans did a great job at conveying executive enthusiasm and reiterating CEO Bill Rayburn’s strong support of the Forge and its underlying spirit. It will be important to get feedback directly from the six judges, but it was apparent to me that they had quite a difficult time selecting winners. And although participation in the event itself is a reward and to which many plan to return next year, the addition of tongue-in-cheek certificates from Director of Information Security, Manager of Quality Assurance, and Director of IT were priceless and gave each team recognition in an entertaining and memorable fashion.
Manager, Internal Systems