November 29, 2016

Q4 Culture

Scott Brownhill

Notes from #Q4orce: Building and disrupting at Q4 Toronto Hackathon 2016

Home > Q4 Culture > Notes from #Q4orce: Building and disrupting at Q4 Toronto Hackathon 2016


Last week, #Q4orce did what we do best: collaborate to improve our products and solve problems as a team. Blue sky was not the limit as six teams formed at Q4’s first Toronto hackathon, leading to great new features for our products, customer service and process solutions, and improved integration between platforms.

We did have a winner, but what we also have are six workable solutions to come from all hackathon teams. The goal was simple: make Q4 better. With a four-hour deadline, there was no time to waste.

I was surprised to learn that forming a team would actually be one of the biggest challenges. Leading up to the event, we created a chat room to recruit teammates — but it quickly  turned into a meme-filled noise factory filled with questions: Do you have a team? Who’s recruiting? 

So much for that idea.

Hackathons are by nature chaotic — they create an environment where only the best ideas bubble up to the surface and thrive. Without limits on the size of our teams and the kinds of ideas we could have, we started to focus on creativity and innovation over certainty and order. We could ignore the roadmap, the backlog, the revenue, and the processes. Finally, we could build what we wanted.


Winners of Q4 Hackathon 2016.

Six teams. Six ideas. Infinite possibilities.

Teams formed, based on shared interests. On Hackathon day, I walked around the office and found myself eavesdropping on a few ideas. While it did seem like some ideas and groups were premeditated, it didn’t really matter — we were coming together to build something outside of our business plan.

It was cool to see the motivation and inspiration that was unlocked when no restrictions were in place. Some teams worked on new features to existing products, while others focused on internal tools or simply solved problems that weren’t obvious to the rest of the company.

A passion for the product.

As a product owner, I have a running list of features and requests in the back of my mind at all times. It was tough for me to shake the urge to focus on features currently in development over something new or unique to the hackathon. Luckily I found a group of like-minded people who were passionate about the same roadmap item as myself: a new feature for Q4 Desktop (more on this in the future!).

We were a team of seven, made up of two product owners, two quality assurance members, and three full stack developers. With a larger team, the work felt similar to our day-to-day; however, with the four-hour time window, we all had to ramp up our contributions. The hackathon was a great way to test what we’ve learned this year about scrum and the agile development process.

Our team ended up with a minimum viable product and an extensive backlog of improvements and new features. The product owners defined all necessary requirements, provided content and references where needed, and prioritized the backlog in a way that ensured we had something deliverable. The QA team tested as-it-happened, even setting up a test automation framework for a final QA pass. The developers developed, and when something took too long, they would drop it in favour of the next backlog item.



Hackathon team members had mere hours to discuss, build, and present their product to the group.

The verdict: hackathons create positive pressure.

The hackathon saw not only the creation of some innovative ideas, but it also gave us a chance to test ourselves and our scrum practices. When you allow teams to form around ideas instead of processes, you ignite a passion for the product. When a team works collaboratively on the roadmap, it ensures all voices are heard and respected. And finally,  enforcing an aggressive deadline on the development cycle can force you to strip away the “nice to have” features in favour of delivering something of value.

The teams were committed, challenged, focused, and respected — and the results were unbelievable. I look forward to applying these values to our broader product team, and I can’t wait to see what we come up with at the next Q4 Hackathon.

You can be part of our growing team: we’re looking for full stack developers to help design, disrupt, and build with us every day. Apply to be part of #Q4orce here.

Written By Scott Brownhill

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