Facebook Hackathons

Mon 16 September 2013 by Jim Purbrick

I’ve been a big fan of hackathons since one of the first Yahoo! Hack Days I attended at Alexandra Palace was struck by lightning. The lightning caused the fire alarms to go off which opened the roof to let the torrential rain pour on to hundreds of geeks and laptops. The lighting strike also did a wonderful job of breaking the ice: within minutes hundreds of attendees were huddling in the foyer talking about the weather while others busily snapped the few stalwart hackers who cracked open umbrellas and continued to code regardless.

Since then I’ve been to more Yahoo! Hack Days, Masheds, Music Hack Days and a Euro Foo Camp and built a realtime multiplayer augmented reality submarine torpedo game, an augmented virtual reality carbon emission visualizer, turned snake in to a music sequencer, put together the London Geek Community iPhone Oscestra and learned a pile of technologies from Reactable and Processing to Ubuntu and Django. But no one hackathons like Facebook.

Every six weeks hundreds of Facebook engineers get together on a Thursday evening under a huge crane to form teams and hack through the night on anything that isn’t their normal job before taking the next day off. It’s a huge opportunity to learn, meet people, experiment, try new ideas, learn new technologies, have fun and grow as a software developer. Running hackathons this frequently, on this scale and giving engineers a day off every six weeks is a huge, risky investment for Facebook, but one that pays off handsomely: many of Facebook’s features, dozens of internal tools that I use every day and the open source Buck build tool that I currently work on were all started at hackathons.

Now Facebook London has taken hackathons even further by adding cream teas at midnight and taking them on tour.

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I had enormous fun building a catapult on top of Whitstable Castle and reenacting Monty Python and the Holy Grail at my first Facebook hackathon and I’m looking forward to the next one at the Brighton Dome on the 26th of September. The Brighton hackathon will be special as it’s the first time we’re opening a Facebook London hackathon up to the public as part of the Brighton Digital Festival. The format will be the same as a normal hackathon: it will start on Thursday night and dozens of the super smart Facebook London engineers will be there hacking on amazing projects until the next morning. The only differences from a normal internal Facebook hackathon are that external developers will be joining us and so we’ll be building on top of the Facebook, Parse, Deezer, Unity and Withings APIs rather than hacking on secret Facebook code.

If that sounds fun and you can convince yourself or your boss that taking a day off work to learn is worthwhile, send an email to brightonhack@fb.com and let us know that you’d like to experience a Facebook hackathon for yourself. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can build together.


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