Hack Week at Urban Airship

My favorite tradition at Urban Airship is Hack Week. Twice a year we take a week away from normal priorities and give the team a week to build something new. Hack Week itself was an evolution from our original Free Friday, a 24 hour scramble based on Atlassian's excellent model. Since expanding to a week in 2014, we’ve had some incredible projects, including two that turned into full on major products. Last week we had our final Hack Week of 2015, and it’s been an impressive view into what our team can accomplish.


Hack Week preparation starts well in advance, with individuals proposing ideas and finding teammates to help. With only a week to work, working together can be very important; audacious ideas are encouraged! On Monday morning we start cancelling recurring meetings and the teams begin work in earnest. Over the course of the week they work throughout the day, sometimes altering the plans dramatically as they learn more. All the work culminates with demos on Friday afternoon, broadcast to our offices and to remote workers. With so many projects, each team gets five minutes to present what they worked on, why it’s important, and what they learned.

There were a ton of great projects — some that’ll directly impact our customers, and some that are totally internal — I’ve selected a few to share today.

Brett Heckman, Senior Product Designer, took a broad look at our user interface and its component elements, and built out a pattern library that the design and development teams can use in future projects.

Engineers Sean Moran, Ian Fridge, Blaine Eakes, Oskar Stephens, Bryan Stanley, Bryan Schlief, and Scott Hirdes took a look at the components powering our Core Delivery Pipeline, and reworked it to use radically different infrastructure and data storage layers. This critical system powers an immense amount of messaging traffic, and looking at it from a new perspective gives us options as we continue to add features and new customers.

Helen Crowell, Senior Mobile Engineer, reimagined how end-to-end functional testing works for our Android library and sample applications. Our SDK is deployed in an incredible number of applications, and with these new tools the amazing UA mobile team can work even faster while maintaining the reliability our customers rely on us for.

Ben Turner and Christian Metts, from the Web engineering team, took a look at our dashboard’s message history view with an eye on improving usability. The new capabilities would let users find messages much more quickly with new searching and sorting tools.

This is just a small glimpse into the fantastic work Airshippers achieved during Hack Week — I wish I could share more. Some of the projects will turn into full-fledged engineering or product initiatives, and some are already in production. And every project advanced our knowledge at UA and let us try out new ideas.