Hackathon at Infinera - Had fun, prizes left a bitter taste in my mouth

Jun 7, 2014

Following last year’s hackathon, Infinera had another hackathon on the 5th of this month. As briefly mentioned in the last post, I decided at the last minute to participate in this year’s hackathon. Our idea was to provide a browser-based interface to our network elements, removing the need to have java installed as well as opening up the possibility of managing the network elements from any device with a standards-compliant web browser.

The original plan was to demo object retrieval, creation and deletion; autonomous event capture and alarm retrieval were stretch goals. As usually happens with hackathons, we ran into a whole lot of unanticipated problems and were only able to demo retrieval. As such, I didn’t have high hopes of winning anything and so I wasn’t disappointed when we actually didn’t win anything. What did hurt was that the first prize was given to a team that openly cheated.

Two teams led by one guy at the office worked on two different components of the same idea. The joint idea was to make our network elements SDN-compatible. One team worked on the SDN controller and the other team worked on getting our network element to talk to this controller. One of the two teams (I didn’t bother to note which one) got the first prize.

Why is this unfair?

  1. With both teams working together, there were a total of 12 people working on this. Every other team had a maximum of 6 people.
  2. If examined individually, both teams’ projects were useless. They are useful only when they are used together. So how could only one of the two teams have won the prize for its project?
  3. 80% of the coding for the project had been completed even before the hackathon started. How do I know this? The guy leading both teams told me this himself when he was trying to convince me to join one of the two teams.

Last year, the same guy pulled the same stunt and his team was disqualified. That’s because last year the hackathon was run by engineers who were enthusiastic about the whole thing and fair in their decisions. After the success of last year’s event, this year higher-ups got knee-deep in the organisation and management of the whole thing. SDN is something that would (probably) benefit the company, since everyone and their dog in the networking industry appears to be talking about SDN. This team getting the prize was a political decision, plain and simple.

Anyway, I’m not all that mad since I still had fun. Staying up all night coding is something I haven’t done often enough after graduating, and it was as fun as it’s always been. Will I participate next year? No. I have plenty of projects of my own to stay up all night. I’d originally planned on doing some socializing over the course of the night, but my competitive side took over once the thing started (although I did get to have some fun too). Since I evidently can’t just relax and have fun getting to know my colleagues over the course of the hackathon and in light of this year’s prize winner, there’s definitely no point to participating again.