Monthly Hack Day (Part 1)

I have recently employed two senior developers who are involved in developments run as projects within Opencast Software, either on behalf of clients or in partnership.

Up until this point the company has mainly employed staff for consultancy work i.e. traditional PM’s and BA’s. Although we have had the odd developer (in my case very odd!), they have mainly been consulting on how to develop/architecture/design or have been embedded in client teams.

When choosing these new hires the one thing I made a conscious effort to ignore was the acronyms on their CVs!

I looked at projects they’ve worked on, problems they’ve solved (and how), any contributions to Open Source projects, the range of technologies they’ve learned, and particularly, their attitude to working with new technologies and languages they’ve never been exposed to.

One of them was a .NET developer I know by reputation having worked in the same company but has a yearning to learn new languages and techniques, the other a Java developer of 12 years standing who has converted to Rails over the last 2 years and has some experience of Haskell.

Having established the core of my development practice I want them to ‘practice’ their skills and to stretch themselves.

To that end I’ve established a monthly ‘hack day’ during which they can work on whatever pet project they want. This allows the developers room to ‘grow’ and contributes to the company, either directly through a project or indirectly by learning techniques and languages that we might ‘sell’ in the future.

I am also treating this day as a ‘maker day’ i.e. a day when developers concentrate on making things and don’t attend meetings or other distractions.

The first of these days is this coming Friday (23rd May 2014). I’ve asked the developers to pick their own pet project using whatever technology they like. I’m toying with a Raspberry Pi based autonomous robot to fetch the coffee from the Cafe across the yard, possibly using Clojure or Python for the control/AI.

I will blog on the results of this day in part 2…..

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