Microserve recently organised a hack day, as an opportunity to bring some of our developers together to collaboratively solve problems. It provided an opportunity to try new ways of working, explore new ideas and work with the latest technology.

The brief

The brief for the day was intentionally kept loose - build a digital version of our internal system for giving kudos to other team members (aka ‘Hero of the Week’), which is currently an end-of-week paper vote count. The only other requirements for the day were to work together, learn something new, and have fun. The motive behind keeping the requirements simple was to help foster creativity and avoid any limitations of a particular tech stack, product requirements or design.

The prep

In a hack prep day, the team got together and mapped out a user journey for the solution, and started to think about different technologies, the data flow, and also began discussing ideas for top-level functionality. The team was split into subgroups so that on the day different parts of the solution could be worked on simultaneously. Having a day’s prep also gave team members an opportunity to do some research ahead of time - whether it was learning a new technology or upskilling in a technology’s new features and approaches.

Once a tech stack was chosen, a shared code repository was created with boilerplate project scaffolding and build tools. This helped keep the hack day focussed on problem-solving and building, rather than discussing things like folder structure or how to compile the code.

The tech stack

The team decided upon using the MERN stack to create a web app, consisting of MongoDB, Express.js, React.js and Node.js. Building upon existing JavaScript and React expertise among the group, the MERN stack was excellently placed to help quickly build an end-to-end solution that provided a lightning-fast experience and utilised the performance benefits of modern single-page web applications.

The hack day

The hack day itself started as all good sessions normally do - with lots of coffee and lots of post-its! Building on the foundations of the prep day, the team mapped out functionality and ideas onto different parts of the journey. The whiteboard replaced a Trello board for the day, with developers grabbing different post-its to work on in order to help with visibility of task allocation.

Our developers in action on the hack day

Rather than spending too long upfront scoping out the requirements for each piece of functionality, the exact shape of different app functionality was largely down to the creative flex of the developer working on it, with lots of team discussion along the way to bounce ideas off each other. Lots of communication was essential as multiple developers were working on overlapping parts of the app, and it also helped the team iron out problems and develop a cohesive solution.

We were keen to keep the pace rapid and so kept to a lean process for this project. This made sure we kept the momentum going and allowed for trial and error.

Next steps

Bringing together some of our development team and  using a hack day to develop this product means that each of the developers involved now have a shared understanding and knowledge of how it was built. Each of the team members understand the decisions that were made from its inception to its current state.

This shared knowledge really helps in moving the app forwards into its future development, where a host of different developers are upskilled and primed to pick up work to the project in between other project commitments.

The team is really pleased with how much of the original functionality wish list has been built so rapidly. There was a huge amount of learning across the team and everyone’s really excited to see where we can take the app next.

Watch this space for more info on how the app progresses and updates on any future Microserve innovation projects