Hack Week 2019: teeREx, Presencebot, and Question of the Day

Editorial Team
September 23, 2019
Min Read
Hack Week 2019: teeREx, Presencebot, and Question of the Day

TEECOMlabs came together in Oakland for its second Hack Week of 2019. “Hack Week promotes teamwork by getting folks out of their comfort zones through shared work on new projects and with new technologies,” says Alex Serriere, TEECOM CTO and head of Research & Development.

TEECOMlabs's (back left to front right) Tom Schaefer, Tyler Kvochick, Eric Tillberg, Jake Tesler, Sana Moghul, Eli Phillips, Julia Byon, and Alex Serriere.

Team members who don’t often work together, whether because they are in different locations or assigned different projects, have a chance to collaborate and learn from one another.

“The secondary benefit has been to provide an opportunity for the team to scratch their creative itches with time away from regular projects,” says Alex. “It’s an opportunity to implement an idea that may have come up in the past, get help from others, and push out an initial version.”

In the last Hack Week, the team all worked together on one project. For this Hack Week, the team broke into three groups to tackle three projects. “Having multiple projects was a good move,” said Julia Byon, Design Technology Developer. “While the majority of time was spent focusing on one's own project, it was great to poke around and learn from the other projects.”

Sana Moghul, Lead Data Analyst, said she “liked being able to choose which project to work on as it made me more passionate about working on it for about eight hours a day, four days straight. I was more invested in how the product would appeal to its audience. I liked the smaller groups as well, as I felt like a major contributor.”

Sana and her teammates present "Question of the Day" to TEECOM CEO David Marks and the other two teams.

The three products ranged from something that could enhance client service, to something that could make your day a little easier, to something that could make your day a little more fun.

One team built “teeREx,” a Revit database that houses domain-specific knowledge about telecom systems and offers the ability to make queries that span multiple projects. This tool could enable TEECOM to contextualize a project for clients among trends within its building type, a bit like “comps” in real estate. This project also gave Web Developer Eric Tillberg a chance to indulge his secret talent: writing children’s fiction. His tale of “Terri the T-Rex” was a little easter egg for the team to find.

Team teeREx unveils Terri the T-Rex

Another team built (or rebuilt) “Presencebot.” People can DM this fully functional Slackbot asking where a team member is. Presencebot aggregates data from three sources: the person’s Outlook calendar (are they in a meeting?); BambooHR (are they on PTO?); and TEECOM’s “gen-presence” Slack channel (are they on a project site, working from home?). Rather than having to check three different systems oneself, one can quickly find out where someone is -- to the extent that the person has already provided that data to one of these systems.

A third team built “Question of the Day,” another Slackbot (written in Elixir and running off a Heroku server) intended to stimulate fun conversations among staff. Employees submit questions. Questions must be approved by one other person in a separate “moderators” channel. The bot then randomly selects a question and delivers it at 9 am for the firm’s collective consideration. Need to get the gears going? Need a break from that project? Take a moment to weigh in on topics such as “Is salt a spice?” and “If you could be an animal for a day, what kind of animal would you be?”

That wasn’t all. Tom Shaefer, Senior Software Developer, found time to create “Overreactor,” a Slack function that spits out a random assortment of emoji reactions. And Hardware Engineer Jake Tesler gave fellow team members a crash course in soldering.

Eli and Jake watch as TEECOMlabs's newest member, Kendra Lockard, tries her hand at soldering.

Hack Week is a tradition we will definitely continue. It builds collaborative and communicative synapses among the R&D team, and it gives the firm tools and toys that can become part of our culture and service offering.