The UNH-IOL’s First Internal Hackathon: Providing Lab Wide Solutions For Years to Come

This week marked the first ever internal, lab wide hackathon at the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab (UNH-IOL). You may have wondered, what is a hackathon? A hackathon is an event, usually hosted by a tech company or organization, where programmers get together for a short period of time to collaborate on a project. These events typically last for an extended period of time, sometimes overnight, but this event was a week long sprint for UNH student employees to get out of their day-to-day grind and work together to provide long-term solutions for various lab wide projects. Participants included over 40 IOL employees.

The projects ranged from automating a pairing process between student technicians and their mentors to a more effective way of keeping track of student employment applications. You may have heard this, but the majority of IOL employees are made up of UNH undergraduate and graduate students ranging from all majors such as Computer Science and Electrical Engineering to Genetics, Math, and Physics. The lab is divided up into 5 major industry buckets and employees typically stay within their testing service or bucket to complete data and networking device testing. Management thought it was time to switch things up and get everyone out of their normal testing schedule and work with other students from all industry buckets and majors to solve a particular project or problem. There were six different projects to work on and here is a brief overview each and some key findings:

  • Automating the student-mentor pairing process by automatically assigning a student technician to a staff mentor.
  • An audit of the Technical Quality of Service (TQoS) which is responsible for overseeing the quality of testing that is delivered at the UNH-IOL.
  • Updating the application process for undergraduate students and students  who aren’t currently enrolled in college to be employed by the IOL.
  • Automating our test report writing process which is provided to our members once testing is completed.
  • Translating data information over wifi networks for troubleshooting purposes.
  • Confirming software programs used for testing services do not interfere with other software programs as well as making the software more accessible for other programming languages.

Students used skills learned in the classroom and while working at the lab to solve whichever task or project they chose at the hackathon, a number of coding languages and software were used such as Mysql, javascript, and php to name a few.The UNH-IOL’s First Internal Hackathon: Providing Lab Wide Solutions For Years to Come

In the beginning of the event, student technicians had difficulties conveying their ideas to their teammates and this seemed to be one of the more difficult aspects throughout the week; lack of communication among teammates. When the week came to a close, student technicians saw improvements not only in their own coding and software programming, but in their communication skills with fellow co-workers as well! I asked Pirro Shtino, a Senior at UNH and an Information Technology major, about his experience with the hackathon and if he enjoyed getting out of his day to day work, his response was “Absolutely, the nature of the lab dictates people working in a close group so it is good to see new faces.”  

I also talked to Michayla Newcombe, Operations Manager of IP Networking about her experience or any problems that arose at the event.  She noted, “ I didn't see any major problems come up. For this being our first hackathon I think it went smoothly. Of course, there is always room for improvement so we are looking forward to upcoming hackathons to try to take what we learned and apply it.” I also asked her whether the projects worked on would be used at the lab in the future “ Yes, all of the projects will benefit the lab in the future! Many of the projects save employees time by automating or making a process easier. For example, one of the projects will make it possible to automate the report writing process which is currently primarily done by hand. This will help us gets our reports into the hands of our customers faster. Another project will ensure new employees are assigned a mentor their first day of employment. Mentorship is a very important part of our lab culture we are excited we have a more foolproof process to help new hires get integrated into the lab environment.” These new improvements the hackathon event brought to the lab will make the experience of working here even more enjoyable as well as improve our customers experiences.

As you can tell, the first internal, lab wide hackathon was a major success! Student technicians improved on their interpersonal skills and technical skills all while helping to improve the day to day at the lab! Events like the this give our student technicians the chance to step out of their day-to-day grind and engage with other students they normally wouldn’t interact with. Moving forward, events like the hackathon will be more regular at the lab because of the strong impact provided to the workplace, beneficial results to both customers and employees.