Hackathons provide engineers a fun opportunity to let their creative juices flow. Developers get the chance to test out new technologies they’ve been itching to try, create solutions they think could help the business or work on projects they are truly passionate about.

Last week, the Zignal Labs engineering team held their bi-annual all-hands and hackathon, giving the team a chance to learn how the engineering efforts relate to the rest of the company and apply their knowledge to some truly innovative solutions.

The week started off with presentations from the sales, customer success and marketing teams, as well as updates from product and design. The purpose of these sessions was to make sure that everyone understood the goals of the company and relate their day to day work back to the needs of our customers. “We wanted to stress the importance that every application we build should be created with a clear understanding of the customer and business need,” said Jon Dodson, VP of Engineering.


The week brought together individuals from different teams in the engineering, product, and design departments. The unique blend of talent led to some interesting product ideas. “It’s good to get different parts of the team working together. Everyone brings different experiences and talents to their group, making the collaborative process that much more interesting,” said Dodson. “It also mirrors how we want to be working everyday; teams should be working with each other on a constant basis to make integration between their projects seamless.”


“Jacqui Manzi (front-end engineer) Jeff Fenchel (platform engineer) combine their talents to build a brand new streaming visualization””


The philosophy around the Zignal engineering team is to fail fast and learn quickly. Employees were encouraged to try out new technologies that they were interested in, as long the application had some connection to a business need, or work on projects that were outside of business need, but allowed us to exercise our technology stack. Teams explored tools like Google’s TensorFlow, an open source library for machine learning, a voice command API for voice recognition and commands, and AlchemyLanguage, a collection of API’s that offer text analysis through natural language processing. The team also explored ways to further use technologies already in use, like Apache Storm, Spark, Elasticsearch and Kafka.


The projects ranged from applying machine learning algorithms to clustering keywords, a native mobile app that generates immediate alerts and shows the sentiment involved in the alert, testing Luwak for Percolation to see if filtering in this way can improve performance when using elasticsearch and using Google’s TensorFlow to detect logos in images.

Minh Nguyen (software engineer) and Konstantin Kelenson, (QA Engineer) project addressed the lack of accessibility when controlling the Command Center display. They adapted a voice skills API to control the Command Center through speech. “We saw a need to make the Command Center easier to control remotely. We already had plans to build an app that could control it from a phone or tablet, this just took the accessibility one step further,” said Minh.

The winning idea came from an interview with the Customer Success team. “One of the main feedback items that the CS team brought up was that customers would crave additional context around an alert,” said Hennie Farrow, Head of Design. “We set out to create a mobile app that show alerts along with a summary of why it was generated. Using the AlchemyAPI from IBM Watson, we could determine the sentiment and key takeaways behind the alert. We then put these takeaway terms in a bulleted list at the top of the screen, along with an emoji to showcase the predominant emotion associated with the alert. The alerts give the customer context and let them know immediately if they need to take action.”


The success of the hackathon has created new potential avenues to build out the product in the future and helped foster a greater understanding of how departments can work together to create a more collaborative environment.

To find out more about the engineering team at Zignal Labs, check out our #INTHELABS page.