Hack it like Flipkart Engineers!


Flipkart Hack Day v2.0

While most of us keep talking /debating about Bangalore’s capability to be the next Silicon Valley, there are some startups who are head on taking Bangalore to the global centre-stage. Case in point: Flipkart.com. We at Yourstory.in, were lucky to be privy to the Hackathon which Flipkart held for its employees a few weeks back. The sight that greeted us at Flipkart’s office was overwhelming and personally very inspiring. Young and ambitious engineers were relentlessly hacking away (this was a 24 hours non-stop Hackathon!). The atmosphere had energy which was infectious. One question that came to my mind at the end of the Flipkart Hack Day was – what was driving this high level of energy within the engineering team at Flipkart? After 24 hours of hacking, the different teams were brimming with excitement to present their creations (most of them with clearly red eyes!). As an outsider attending the event, I can say that all the presentations had an element of thoughtfulness and novelty in them. Here, let me share with you some interesting hacks and the excerpts of the conversation with the winners of the Hackathon and also Mekin Maheshwari, President, Flipkart’s take on his team and the Hackathon.

1. Business Relevant Hack ("More Spam" by Dileep, Kartik)

To keep people more engaged while navigating the Flipkart website, Dileep and Kartik created a Notification Service for customers to get live updates on Flipkart.com regarding orders, reviews, features, user to user communication and a lot more. The hack involved creating a service back-end with HTTP API support to push and pull notifications. They enhanced the feature with a social aspect by integrating with Google, Facebook and Twitter to leverage the users' social data for better user engagement.

Dileep and Karthik, take us through the 24 hour experience of the hackathon. How was it? What were the stress points, the highs and lows?

For most, spending the 24 hours without sleeping might be the difficult part, but for us, it was routine :) The only time we got tense was when the internet speed became really really slow just before our presentation, and it scared us. It was equally important to present the hack in a good manner. Patience was key to our escape, we let the others present till the internet was back to normal.

What triggered the idea?

Being an online megastore, things change so often like customer order status, new products, new features which are not communicated well enough to the user. The primary modes of communication used so far are emails and sms. We felt there was a need for a notification system on Flipkart website to keep users informed of the latest developments.

How does it feel to win under the Business Relevant Hack category? How would you rate other competitors?

It feels awesome! Other competitors were equally good. It’s good to see Flipkart allowing developers the freedom to go crazy with their whacky ideas.

What did you enjoy the most during the process?

The build up to the hackday, the competitive spirit, a full developer conducive environment all around, all night long with no hindrances from managers, and food coming to your desk every few hours!

What is the one most important learning out of the Hackathon?

We don’t need managers, PRDs to make a successful product! Leave the developers to their creativity and they can build wonders overnight.

2. Audience Choice Hack ("iObject" by Nitin, Shashwat and Utkarsh)

Track Object state transitions across systems: Audit the entire Object lifecycle, discover object dependencies and meter the SLAs for each transition. The power of the framework is to extend it multiple ways, for instance: (a) to empower the business in doing trace analysis for specific orders, (b) define and measure SLAs for each order-stage like average time taken from orders getting packed to they getting picked up for shipping (c) identify stages where the processing queue is getting built up in quasi real time. It is extremely lightweight and easy to integrate with any system/service within Flipkart

Utkarsh and Nitin, take us through the 24 hour experience of it. How was it? What were the stress points, the highs and lows?

Utkarsh: The 24 hours were never that short !!!...passed off like a breeze...and well lots of "mini" episodes through the hours but one distinctly stands out - sharp at 6 AM in the morning by some divine intervention sleep and hunger hit us hard all at the same time for all three of us...the only solution: early morning stroll to the nearby Dosa joint: it never tasted that good ever :) (… went back to the same place after a day and could hardly digest it :( …. )

Nitin: It was a "healthy and innovative" break from regular work. The highs were definitely "Red Bull" drinks :P and of course being able to get closer to the implementation with every hour passing by.

What triggered the idea?

Utkarsh: Don't remember really..we were just running crazy with the ideas and this came up as one concrete off-shoot of many of our unrestrained discussions.

Nitin: We really didn't start with THE idea (iObject, Track Object state transitions across systems). But a lot of discussions around not having a framework that would allow easy debugging across systems, collection of important metrics like SLA breaches, areas of bottle neck etc. lead to iObject.

How does it feel to win the ACH? How would you rate other competitors?

Utkarsh: Obviously, we felt happy but winning was not the only aim .. the experience itself was really rewarding on it own !! Lot of good ideas came up and during breaks it was enlightening to discuss them with other participants.

Nitin: Its not a competition,even though there were awards. Every body did different things, and are not comparable. Above all it was a great opportunity for each of us to learn/see so many tech displayed under a roof, achieved in such a short time.

What did you enjoy the most?

Utkarsh: I guess sheer drive through the night to complete the hack and of course lots of chuckles that got shared with Nitin and Shashwat who were constantly on a high with an inflow of energy drinks :) The energy, the passion, the fun all came together to create a great cocktail that kept us awake through the entire 24 hours ….

Nitin: Being able to manage/divide and deliver the implemented idea by end of the day. And of course, lot of happy faces enjoying their own creativity.

What is the one most important learning out of the Hackathon?

Utkarsh: I think my teammates will share this with me - we were always focused on the end result and hence all obstacles that come along the way just didn't matter: the differences we had, mental roadblocks, personal preferences and of course the various bouts of sleep that we nearly succumbed to every time..

Nitin: Not giving up :)

3. Tech Savvy Hack ("Fancy Alerts System" by Tushar and Aditya)

An alerting system designed to continuously monitor business critical systems and immediately highlight service interruptions. This will help minimize response times and mitigate the business impact of these outages. The system comprises of a text to speech module, a siren and a flashing beacon, all of which are controllable via software. In addition, it incorporates an extensible monitoring toolkit which can be integrated into any system and configured to detect failure events or states.

Tushar and Aditya, take us through the 24 hour experience of it. How was it? What were the stress points, the highs and the lows?

Overall, it was a lot of fun. We spent time creating a fairly detailed specification and implementation plan and were able to stick to it. This made it a pretty stress free experience. Our focus was really to have fun and we think we managed that pretty well.

What triggered the idea?

The genesis of the idea came about a few months back in a chat with a colleague at work. When the Flipkart Hack Day was announced, we were casting around for a fun idea. We wanted something not too serious, which could be built in 24 hours and (hopefully) annoy people in the process! The alerting system was the best excuse for us to make noise and be unruly at work without attracting the wrath of HR!

How does it feel to win the TSH? How would you rate other competitors?

The other projects were pretty awesome. In fact we really didn't think that we had a shot at winning this. Came as quite a pleasant surprise when they announced our name.

What did you enjoy the most?

The free pizza and the camaraderie. Oh, and waking up folks at 6am with that siren...priceless!

What is the one most important learning out of the Hackathon?

To suppress a siren, wrap it in a blanket and cover it with a helmet!

Obviously taking pride in his talented team is Mekin Maheshwari, ask him what drove him to have a Hack day for his team and he says, “Incidentally this was the 2nd HackDay at Flipkart, the first one was held in February this year, we saw amazing innovation flowing in post the hacks and everyone in the team enjoyed the process. Bad on our part that we could not implement some of those promising hacks, but with this second Hackday we are going to change that and make some of the hacks part of the organization.

What is important at our Hackathon is not the end hacks that our teams built, I would say that’s one of the side effects, what we clearly do as a team is to come together and have fun. We have a highly talented and driven team comprising of individuals who are motivated and enjoy doing cool stuff. When such awesome bunch of people come together to hack it’s natural that they will create some awesome innovations.

Also, clearly what you see is a reflection of every individual in the team within Flipkart, it’s the people who shape the innovation and environment within any organization; and so is the case at Flipkart, we have young people who are technically very sound, motivated and brimming with ideas.

What I liked about our Hackathon was the diversity of ideas .. it was in all forms and shape .. teams were uninhibited, thought big and were able to pull off what they set out to do. A clear trend across all the teams was the business relevance of the Hacks, again signifying the team’s commitment to enable growth and leadership for the organization.”

As startups there is a learning which all of us can take from Flipkart's Hack Day - "if you have fun with your team then nothing is impossible for you and your team."

Shradha Sharma