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Veterans Hackday: Teams swarm to provide resources for vets

Last week, I got an interesting email from LinkedIn which read:

“On Veterans Day, 11/11/11, LinkedIn and the White House will join forces to kick off the first ever Veterans Hackday. We are looking for hackers to put together projects that can improve any aspect of a veteran’s life.”

Cool! I started a discussion on LinkedIn asking if anyone wanted to be part of a distributed team. Before I knew it, there were all kinds of responses from others who wanted to participate. After generating all this interest, I read the rules and realized that all development work had to take place between 11/11 and 11/14! Could an application be built by a team with varying skill sets in such a short time? Not only did we only have four days, but two of those days were work days. We all had jobs and other responsibilities that took priority.

Well, the short time frame did create a challenge, but in the end, thanks to a talented group who was willing to volunteer a good chunk of their weekend, everyone found his or her place. Rick got the ball rolling by creating and administrating an environment. Anand, who acted as development lead, created a Forum and Job Board for Veterans using Drupal. Ravi helped to build out the site and looked into a feature that would highlight hero’s whereabouts, and Dimas quickly set to work on a logo for our new site. Suann acted as product owner and used her social media connections to solicit feedback from Vets. Manasa stepped in to help test and to hunt down answers for the team. Doug provided DBA and leadership skills and took responsibility for documenting our team submission. I acted in the role of “ScrumMaster,” organizing conference calls and team tasks. Partha and others who wanted to help but had limited availability provided feedback and acted as “cheerleaders,” supporting the team’s efforts.

Though I was uncertain whether or not we’d really be able to pull anything off, in the end the team did it!  It was fun for me to be part of this self-directed team and get a feel for how it works to be constrained to a challenging “time-box.” But even more fun for me was working with a distributed team in which none of us had ever met. I’ve read and written a lot about distributed versus co-located teams. It’s a common argument that a team needs face-time to build trust. Having this experience proved to me that a team can be successful despite the many challenges of working remotely. In fact, I have additional respect for these team members because their commitment was strong enough that they were willing to work as a team without the benefit of knowing one another at all. Even without meeting in person, there is a bond when a team has a common purpose and works together to achieve something.

Thanks to this competition, there’s a whole gallery of submissions of innovative applications for veterans. It’s amazing what can be accomplished in four short days! This is one contest where we’re all winners. Congratulations to all the participants who were able to deliver this special thanks to the veterans who serve our country.

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