This year’s Cisco Enterprise Networking Hackathon, held globally on October 11-12, was another huge success. The Hackathon has grown steadily over the years because it’s fun, exciting, creative, and collaborative. This year, engineers took the event tagline “Hackers Assemble!” to heart and turned out in record numbers. Participation in the Hackathon has gone from 275 participants in 2015 to this year’s 1637 participants from 17 different countries, including 37 students from 23 universities globally. Last year, the Hackathon was 100% virtual; this year over half of the participants on 450 teams were onsite at Cisco offices in the United States, India, Canada, Switzerland, and China.
Theme and Tracks
Project ideas for the Hackathon, which was formally announced in August by Ravi Chandra, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Networking at Cisco, began percolating for weeks before the event. The theme this year was “Multi-domain and Open Systems” and engineers worked on a variety of concepts under five tracks (Figure 1).
Project teams of two to six engineers collaborated starting at 10:00 AM on Day 1. There was food, snacks, t-shirts, trivia contests, raffles, and a sense of excitement in the air. On Day 2, each team presented their ideas to judges with slides and a pre-recorded video. During the Hackathon, participants could walk around the booths within their locations and see other projects.
Software Engineer Josh Hampton, who works in San Jose on the SD-WAN product, joined a team working on a reporting dashboard for a lab-as-a-service (LaaS) concept. Testers don’t use dedicated equipment for testing all the time. With LaaS, they reserve the time they need to use the equipment, reducing testing resources needed and energy used.
For the hackathon, his team created a new LaaS dashboard that shows which individuals are using which resources and details of their use for better resource planning.
Working collaboratively and intensively at the Hackathon, “People came up with questions that I hadn’t thought of originally,” said Hampton. “We came up with new ideas. The development went faster and smoother than if we were collaborating on it once a week.”
Mingyi Huang, Software Engineer on the Cisco IOS XE team focusing on trustworthy systems, was on a winning team of two at the Hackathon. “We had the idea to bring Security Enhanced Linux, a policy control access mechanism, to IOS XE.” Developers can paste SE Linux denial of service messages into the tool, and it generates policy to provide access to other software processes on a router or switch.
Participating in the Hackathon in Bengaluru, Test Development Engineer on the SD-WAN team Rishab Jain found the time pressure of the event exhilarating. “You have to be a little aggressive. You have to run fast. You may need to be on call all day.” His team’s winning idea was a dashboard for an analytics solution called Third Eye. The tool gathers critical data from regression testing activities of individual engineers and provides insights into how testers and teams are performing. Prior to the Hackathon, the team collaborated with others within Cisco Enterprise Networking to integrate relevant regression testing data. During the Hackathon, they started building the dashboard and a video and slide deck to present to the judges.
The tool now provides 60 to 70 engineers on the SD-WAN regression testing team with feedback on their relative efficiency. “We used to take 24 days to run 30,000 test cases. Gathering this data was a manual process. After Third Eye, we are able to close an 80,000-test cycle in 15-20 days. Our goal is seven days.”
Also based in India, Premalatha A V, Technical Lead on the Catalyst 9600/9600x DevTest platform team, is now a two-time Hackathon winner. This year, her team integrated QR codes on device consoles with links to specific documentation. “Let’s say a customer wants to implement ISSU, to know what upgrade is supported. The QR code links to that particular documentation web page. Customers can scan the QR code using a handheld device, like a phone.” She credits the innovation with reducing TAC cases and providing immediate answers to device questions.
Software engineer Andrew Castelino is a new college recruit and has been at Cisco for just three months, based in San Jose. The team he joined worked on a smart whiteboarding tool called ConfabAir which was one of the Hackathon award winners. “You turn on your camera and make gestures with your hands in the air and the tool draws as if you’re using a pen on an actual whiteboard,” he said. The technology uses computer vision and a neural network, and the demo featured peer-to-peer connections. “The tracking was a little shaky, but I did some interpolation to make it smoother.” Others on the team worked on networking, neural network, and web interface. “It was really fun,” said Castelino. “People saw us drawing in the air and gathered around us. I got a chance to meet with leaders in Enterprise Networking as well.”
Ben Astell, a developer on the Python Automated Test Systems team based in Canada, joined Hackathon teams working in the cafeteria at the Ottawa office. His team’s winning innovation was a CLI to YANG translation tool using machine learning for a more automated approach to integration testing. “At the Hackathon, we implemented how the data can be collected during test runs, the shim layer, and a proof-of-concept of the data modeler.” His team is excited about the potential for the solution to eventually be available to developers everywhere.
San Jose State University student Chaoron Lei was assigned to a team working on optimizing the message path in Catalyst 9000. He helped record meeting discussions, worked on the presentation slides, and asked a lot of questions in preparation for the judging. “It was a totally new experience for me,” he said. “Even though the engineers are busy with their regular jobs, they had the passion to work on a competition for two days. They really love this industry.”
The Patentathon and Beyond
For some Hackathon winners, the journey continues.
According to Sarang Samant, co-lead with Amit Nandy for the 2022 EN Hackathon, “Winning ideas from the Hackathon, along with a list of other ideas that are highlighted by the tech sponsors and judges as potentially good ideas, are shortlisted. Then a core team of principal engineers and distinguished engineers across all PINs in EN work with the teams to identify which ideas can be patented. Finally, in the Patentathon, teams are guided through the patent filing process.”
Additionally, a group of Hackathon winners will be offered funding through the CTO’s office to pursue their ideas as their new day job.
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