The Cisco Enterprise Networking Hackathon is back. The pandemic may have changed how we work but it hasn’t slowed down the can-do attitude in Enterprise Networking. This year’s hackathon is virtual, international, and bigger than ever. Kicking off on Monday, March 8 in India and China and concluding on March 15 for North American teams, the Cisco Enterprise Networking Hackathon – EN Hack@Home 2021 will feature 250+ teams and more than 1,000 participants from eight countries, including 40-50 university students. The excitement is infectious, the snacks and t-shirts have been shipped, and the projects are defined.
Here’s an overview of hackathons past and present and why these marathon developer events are so important, impactful, and fun.
In the 22 years since the first hacking marathon was held by 10 developers in Calgary, Canada, hackathons have become forums for imagination, innovation, and inspiration among software developers globally. There were 5,636 public and private hackathons in 2018, according to Hackathon.com. These forums are meant to inspire and train internal developer teams, launch new projects, and emphasize the benefits of creativity and collaboration. Startup and public hackathons are used by companies to scout talent and find mature, worthy prototypes.
Cisco hackathon organizers estimate that 22-25% of ideas developed in the competitions, which began in 2015, have gone on to be incorporated into Cisco products.
This Year’s Event
In 2019 at the last Cisco Enterprise Networking Hackathon, 105 teams and 510 participants — including 34 students from 10 universities in the U.S. — worked on projects in five different technical tracks. Being virtual, EN Hack@Home 2021 isn’t limited by how many people can fit into a conference room. The number of participants and teams this year has therefore doubled. Opening eligibility beyond the U.S. and Canada for the first time, Cisco developers will also be participating from India, China, Switzerland, Italy, and Israel to name a few.
“This pandemic has restricted all of us to working from home and we’ve missed all of the camaraderie of the office,” says Amit Nandy, Senior Manager in Software Development, one of the hackathon organizers. “The hackathon is a great way to bring people together to take a break from their day-to-day work and let their imaginations run wild.”
This Year’s Hackathon Tracks
For Cisco EN Hack@Home 2021, teams of 2-6 people work on a project that corresponds to one of five different technical tracks or sub-tracks, including:
- Network Automation and Assurance
- Customer Adoption
- Security and Cloud Solutions
- Development Digitization and Productivity
- Remote yet Connected
Teams are formed and define a project that corresponds with one of the tracks. They pitch the idea and begin a 36-hour working marathon. Each team may include individuals with a variety of expertise spanning coding, user experience, testing, and product marketing.
“Remote yet Connected is an entirely new track we added to address the global shift to working from home,” says Sarang Samant, a Leader in Cisco Enterprise Networking Software Engineering and another hackathon organizer. “It includes challenge areas like enhancing the teleworker experience, bolstering cloud security, creating micro branch pop-up virtual offices, and expanding and automating IoT policies.”
Guidance, Judging, and Prizes
When the competition begins, 35 senior Cisco tech sponsors on Cisco TV review the ideas from the teams. Sponsors then help guide and mentor the teams and attempt to align their hacks with Cisco’s product roadmap. After the 36-hour hackathon period, a panel of 50 distinguished judges ― including executives from product marketing, sales, and engineering ― votes to determine the top two winning hacks in each track.
Participants on each winning team receive a trophy, a certificate, and cash prizes. In addition to the competition, EN Hack@Home 2021 will include a trivia treasure hunt on a SharePoint portal and a Twitter photo contest.
Powerful Learning Experiences
For Cisco software engineer Shikha Jain, this year will mark her fourth hackathon. “We’re so busy in our daily lives. This is a unique opportunity to collaborate with other teams. A lot of people stay up for the full 36 hours. I remember around 2:00 AM we were still working. We were thinking of giving up, but we brainstormed what we did wrong and created the prototype at 5:00 AM. We won first prize.”
Presenting to the sponsors was another step out of her comfort zone and something she was able to master. Beyond working on her team’s project, she looks forward to hearing all the innovative ideas from the other teams on the last day of the hackathon.
In 2019, Kirtan Buddhdev was a summer intern at Cisco in San Jose between his junior and senior year at Santa Clara University. His mentor invited him to join his team for the hackathon. “At first it seemed a little intimidating being on a team with four other experienced engineers,” Buddhdev recalls. “But they made me feel like I was part of a fraternity of engineers working together for a common goal. It was a very fun learning experience. I think my decision to join Cisco full time was influenced by how they took me under their wing.”
Three-time Cisco hackathon winner Kabiraj Sethi, Software Engineering Technical Leader in Cisco Enterprise Networking, appreciates working with recent grads who come with fresh ideas and lots of energy. “They know the latest scripting languages and are happy to do a lot of the coding,” he says. “We show them how we approach problems so we’re all learning. It’s the only forum where you get rewarded for hacking instead of going to jail. This year I’ll miss the face-to-face interaction but the hackathon itself is still the same exciting competition. May the best hacks win.”
We’re about to get underway with EN Hack@Home 2021. Follow the action at #ENHack@Home2021 or #ENHackathon2021.
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