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January 15, 2014

What The Heck is Hackathon?

Yelp recently hosted its 12th Hackathon - the first in our brand new headquarters! Over the years, Hackathon has become a beloved tradition here at Yelp, resulting in such legendary projects as the Kegmate and the first Yelp check-in in space. But what exactly are these Hackathons and why the heck do we have them?

 

In a nutshell, Hackathon is a two-day event where our engineers have free rein to work on projects they think will be useful, funny or cool. The 48-hour extravaganza kicks off with a traditional mimosa toast led by yours truly while engineers gather around to snag a piece of special edition Hackathon swag. Then, it’s off to the races.

Toast
Leading the traditional mimosa toast.

For the next two days, regularly scheduled projects take a back seat while engineers build, code and hack away on something that fascinates them - whether it be an issue they want to solve, a process they’d love to streamline or improve, or something completely fantastical they want to build. They’re encouraged to play around with with Yelp’s rich wealth of data and they have a chance to work with other engineers they may not normally interact with. Assembled teams call dibs on conference rooms, keep each other alert with nerf gun wars and some even camp out at HQ into the wee hours of the morning. To give our hard-working engineers a breather between coding sessions, we have surprises such as petting zoos, massage chairs and DDR battles.

The affair culminates in a science fair-type event where engineers show off their projects to the rest of the company and are later voted in Useful, Funny, Cool, Hardcore and Unhack categories. Some Hackathon projects have even gone on to be incorporated into Yelp’s site and mobile apps. Others, like Yelp Looking Glass, Eurodash and many more, were just really really cool. Some have even resulted in larger side-projects. For instance, a number of engineers formed Darwin Aerospace, a group that worked on cool stuff like the Burrito Bomber. They were also the first to 3D print in space (beating NASA!).

These Hackathons embody our company culture of creativity and ingenuity. Giving our engineers the freedom to build whatever they want for a couple of days keeps them on their toes and challenges them, both creatively and technically. We believe that being surrounded by unique and innovative ideas helps develop new ones, and pushes us to think outside the box.

Already started daydreaming on a project you'd work on for Hackathon? If you think you might be a good fit for the Yelp Engineering team, head on over to yelp.com/careers to apply for an open position!