Serverless Openhack – London 2018

Openhacks are awesome! At least that’s my most recent experience at the Serverless Openhack that was held in London in June of 2018.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of an open hack… I’ll warn that there appears to be multiple definitions. For the sake of the event I attended, I would describe it a guided, team oriented, gated challenge-based learning event. You are assigned to a team and the team is given a coach. The objective is to work as a team to complete a series of increasingly complex challenges that help you learn a new technology. The coach is there to help your team if you get stuck and help you explore the alternative solutions for the challenge and the pros/cons of them.

I had volunteered to be a coach for this event and prepared to by running through the challenges in two practice runs. As a hands-on learner this was a great way for me to help upskill on technologies I was already familiar with. Learning a lot from my colleagues as we each added our own expertise. In my case, Service Bus Event Hubs and Event Grid.

Back on topic…

This event was held at the Microsoft Reactor space on the east end of London and about 120 fellow geeks attended this free event. To help them out, we had 20 coaches with a few floaters. As if this wasn’t enough, the 2018 Integrate conference was in town and we had members of the Service Bus, Azure Functions, and Logic Apps teams stop by during the event. So I think its safe to say we had a lot of great minds there to help folks along.

The first day, the attendees showed up and settled in at their assigned tables. We got to know each other, familiarized ourselves with the format of the hack, and set to work on the first challenge. The hack started by laying a “what is an Azure Function” foundation. It ensured that folks had the proper tooling installed and had access to all the materials provided. This also provides the team with an opportunity to determine how they want to collaborate, where/how to share code, and divide up the work on the challenges.

As the teams progress, the challenges get increasingly difficult. They build on the work that was already done to help build out real-world business patterns, for this hack, it was a fictional organic ice cream company. What starts as a single api method, turns into a robust API with scalability, resilient cloud storage, data visualization, and robust monitoring and management.

But the best part is that Openhack is not a contest. Teams don’t compete against each other (at least officially, there’s always a few that are in it to finish first), but are encouraged to go at their own pace and explore the aspects of the technologies that they find most interesting. In some cases, teams will divide up the work by having multiple members each working on different ways to solve the same problem so they can compare learnings afterwards.

I’ve always enjoyed hands on learning and problem solving. Openhack gives you both of these in a great, collaborative package. You don’t have to make up your own problems to solve which, at least for me, helps keep me engaged.

I also enjoy mentoring others. When you learn something, you tend to only learn from your perspective. When mentoring, or coaching others, you learn as much from them and their perspective as they learn from you. So it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

If you get the opportunity to participate in an Openhack, either as a participant or a coach, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you seize that opportunity. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of these in the future since a career in software/information technologies is a never-ending learning experience. An Openhack is a great way to challenge yourself to learn new things.

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