Why did I sign up for this?”

It’s the question every participant in ShipIt Day inevitably asks him or herself at the 22nd hour of the 24-hour hackathon (typically when the Red Bull high has worn off, the last build just broke, and the fear of presenting in front of the entire office has set in).

ShipIt Day — formerly known as FedEx Day  — is a quarterly tradition where Atlassians get to break away from their day-to-day jobs and spend 24 hours building out a idea that improves the company in some way: a plugin, a workflow, an iPad-controlled keg, what have you. You can work solo or in small teams, but at the end of ShipIt you have to demo your product to the entire office:

To make things interesting, we give awards (and serious bragging rights) to the best, most popular products. The ultimate prize, however, is if a product manager picks up your idea and actually ships it as a supported feature or plugin; Bonfire, our bug reporting plugin, started out as a ShipIt idea.

Non-developers welcome

ShipIt Day in San Francisco is a little unique, since this office is mostly comprised of departments that don’t code for a living: Marketing, Support, Customer Advocates, Legal, Finance. A few of us non-developers types assumed we wouldn’t be able to add any value to teams, but we soon realized that there were plenty of non-technical roles to fill, like vision, design, user testing, etc. Plus, you don’t have to build a piece of software for ShipIt; one participant simply wrote a new workflow proposal for his department– a simple improvement he’d never found the time to do.

In fact, this quarter’s ShipIt winner comprised of only one developer, one marketer, a designer, and business analysts from our Experts management team. Team “Pad Kee Mao” (named after their sustenance for 24 hours) won top honors for ExpertFinder, an application that connects Atlassian customers with customization needs to Atlassian Experts, our network of certified, third-party engineering consultants.

ShipIt 23 was our biggest party yet in San Francisco, with 24 participants (11 developers, 13 non-), and some awesomely creative presentations. We listened to Hipchat Android developer Doug Keen, normally a quiet, heads-down guy, sing his pitch (track unread Hipchat messages on the server) to the tune of Blackbird by the Beatles. Developer advocate Tim Petterson demoed Stash.js, a way for developers to write Atlassian server-side plugins in Javascript. Software engineers Dave Elkan and Arun Bhalla spent their 24 hours coding improvements to Marketplace’s search engine.

Don’t stop believin’

Awards and results aside, the beauty of ShipIt lies in the journey. ShipIt is a rare opportunity to spend 24 hours working with colleagues from other departments, stepping away from your every day job, and turning your crazy, pie-in-the-sky idea into something tangible.
“We had a great team that worked hard to debate a seemingly endless number of questions in order to come up with a design that Dennis could crank on. This freed him up to work on code and nothing else, which got a lot done.” – Ken Olofsen, Portfolio Solutions Marketing Lead
“I loved challenging myself with a project that I wouldn’t normally have the freedom to risk a couple days on.” – Dave Meyer, Product Marketing Specialist
“Favorite part? Working with a team of people that each contributed to making what we envisioned months ago into a real working prototype in just 24 hours. I tried for months to think of something on my own, getting four other people involved made it real.” – Adam Saint-Prix, Enterprise Solutions Engineer

5 tips for a successful ShipIt 

Interested in running ShipIt at your company? I asked ShipIt23 organizer Joe Clark for his key takeaways:
  1. Secure Buy-in From the Top. First and foremost, it’s critical for managers to allow, and encourage, their employees to spend 24 hours not doing their day-to-day work. Give plenty of advance notice so they can make preparations.
  2. Organize in Jira, Collaborate in Confluence. A week before the event, Joe set up a page in our internal Confluence instance where people could throw up product ideas. It was the easiest way for the office to form teams and brainstorm solutions. During the event, he set up an OnDemand Jira instance for participants to track their products (and everyone else’s).
  3. Make Your Office a Hackathon Safezone. Ensure your office environment is conducive to a 24-hour work/sleepover. Keep meeting rooms empty. Order in dinner, breakfast, lunch, coffee, anything that makes it easy for teams to stay in the office and work. Ours involved enough Red Bull, beer, and tacos, to feed a small country.
  4. Encourage everyone to participate, not just developers. It’s OK to work solo, but as our winning team discovered, involving non-technical folks can help create a more well-rounded, thought-out products, and presentations are usually better too.
  5. Make “shipping” a requirement. “Shipping” in the context of ShipIt simply means releasing a product, which is easier said than done! However it’s an important requirement, as it helps people bite off projects they can actually accomplish in 24 hours, rather than dreaming big, slaving for 24 hours, and having little to show for it.

Want to start ShipIt at your company? Learn more about how we organize it:

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