Ag Leader Software Hackathons Spur Innovation

Where do new products and existing product improvements come from? Sometimes they come from feature requests from our customers and dealers, sometimes from our own engineers, product managers and tech support who use our products on their farms. Other times they come from our engineers and developers through release planning and the product planning and development cycle.

But once in a while, they come from something else…

As a way to offer some insight into our culture and how Ag Leader operates, in this blog we will talk about our software hackathon sessions held several times throughout the year.

What is a hackathon?
The ultimate goal of a hackathon is to inspire innovation. It’s a designated time set aside to let teams freelance on ideas they may have in mind but normally would not have time to work on due to current commitments and projects in development.

The advantage to Ag Leader is that oftentimes, employees have interests and knowledge in technologies that may be uncommon in our current products/industry and therefore not thought of. Letting employees interject their personal interests opens minds to new ideas which one, spurs innovation and two, adds a lot of fun to the work environment.

How often do hackathons occur?
Once every release cycle, or in layman’s terms – a few days every two months are devoted to hackathons.

What are the criteria for the hackathon?
With the goal of inspiring innovation, the only real criteria in place is the hackathon must be something that Ag Leader could turn into a product at some point. Adding more criteria could limit creativity so we keep this to a minimum.

What real-world solutions or products have come out of hackathon?
Some examples include split screen view on InCommand™ and the recently released InCommand NTRIP feature.

The split screen came about as developers and product managers discussed ways to portray more information to the user at one time while in the field. They discussed menus, tabs, iPads, etc. as possible solutions. During the following hackathon, a team of developers introduced the split screen concept on the InCommand display and once everyone saw it, they were convinced of its functionality and value for the user.

The new NTRIP feature on the InCommand display started out as a hackathon idea as well. Developers saw an opportunity to enhance the customer experience by combining RTK correction for steering and AgFiniti for data transfer into one simple internet connection. By building an NTRIP client into the display, the need for a separate modem for steering control was eliminated, allowing for a single data source and thus only one cell data subscription.

There are numerous other features currently in the InCommand display that resulted from hackathons and many more in the works that you will see in the future!

What do Engineers have to say about participating?

“As a developer, I like that hackathons let us demonstrate what’s possible – they show just how far a technology can go, which often surprises people. It’s also given us a chance to look at ideas that we wouldn’t have made time for in the past. Some of my favorite projects have improved the way we work day-to-day, making us faster and giving us better tools. ” – Steve Schulteis, Software Engineer

“Hackathons are a great opportunity to work with people outside my regular team, develop new skills, and take risks on revolutionary ideas. I’ve seen teams develop small improvements that I’m convinced customers will immediately appreciate. Other teams have presented ideas that may grow into features we’d never have imagined otherwise. You can really feel the energy in the room after everyone has had a chance to show off their work. We have so many talented people here and I’m glad we give them the opportunity to spend a little time to pursue a topic they’re passionate about.” – Scott Eichhorn, Software Engineer

What value does hackathon provide Ag Leader?
“Hackathons allow employees time to work on ideas they’ve had but need dedicated time to experiment with and build on those ideas,” explains Al Myers, Ag Leader President. “We’ve seen very innovative and creative ideas that will result in future products and creative technical breakthroughs come from hackathons.”