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Unity Hackweek 2019: Tackling hard problems, building team skills

July 8, 2019 in News | 9 min. read
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What happens when you put 700+ people from Unity and our ecosystem in a secluded location once a year and tell them to solve hard tech, coding, and process problems? Their instructions? Unleash your creativity, collaborate like crazy, and embrace diverse perspectives.

This year, the Hackweek hundreds came from around the world, converging on a rural locale in Denmark on June 23-28. Under one roof, they brainstormed in order to tackle myriad challenges and had a boatload of fun.

Why is this annual gathering so important for Unity?

“That’s an easy one,” says Anders Johansen, Global R&D HR Director. “It’s because we invest in our employees – which always bears a lot of fruit for our users. We never lose sight of that. So we put a full week on our calendars to disrupt ourselves and our usual processes. It’s all about collaboration, diversity, and innovation.”

And Brett Bibby, VP of Engineering, adds, “What I love about Hackweek it brings together a dynamic mix of engineers, artists, product folks, customers and partners from all over the world. We work intensively for a week, which always results in incredible insights and outcomes that inform our roadmaps and advance our products and services.”

So much to choose from

We kicked off the week with a lively Sunday. Attendees chose either Unity Bootcamp, where they learned the fundamentals of game-building, or Lightning Talks, where their colleagues presented – in less than 10 minutes – on a wide range of topics.

For the week itself, there were around 200 projects to sign up for, encompassing every imaginable Unity technology, product, service or interest, such as plotting new frontiers for our Data-Oriented Technology Stack (DOTS) and Graphics tech, “dogfooding” our own products like the Editor and user services, hacking small features and improvements, innovating virtual sets, measuring player happiness, creating new tools for artists, building games, and pioneering use cases like Unity for Dance.

Faced with this thought-provoking smorgasbord, Illia Komendantov, a Software Test Engineer, chose an intriguing project on future uses for DOTS.

“I love that you can freely choose to join a team that may be focused on a ‘crazy’ idea. And regardless of your background or expertise level in the subject, we’re all considering it from different angles and trying to solve it in the most creative, collaborative way. For me, that represents the best in Unity culture.”

Attacking documentation bugs

Siobhan Gibson, the Chief Technical Editor on the Documentation team, launched and led the Attack the Docs! project. “We wanted to resolve all the bugs on the worst-performing pages in the Unity User Manual – pages that get the most visits per month, but have the lowest user ratings.”

While the Docs team had been applying quality standards to new pages, they didn’t always have the bandwidth to tackle legacy pages.

During the week, Gibson’s project had around 10 core people, with another 20-30 dropping in to troubleshoot for a few hours here and there. What does she like best about the Hackweek format? “Everyone can make meaningful contributions regardless of their level of experience. What’s important is their ability to understand problems and investigate solutions – which everyone at Unity is good at!”

So, how did her group do? “By the fourth day, we cleared 150 pages, which meant we opened a Phase 2 that allowed anyone to ‘attack’ problems on any page regardless of how well it had performed.”

At the last count, we improved 202 docs, and resolved 1882 bugs. That number is still climbing this morning.
I'm so proud of this project, and this incredible team for bringing their enthusiasm, focus and spirit. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all ? #UnityHackweek #Unity3D

— Siobhan Gibson (@siobhangx) June 28, 2019

Focusing on player happiness

Kaisa Salakka, Director of Product Innovation, Engagement, signed up for the Player Happiness project so she could better understand how users react to a game while they’re playing it.

“It was something that we hadn’t prioritized on our group’s roadmap because it’s risky – but there are big rewards for developers if we can get it working. Also, it’s a cool project since we get to work with different people and devices than we normally work with.”

When the week kicked off, the group explored multiple possibilities. As their ideas took shape, they got excited and brought more people on board to ensure they had the essential skills needed to build the solution they envisioned.

So what about Hackweek represents the best of Unity culture for Kaisa? “It brings diverse people together and encourages innovation. We get to form ‘dream teams’ of the people who inspire us, especially people we don’t get to work with every day – and they all bring great new product ideas.” Kaisa’s team included engineers, data science experts, product marketing managers, product managers, UX/UI designers, and more.

So how did they do? “In just one week we built an end-to-end solution!”

Game-making for new and seasoned employees alike

On the Sunday before Hackweek proper kicked off, many chose to participate in a hands-on Unity Bootcamp.

“I’ve only been at Unity for three weeks, so Hackweek is my introduction to the company and many colleagues,” says Jo Riber, Team Lead – Core Developer Services. She built a Waffle Madness game, “because I figured this was the best way for me to get an understanding of what Unity is all about. It’s also inspired by my daughter, who bakes a lot. I thought it would be a great idea to make something for her.”

Laura Greenberg, Senior Leader Counsel EMEA, worked on Hangry Monster. She likes that “Hackweek teaches us how to use the product and we’re able to intensely focus on it, which the company believes is important. It’s fun, emphasizes teamwork, and pushes you to learn more.”

Rósa Björk Einarsdóttir, Engineering Section Manager, worked on Learn My Number, a game to teach young children, like her daughter, how to memorize their parents’ phone numbers. Her Hackweek takeaway? “I love that the company is willing to invest in innovation, even if there are risks. I enjoyed meeting new people and having the time to learn something new.”

Learning from machine learning

As part of their day-to-day responsibilities, Kirk Chen, Leon Chen and Greg Chambers monitor some of Unity’s live services, but don’t often have the time to build new tools to deal with service anomalies.

In their Hackweek project, they explored how to automate detecting large data-set anomalies using machine learning technologies. Their progress? “The results have been encouraging,” says Greg Chambers, Senior Software Development Engineer in Test. “Using the same algorithm, we can even predict future trends and automate the job at a larger scale. We hope our project will benefit Unity’s Connected Services.”

What did they think of this opportunity to step outside their usual routines and focus on something unique? “Hackweek empowers Unity employees and developers to be creative. There are plenty of opportunities to explore new ideas. The sky’s the limit,” declares Kirk Chen, Senior Software Development Engineer.

Women in Gaming initiative

To kick off Hackweek, Unity’s Inclusion team hosted a big brunch. Over 120 women attended from across Unity – from core R&D and Education to the Product team. Additionally, 50 talented developers and technologists from outside Unity were guests, not only for the brunch, but for the entire week.

During the brunch, the women spoke directly with Unity leaders, including Brett Bibby, VP of Engineering. They spent the morning networking, building community, and sharing experiences about career trajectories.

We invited the WiG participants to Hackweek to promote diversity and inclusion in R&D and the game industry. We believe that having more perspectives ultimately leads to better ideas. And Hackweek is at its core an investment in ideas – the single biggest such investment made by R&D each year.

“We had such a diverse set of guests and Unity employees from numerous cultures and countries this year,” says Lotte May of LotteMakesStuff. “It was wonderful to meet so many people and hear about their work. The games and technology sectors can have a problem with diversity – not just a lack of women but with other diverse intersections too – so being able to talk with women from Turkey or India or Russia was great.”

We’ll be hosting this event again next year and we look forward to developing more diversity-focused events like this at Unity.

Partnering up at Hackweek

The Unity ecosystem is extensive and encompasses partner companies as varied as ArenaNet, ARM, Google Cloud, Havok, Intel, Ludia, Mozilla, Nordeus, Quixel, The Pokemon Company, Ubisoft, Zynga, and more. We invited over 60 partners and customers to join us in Denmark.

Moe Sy, Customer Engineer at Google Cloud and one of three participants from the Google Cloud team, loved the opportunity to dive in and learn the A-Z workflow of the Unity Editor. “Having a full week to immerse myself in the Editor’s capabilities and sheer breadth was pure joy and a remarkable opportunity.” And while he was assisted by Unity experts, he also got to share his own expertise as people dropped by to learn more about Google Cloud.

What does Simon Donovan, Creative Director at Google Cloud, think of the Hackweek vibe and Unity culture in general? “It’s an awesome place – everyone, right up to the VP level – is so approachable. The fact that the VP of R&D sent an email asking people to focus on coding for a week and to not have too many meetings is amazing. While Unity only has a couple of thousand people, you’re creating tech and tools that will impact hundreds of millions.”

All work and no play . . . was not an option

While most people were heads down all week, there were plenty of opportunities for sports and leisure too. Some went in big time for outdoor games like Jugger and Rundbold/Rounders, while there were ample opportunities for running, workouts, cycling, and quiet reflection. Meals were communal and snacks and refreshments were copious.

Say it in 60 seconds, and the year ahead

Over the course of the week, everyone worked diligently . . . and collaboratively. There were setbacks, of course, but also many mini-epiphanies and high-fiving breakthroughs. On Friday before noon, all teams handed in a one-minute video that showcased their Hackweek achievements – small and large, human and technical.

Most importantly, Hackweek 2019 again “proved that when you put diverse, creative and talented people in a room and task them with finding solutions to tough problems, they will – and sometimes in the most surprising ways,” concludes Anders Johansen. “Along with everything we accomplished this week, we’re all riding a huge wave of creative energy, learning, and newfound connections that we’ll draw from all year long.”

Intrigued about Unity and Hackweek?

To learn more about Unity and dynamic events such as Hackweek, consider joining us. Start by checking out our open positions on the Careers page. And if you don’t see your dream job, consider applying for it here.

July 8, 2019 in News | 9 min. read
Topics covered