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Behind the Scenes at the ScyllaDB Developer Conference and Hackathon

Last year, our ScyllaDB Developer Conference was a really special gathering where all of our developers came to the R&D Center in Israel for an intensive week of work and fun. We had interesting lectures and intensive work sprints in teams. Each team met physically together; some for the first time. Meeting face to face had its advantages. We also had a full day out of the office where we toured the splendor of Israel and had dinners and evening activities to foster the bonds of friendship.

For 2020 we’d initially planned to hold the Developer Conference around the middle of May in Poland, where we now have a small R&D Center. Then the global lockdowns for COVID19 hit and made it clear that it would not be an option. We were still hopeful we could meet in September in Poland, but as the pandemic persisted, we had to adapt.

We wondered how to create a virtual gathering that was meaningful and conducive to contribution; sessions that would draw a lot of participation, and an experience that would be fun and worthwhile. It’s a tall order when the entire event would be held via Zoom.

“The challenge this year was to make sure that the team felt the conference was happening, that everyone was engaged, and that sessions & presentations occurred on a regular basis to keep everyone’s interest.”

— Shlomi Livne, ScyllaDB VP of R&D

In looking at 2020, it was clear that while the event would not be the same, two main points had to keep true to the format of last year’s event:

  • Sessions to enrich everyone’s learning, provided by developers for developers
  • Activities to strengthen the bonds of friendship and collaboration

So with those two main principles in mind, The ScyllaDB Developer Conference 2020 was born. The conference was open to anyone in the company who wanted to participate, but was focused on the developers. The graphics for the event featured ScyllaDB monsters from each country where we have a ScyllaDB Developer. Currently, we have 61 developers located in 15 countries, and we are always on the lookout for more talent to join our ranks.

As a company we’ve adapted fairly well to coronavirus, but holding a virtual conference was a new challenge for us all. The event was arranged with 18 sessions over 8 days, spread out so the sessions wouldn’t take over an entire day. This left time for everyone to work, spend time with their family, and take care of household matters.

“The developer conference was awesome! As always, it was great to learn from our experienced colleagues.”

— Piotr J

The lectures given during the Conference were a combination of core technologies to ScyllaDB, insights about our customers, and more. Topics included:

  • A history of ScyllaDB
  • Overview of R&D from the last year
  • Raft
  • Elasticity
  • ScyllaDB Schema
  • Kubernetes
  • Latency
  • Product team lectures such as ScyllaDB Manager and ScyllaDB Cloud (NoSQL DBaaS)
  • Competitive analysis of our product offering
  • Feedback from Solutions Architects
  • Future plans for ScyllaDB

There were also two sessions just for fun which featured two different Kahoot! games whose objective was to get to know each other better. The games were fun and certainly brought out our competitive nature. One of the games featured photoshopped collages of each team and you had to identify them. Looking at the composite images, it showed our diversity and yet our unique friendly nature as well.

“It’s nice to learn more about the achievement and challenge in different production components through the brainstorming sessions. The archived video records and slides are good for future investigations.”

— Amos

While it was impossible to recreate the same atmosphere of a face-to-face event, the general feedback was that the conference was a great way to refocus and learn something new.

“I think the most important thing with the conference is that it gave me an opportunity to get to know a lot of people from the company better, learn from them, feel the passion of working together, being creative, and not being afraid to dream.”

— Ivan

No matter how new you were to ScyllaDB, be it a week or seven years, everyone felt the conference was a hit.

“For me the conference was my fresh off the boat experience as it launched about a week and a half after I joined the company. The content was amazing, I’ve been a distributed systems enthusiast for many years (mostly from the user’s end less from the maker’s end) and the sessions felt just like attending a top notch engineering conference on the subject matter. The engineers at ScyllaDB chew up consensus algorithms and linearization problems for breakfast. It really feels like I joined a company of monsters.”

— Erez

The Hackathon

The conference combined lectures given by many of the developers, some fun activities, but the most fun was had with the hackathon that showcased ScyllaDB’s developers knowledge, agility, and resourcefulness.

“The idea for doing a Hackathon came up in a brainstorming meeting with all the team leaders.”

— Shlomi Livne

The process for the hackathon was that each ScyllaDB employee who wanted to host a project had to fill in a table in a Google Doc where they described their project.

Once all of the suggestions were collected, each participant was given time to comment and ask questions. After that, everyone voted to narrow down the list from the 53 ideas to 12. The final 12 were given 10 minutes to pitch their project and explain it on three slides: The problem to solve, the proposed solution, resources to use, and the reason why their project should be the one you would want to join. Following the presentations, each person attending voted on the project they would like to join.

The rules were:

  • Every person in R&D will be able to suggest one idea (it’s not a must)
  • The ideas will be shared and presented in a 3 slide deck.
  • Each person votes for the one project he/she wants to join during the hackathon.
  • Teams will be up to 4-6 people, if we will have too many in a single idea we may split the team into two competing teams.
  • If a person selected a project that did not get enough teammates – he/she will be able to join one of the other selected projects.
  • Once the teams have been formed they will have overall 3 days of coding: Thursday, Friday, Sunday (Saturday was set aside for family lives)
  • The teams will present their end result on Judgment day and everyone will vote for one team.
  • The top 3 teams with the highest votes will be announced in a public meeting.
  • Winners get prizes

Anyone from any team in ScyllaDB could join the Hackathon if they wanted to. In some cases, it felt like riding a bicycle or visiting an old friend. In other cases, it was exciting and inspiring.

“I liked our hackathon team. I can’t get used to how much talent we all have. The hackathon appeared to be a platform where everyone could express himself and still be part of something big and important. It was a platform for creative communication that is usually missing in online conferences.”

— Ivan

“ScyllaDB engineers achieved in three days of hacking more than I’ve ever seen in any other hackathon, working projects with clear roadmaps for continuation and integration into real products. I think all hackathons are measured by how much persists when the dust settles. We all heard the myths of Google products servicing billions of people being born in hackathon projects, and in that respect my experience of the hackathon was quite successful. Not only did our project win 2nd place it was also selected as the top project to be integrated into the product.”

— Erez

As the hackathon ended, we had presentations from all the teams who qualified. The winners were announced:

  • First Place: ScyllaDB S3 API and Virtual Table API
  • Second Place: ScyllaDB UI
  • Third Place: ScyllaDB Slack Bot

Stay Tuned!

The results were so positive everyone agreed that it had to be repeated. We’re all looking forward to our next hackathon in 2021. But in the meantime, expect blog posts from our teams on the work they did for this last event. They are all extremely proud to show off the work they’ve done. Here’s a list of some of the planned articles for projects our engineering teams worked on:

  • A shard-aware Rust driver
  • New In-Memory Representation (IMR) infrastructure
  • Managing ScyllaDB via CQL
  • Integration of ScyllaDB with the S3 API
  • Docker CCM — A method to deploy ScyllaDB to Docker like the Cassandra Cluster Manager (CCM)
  • CQL Editor — A GUI to edit and manage CQL commands for ScyllaDB Cloud

Sign Up for ScyllaDB Summit!

Would you like to learn more about our work here at ScyllaDB and rub virtual elbows with our engineers? Then the perfect opportunity will be at ScyllaDB Summit 2021, planned for January 12th to 14th. Register to hear the latest developments in our NoSQL database and our supporting tools such as ScyllaDB Manager and ScyllaDB Monitoring Stack. You can also learn a lot from your fellow industry peers who will be presenting their own use cases, benchmarking results and best practices.


About Laura Novich

Laura, a Technical Writer Manager at ScyllaDB, has 15 years of documentation experience for start-ups and fortune 500 companies alike. Before joining ScyllaDB, Laura was a technical writer at Verint Systems and Red Hat where she documented for the KVM and Fedora projects. She is passionate about open source projects, innovation, and special needs children. Laura has presented at technical writing conferences, contributed to the Open Source magazine, and is currently writing her first book.