Developers Cubed: Inside Yahoo!7’s Hack Day

Developers Cubed: Inside Yahoo!7’s Hack Day

Gizmodo’s Developers Cubed series offers a behind the scenes look into Australia’s up and coming dev scene. This week: we talk to Yahoo!7’s head of technology strategy to talk about the company’s recent Hack Day. Is it worth holding one to get an app built?

Who are you and where do you work?

My name is Craig Penfold. I’m the Head of Technology at Yahoo!7

Why do we know you? What have you created?

Yahoo!7 is a joint venture between Yahoo! and the Seven West Media group. My technology team at Yahoo!7 provide the technology, infrastructure and development for the Yahoo!7 and Yahoo! New Zealand networks.

I’ve worked as an engineer at ABC and Optus and have been at Yahoo!7 since April 2007. I’m responsible for the entire technology stack for Yahoo!7 and Yahoo! New Zealand, as well as the development of local products and platforms.

What’s a Hack Day?

Imagine if you could do something that you were truly passionate in your day job. If you had an idea that would change the direction of the company you work for. If you had the opportunity to press pause on your current work-load and focus on something you really want to do.

Yahoo!7 hold “Hack Days”, that are designed to inspire staff from across the business to think of new ideas and ultimately develop, enhance, or create new products and services for the company.

Hack Days are held over a 24-hour period where teams from across the business such as developers, product managers, designers, finance and sales put aside their day-to-day work to focus on creating innovative ideas and (at least in part) build them. They then present their ideas to the whole business and judged by senior leaders on a range of criteria including innovation, commercial application and technical practicality.

Recently, our 9th Hack Day was held. 45 hackers presented 24 hacks ranging from new audience inspired mobile apps, utility prototypes to help us do our job, new ideas to visualise network data, and new media initiatives that may be scheduled on our product roadmap.

Why is it important?

Hack Day is designed to bring together staff from different areas of the business with the view of driving innovation and creating new products and services — and do it in a really fun way. It helps foster a culture of innovation and provides staff and particularly our engineers, an outlet to allow their creativity to flow.

Hack Day instils a level of excitement to all areas of the business about the future of the web and Yahoo!7’s place in it, and allows people to think about products and platforms in a new and exciting way. On top of that, some of the ideas make it onto the roadmap and are launched to market. As a result of previous Hack Day submissions, the Yahoo!7 “Food” app was developed on iOS — fundamentally this app then went onto enable the highly successful “My Kitchen Rules” app. Another example is the Yahoo!7 “News Year in Review” site. And finally, a lot of inspiration from a Hack went towards the “Yahoo!7 TV Guide” site.

What platforms do you develop for?

We focus on developing for desktop browsers, mobile web, iOS and Android devices. Our technology stack is generally a LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) with a frontend focus on HTML5 and CSS3. Our frontend framework is YUI. We also support a handful of IPTV devices such as the Sony PS3 and Bravia range, LG and Samsung devices.

What are you working on right now?

At Yahoo!7 we’re focussing on Mobile, and Social. Our mobile focus, or more accurately mobility, has a two-pronged approach. Firstly, on the mobile app development front, we’re building a framework and standard library set to help make our mobile app build-out more efficient and consistent. This ranges from how content is displayed in an app to a consistent cross-platform approach to push notifications.

Secondly, we’re enabling our websites to be device aware and responsive. The goal is to reach our users wherever they are, with whatever device they’re using, in an optimised way for that device.

Our Social strategy is about embracing social as a set of consumer behaviours, not a product or destination. We’re embedding the opportutnies for people to “be social” across the network through developing content sharing tools, the ability to easily comment and ‘like’ content and see what your friends are doing as well.

Everything we do needs to have a strong focus on scalability. Yahoo!7 as a network reaches 8.8 million Australians and gets over 1 billion page views per month. The platforms we build need to not only support this existing load, but be able to handle any growth or traffic/engagement spikes we see along the way.

What do you think about the rise and rise of App Stores? How has it influenced your titles?

The rise of App stores, and especially the immediate feedback loop created by the ratings and reviews system has influenced our approach to building apps.

Rather than flooding the stores with apps, Yahoo!7 focuses on building best of breed apps that are more likely to be downloaded, used and loved by our users. These include FANGO which has had over 540,000 downloads, Seven News, MarketDash and the Yahoo!7 TV Guide.

What’s your favourite app that you didn’t create?

I love Flipboard. I use it everyday. It’s a great way to consume and aggregate content. It’s now my RSS reader and is the way I share articles to friends and colleagues.

What phone do you use? Why?

I have an iPhone 4S. I really like the simplicity of design, the single app store and the quality of apps that are available. I bought my wife a Samsung Galaxy S2 which I also use to keep in touch with Android developments.

What advice do you have for budding Aussie developers out there?

Focus on something you love and are passionate about. Look to solve a problem you yourself have — it’s highly likely others will have the same problem and benefit from your work. Be ready to fail, and be even more ready to pick yourself back up again.

Does Australia need to do more to foster innovation in developers? How can it do it?

I think Australia is in a very interesting position right now in terms of innovation. More and more start-ups are being created and there seems to be a mini-revolution to innovate and build something new and cool.