Can working in a new environment spark creativity?
Soar’s hackathon 2022

March 15, 2022

For the past few years, we’ve had a tradition at Soar to go on a ‘hackathon’: a week-long event where the whole team works together on short creative/new projects in a new location. These hackathons have been fantastic for coming up with new concepts - some even get fleshed out and made into new features on Soar.

These trips are also great for team building. Each hackathon, we encourage the team to get out of their comfort zone, try new things, and collaborate with others they wouldn’t usually work closely with. This year was no exception.
We went ‘down south’ from our Perth office to Dunsborough, a beautiful location around three hours away. This was perfect for getting us into a new working environment with a fresh mindset. Our hackathon work was split by department into two teams: the ‘tech team’, which is full of our programmers and technical wizards, and the ‘marketing team’, which includes everyone involved in sharing Soar to the world. Even our international staff members joined the fun by switching up their usual work routines, planning projects, and finding new colleagues to work with for the week.
In the marketing team, we wanted to try something new, so we conducted skill-sharing courses: each person on the team planning and presenting their own course. We all specialise in different things, and I believe the collaborative aspect of our skills coming together is what makes our team successful. The hackathon skill-sharing courses aimed to help further share tips and tricks from each person's main skillset at Soar to make us a stronger, more collaborative team. 

The courses involved things such as sharing tips on best marketing techniques, how to properly structure a blog (which was very useful for the one you’re reading now!), how to make artistic maps, how to make vector maps in QGIS, and even how to create drone maps. We learned many things from one another, and though the courses were short - they really helped me see new sides of my team members I’d never seen before. It was fascinating to see the different ways they approached tasks and get to experience their work first-hand and appreciate the skills involved in it. It also gave me new insight into our users, as I got to experience some of their technical skills, such as planning a drone mission.

Out in the beautiful landscape of Dunsborough, our resident drone expert Dan taught the rest of the team how to plan and fly a drone mission to make drone maps. This process was really interesting, for some of us it was the first time we got to fly a drone.
Of course, after mapping and having a much-needed cool off from the heat of the day, we uploaded our orthomosaic to Soar. Can you spot us?

View on Soar

In the tech team, they divided their goals - person by person, so that by the end of the week, each member would have a new feature for the platform to present as a concept. This kind of prototype process has helped many features of Soar come to life in the past. This follows the more traditional hackathon approach: quick ideas that can be conceived within the week, making sure the idea isn't too big or complex to implement if it was developed further after the trip.
A few concepts were brought up to potentially add to Soar, such as:
  • AI that can identify a map’s location when uploaded
  • A “live” view of activity happening on the platform
  • A support bot that can help answer people's questions
  • A comparison slider that lets you pin two maps to compare
These were just a handful of the amazing ideas the teams began to explore on the trip. These concepts might not necessarily come to life as a feature on the platform, but this kind of quick brainstorming and prototype process helps us explore new ideas without losing much time if they don’t work out.
One of the best things to come from these prototypes was the collaborative aspect of them. I noticed many times on our trip that people would go up to someone to see how their prototype is moving along, ask for feedback, or suggest ways that their prototype could somehow tie into the others. When we’re sitting at our desks most of the week, there aren’t as many free opportunities for this kind of collaboration. Breaking down those walls and having people from different areas of the business working together on something has been really wonderful to see. We even had our overseas employees get involved in the projects.
Overall, I saw a lot of benefits from working in a new environment for a week, especially when it came to generating new ideas and team bonding. If you find yourself feeling stuck creatively in your team, maybe you could try this hackathon approach and see what comes out of it. I left feeling thankful for the team and support here at the Soar office. Working together like this makes bringing content and maps to the world fun every day.

A lot can happen in one week, and there were too many activities to cover in one article. So stay tuned for part two, where my team member Diana will cover her experiences flying a drone for the first time at the hackathon - and what she learned from it!
Let us know if you like any of the ideas we explored on our hackathon - maybe you’ll see them as features on Soar in the future.
This blog was written by:

Michael Pearce

Michael is a creative producer for Soar, crafting creative content such as videos, graphics, and social media posts. He has a background in video game development and enjoys spending time with pigeons in the city.

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