Saddle up for a Hackathon hoedown, pardners! At WP Engine, our Hackathons are two-day rodeos of innovation where teams collaborate to craft new product ideas or solve existing problems. 

The event is not just about software; participants can choose any project related to their day-to-day work or a new area of interest, including making physical objects. It’s also an excellent opportunity for employees to work with people they might not otherwise get to collaborate with, fostering new connections and cross-team learning.

This time, we ventured to the Old American West—horses, flannel, jeans, spurs, cowboy hats, lassos, and—why not?—cats for the memes! 

While the projects that come out of Hackathon don’t always turn into future WP Engine innovations, they often directly impact the lives of our customers and colleagues through experimentation and learning.

Hackathon 2023 image featuring a trophy full of beans. text reads: Hackathon 2023, Award Categories, More than a hill of beans

Hold onto your hats; there’s more to this rodeo! 

Embracing the spirit of friendly competition and community impact, WP Engine Hackathons come with an optional contest in which the winners get to pay it forward, contributing to a charity of their choice. 

Now, let’s tip our hats to the heart of the event—the awards! There are six awards in total. This includes five popular choice awards for which any WP Engine employee can vote as well as one special award granted by an Executive Sponsor. 

This year our awards were as follows:

The Lone Can Award

The Lone Can Award celebrates the team that, while not hitting the finish line, provided a taste of what could have been. Like a can of beans, this project is nutritious, but not quite a full meal. 

We embrace experimentation in every WP Engine Hackathon, understanding that ventures into uncharted territory can encounter challenges and even failure. Establishing this award for projects facing such hurdles aims to inspire teams to share their experiences, fostering a culture of learning and growth for all.

Pardner First

The Pardner First Award honors the team that skillfully blends innovation with customer needs, fashioning a solution as comforting as an old friend and as reliable as a well-worn pair of boots. 

Rooted in WP Engine’s Core Value of Customer Inspired, this accolade applauds projects that embody a deep understanding of and commitment to our customers.

Tighten the Bootstraps

The Tighten the Bootstraps Award recognizes a team’s wisdom in deciding when to mend a fence instead of building a new one. 

For an Engineer, creating new things is exciting, but this award acknowledges the value of improving what we already have. This award is a nod to teams innovating on established foundations.

Shiniest Buckle in Town

For the Shiniest Buckle in Town Award, a team’s project shouldn’t just be functional; it needs to be a masterpiece, a finely crafted buckaroo of code that stands tall in the software frontier. 

Just as a cowboy takes pride in their belt buckle, this team can proudly wear the Shiniest Buckle in Town to symbolize their meticulous attention to detail and design finesse. This award is heavily inspired by another WP Engine Core Value: Design Matters.

The Platinum Prospectors Prize

We always want one award that allows teams to compete for a “top spot” in the competition. 

The Platinum Prospectors Prize goes to the project that hits all the right notes, leaving an indelible mark on the Wild West of code. Their innovation and execution resonate with brilliance and leave a lasting impact.

Girish Byraiah’s AI Code Wrangler Award

Every Hackathon has a special prize awarded by an Executive Sponsor. This Hackathon’s sponsor, WP Engine VP of Engineering Girish Byraiah, challenged teams to boldly traverse the digital prairies, breaking new ground in the wild terrain of AI. 

This award recognizes the daring innovators who emerged as the gritty mavericks of our Old West Hackathon.

Image depicts a cowboy cat eating beans from a can. Image text reads: Hackathon 2023, Meowdy, pardner. Let's get cookin!

The Winning Projects

Nineteen teams presented their projects at the end of the Hackathon. Their scrappy 48-hour projects are remembered by their presentations, representing an imagined future state of what could be at WP Engine. 

These are some of the award-winning projects that we built together.

Hack for Cats: The Lone Can Award

image of test cat trying the cat authentication device created by Christine Seeman and Courtney Sims

Embarking on a purr-suit of innovation, two adventurous hackers, Christine Seeman and Courtney Sims, set out to enhance the lives of their feline friends. 

This team developed interactive toys, games, and even a new cat authentication device, so our kitty friends can more easily log into our computers late at night and chat with their friends about world domination! 

As a nod to their creativity, the team donated their winnings to Alley Cat Allies, a nonprofit working to improve the lives of all cats and kittens.

Search Cowboy: Pardner First

screenshot of the Search Cowby search engine created by Byanca De La Fuente and Daniel Urdialez

A pair of first-time hackers, Byanca De La Fuente and Daniel Urdialez, lassoed success with their creation: Search Cowboy, a powerful internal search tool. 

Their mission? To elevate the customer experience by surfacing relevant information from multiple internal knowledge sources like Jira and Guru, empowering our award-winning support teams with the information they need at lightning speed. If the data is out there, Search Cowboy will help us round it up. 

For their Customer Inspired win, the team donated their winnings to Latino Outdoors, an organization dedicated to building a world where all Latino communities enjoy nature as a safe and inclusive place.

GoQueue: Tighten the Bootstraps

screenshot of queuing system dashboard created by Eric Miller, Daniel Ayvar, Alexander Wilcots, William McKinnerney, Wyatt Tall, and Nate Gay

This team breathed new life into a five-year-old hackathon project to replace our aging traffic queuing system. Responsible for routing billions of daily requests, this system enables WP Engine’s WordPress platform to distribute computing resources equitably as site traffic fluctuates. 

The objective was clear: attain performance parity with our existing queuing system. Not only did this project show promising results, but it also implemented a new weighted fair queuing algorithm in Golang. 

In recognition of their achievement, team members Eric Miller, Daniel Ayvar, Alexander Wilcots, William McKinnerney, Wyatt Tall, and Nate Gay chose to pay it forward by donating their winnings to Fund Texas Choice, a nonprofit providing Texans with access to abortion healthcare.

Cowboys of the Dark: Shiniest Buckle in Town

image depicting how creators Adam Kostuch, Adam Łapiński, Alex Butler, Donagh Kelleher, Marwa Saad, Robin Olaya, Ryszard Borzych, Sarah Ricker, Teresa Gobble, and Tyson Reeder created a dark mode for the WP Engine portal

Responding to customer feedback like “My retinas are burning,” this team braved the world of CSS, Material UI, Typescript, React, Ruby, and just a hint of Sass to build WP Engine User Portal: Dark Mode. 

Thanks to their efforts, relief for our eyes may soon be on the horizon. All credit goes to these talented team members: Adam Kostuch, Adam Łapiński, Alex Butler, Donagh Kelleher, Marwa Saad, Robin Olaya, Ryszard Borzych, Sarah Ricker, Teresa Gobble, and Tyson Reeder. 

To celebrate their gleaming new buckle, the team donated their winnings to the Kessler Foundation, which drives life-changing rehabilitation research for people with disabilities.

The Data Desperados: The Platinum Prospectors Prize

flowchart illustration how the new database layer created by Justin Reasoner, Ty Christensen, and Ian Meron

For this Hack, Justin Reasoner, Ty Christensen, and Ian Meron created a new database layer for our WordPress hosting platform. 

The goal was to separate some of our stateful workloads from our traditional hosting stack. This team exceeded their initial goal and created a highly available Kubernetes service that would be easier to manage than our existing database solution. 

The impact of this project on the future of hosting at WP Engine cannot be overstated, and that is why it won The Platinum Prospectors Prize. The team donated their winnings to Feeding America, contributing to the fight against hunger.

ChatWPYee-Haw: Girish Byraiah’s AI Code Wrangler Award

screenshot of an answer provided by the ChatWPYee-Haw AI assistant which was created by Ben Turner, Drew Holt, Eric Haase, Eric Hoanshelt, Justin Lim, Mehar Gangishetti, Parul Priya, Peter Nuernberg, Ramya Iyer, Silver Bowen, and Spencer Putnam

This team proved the underlying technologies that WP Engine could use to create an intelligent assistant for internal use. Leveraging Google’s Vertex AI Search, this team created a generative AI language model that integrates into Slack. 

Their creation delivered a stellar interactive demo, providing the finest cowboy facts this side of the Mississippi. This project opens the door to future models trained on internal knowledge sources similar to the ones used by the Search Cowboy project. 

Ben Turner, Drew Holt, Eric Haase, Eric Hoanshelt, Justin Lim, Mehar Gangishetti, Parul Priya, Peter Nuernberg, Ramya Iyer, Silver Bowen, and Spencer Putnam donated their winnings to Doctors Without Borders, which delivers worldwide emergency medical aid.

Come Work With Us

The spirit of innovation and collaboration we witnessed during the Old West Hackathon is something we carry with us every day at WP Engine. Our commitment extends to fostering an environment where employees are empowered to explore new ideas and take risks. Believing this ethos propels our ongoing innovation and growth.

Have you participated in other exciting Hackathons? Please share your experiences with us in the comments! 

If you’re eager to saddle up for our next Hackathon, WP Engine welcomes passionate individuals to join our Engineering teams. Exciting opportunities await, including our recent announcement of 20 new job openings at our award-winning Limerick office

For more details, visit our careers page.