BUILD Madison

Last week I had the opportunity to go to the Dell Software Group lab at Madison, Wisconsin. I’d been there briefly once before, and was impressed with the energy and community involvement, this trip was for their 3rd annual build-a-thon, managed and excellently compared by location manager Tom Willis. I was joined by Doug Wright, Doug manages our common engineering team, which includes some team members in Madison.

The event was a 24hr hack-a-thon, where the R&D staff submitted ideas in advance, formed teams and went at the problem in a fun, team, relaxed environment. Projects didn’t have to be specifically work based, and one team took the opportunity to build a tele-presence robot using lego(r) and an Android tablet.

I was really refreshing to see programmers going at challenges in only 24hrs, even in an environment where we do code releases for some products every 10-days, it reminded me of the CIP(continuous improvement programmes)  projects we used to run back in the mid-1980’s where we couldn’t get code out fast enough for the explosive PC application demand. It was idea, code, evaluate, cleanup, ship and then re-evaluate, code, “lather, rinse, repeat”.

The projects for build were evaluated awarded points based on their success criteria, except the Directors award which was chosen. Extra points were given if the solution used the Common User Interface UX framework, and automated testing, as well as being grouped around key Dell initiatives.

The two main winners, with lots of honorable mentions. The main winner was “Project Timber”, a distributed log aggregator. Although I’d already declared my hand over on the @dsgbuild twitter account, looking at the other projects, Doug and I decided on the CUI Builder as the Directors award. Overall it was great to be around, congrats to Tom for organizing, and especially to Jenna for keeping the food and snacks flowing and the midnight root beer shakes. Finally, a special mention for the video confession booth, great idea, and the edited video was either really funny, or I was really tired…

For Dell Software Group employees, you can find more details and pictures here, on commons.

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About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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