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Taking Risks: Init15 Hackathon

A famous quote advises us to "Take risks: If you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise."

That's not the best adage for gambling, but for a 60-hour marathon coding session where the prizes are MacBook Pros for Best Implementation and PS4s for Best Concept, it's good advice to take to heart.

The Tenable hackathon

The Tenable hackathon, dubbed Init15, was an event that all of Tenable R&D had been anticipating for months. Teams were formed and project ideas were discussed—some to much greater lengths than others. And since the event was being held in Las Vegas, just days before Black Hat, BSides Las Vegas, and DEF CON, we were also discussing post-hackathon plans. At the behest of some friends, I decided to prolong my own stay for some technical workshops and conferences and, of course, some fun and profit. If sleep is a tax for the conscious, I intended to get away with as little of it as possible.

A company hackathon is a fantastic opportunity to scratch the proverbial itch or to experiment with possibilities

As a researcher turned developer, I wanted to stay true to my research roots. A company hackathon is a fantastic opportunity to scratch the proverbial itch or to experiment with possibilities. There is no expectation of shippable code (or even beautiful code!) at the end, but every expectation to experiment with turning bold, relevant ideas into something practical. In that spirit, my teammates and I spent long hours lovingly constructing the start of a honeypot-to-plugins project.

The experience

Projects by all 20+ teams ran the gamut, but all were borne from either the desire to make daily tasks less painful, or to bring seemingly fanciful possibilities to life. It wasn't all coding and work; teams bonded over great food and drinks too. Spending that much time working together inevitably led to new insights, shared obstacles, and various amounts of hilarity. If I hadn’t known before at an intellectual level that I worked with such talented coworkers, I came away appreciating firsthand the level of skill and experience each of my teammates has. I also added a few new fields of knowledge to my list of things to learn.

The results

Some 60 hours later, the wide variety of team presentations was breathtaking and incredibly exciting—from cross-product language localization, to new architectures optimized for IoT awareness; from specialized debuggers to behavioral learning; from new and improved automated QA tools to better user interface wizards. Some projects didn't quite make it to completion, and some could very well be slated for a future release (although which ones will remain a mystery). But the amazing fact of the matter was that in just 2.5 days, the feasibility of even a grandiose idea could be expressed by a team passionately committed to the idea (or perhaps just a team driven to own MacBook Pros and PS4s).

Tenable's hackathon offers us the freedom to dream big, innovate, take risks, and develop the next best thing

My team didn’t win, but we didn’t lose either. Every year, Tenable’s hackathon offers us the freedom to dream big, innovate, take risks, and develop the next best thing – or to fulfill a long-held desire for tools that fix nagging problems. Each hackathon opens new doors onto seemingly intractable problems, and for that, we all come away winners — and wiser.

We all come away winners — and wiser

Tenable is growing and looking for developers to join our team. Check out our job postings for more information.