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VAX '13: Vox Media product team's first hack week, in Austin, Texas

The Vox Media product team is always coming up with ideas for smaller projects that do not necessarily fit into our regular sprints. Our backlog for these projects has been growing steadily, and a couple of enterprising team members decided it was time for a hack conference. V(ox) (H)AX was born!

VAX is a three-day hackathon that starts today, Wednesday, February 20 and wraps up on Friday, February 22. The ideas being worked on at VAX are forward-thinking and full of creativity. During normal development cycles, the product team focuses on projects that are prioritized by company needs. At VAX, the scales are tipped, and the product team has full creative control.

36 Vox employees have descended on Austin, Texas for an epic week of product development — the team will dig into their creative sides and produce new products that will allow Vox Media to carry out its mission as an innovator in the digital media landscape.

Over the past several weeks, product team members have developed their ideas, divided into groups and committed to conquering new goals together. Skill sets will be developed, talents will shine and barbecue will be consumed.

While Austin is sunny and beautiful this time of year, this isn’t a vacation. The product team has dedicated themselves to long days locked into a rented office space. There will also be plenty of team bonding: VAXers have planned morning jogs, and a Nintendo Entertainment System was shipped across state lines for late-night Tetris battles.

Prior to attending VAX, the teams that were assembled each submitted a list of objectives that they wanted to achieve on their projects. After three days of hacking, each dev group will showcase their product to the rest of the team in a five minute presentation. By the time the product team heads home, many ambitions will have become reality.

The team began arriving in Austin yesterday, coming in from all directions. Employees from Santa Barbara, Boston, New York City and Missouri got to the Texas capital and reunited with the DC-based product crew.

The crowd got their bearings at our downtown hotel before heading out and experiencing some destinations on 6th Street. Street food was devoured and delicious Lone Star Beer was imbibed.

Today, the hard work began. Here are some examples of VAX projects being developed this week:

VoxCar: The team building VoxCar has stated that the project’s goal is to "share knowledge, build shared experience, and make things easier across the company." It’s important for a company to retain its cultural roots and provide a way for the team to remain close while being a part of a rapidly growing company. It’s not a Wiki, but it is a place for knowledge retention and the enrichment of our team’s collective intellect on all things Vox.

Beacon: A window into the product team from the top down. "Beacon is an internal tool to monitor projects and sprints and deploys across teams at Vox Media," product manager Justin Glow said. "It’s a tool to create transparency," added VP of Product Trei Brundrett. In a convenient view, all product team work (past, present and future) will be accessible to stakeholders for a variety of uses, including helping prioritize development work.

It’s a TRAP—-ezoid! The Polygon Digital Magazine: "We want to come out of VAX with a clear process for production of a digital magazine," designers James Chae and Tyson Whiting said. The designers are using Mag+, which is very designer-friendly. To limit the scope of their exercise, they are developing the magazine for the iPad while at VAX.

Streamline Features Team: "A user-friendly visual design interface for building features," designer Josh Laincz said. "Because of our limited time, we’re trying to get a road map, wireframes and hopefully some visual mockups. The goal is to have a concrete idea and mocks by the time we’re done."

Working title — Featherbottom: "We’re building a tool to get photos from a camera to the internet without wires." The goal is to create an unmatched experience for liveblogging. To take photographs from camera to computer, apply a watermark and upload them to Syllabus, Vox Media’s liveblog tool, in one automatic step — all wirelessly and instantaneously.

VoxMox: "We’re working on an internal app to help our sales process," developer and Austin citizen Ben Alt said. "For smaller sized ad campaigns, we will alleviate the pressure on our designers. VoxMox will give account managers the ability to create comps without going through a designer."

All Seeing Eye: "We’re building out a real-time traffic analytics platform. We have a mishmash of existing analytics stuff, but nothing that is comprehensive across all our properties," developer and Michigan alum Clif Reeder said. "The main selling point to me is that we’re baking in different contexts. There’s a lot of different ways of thinking about our chunks of traffic."

The Vox Media product blog will be reporting daily from VAX, monitoring the development of the various projects and sharing with the world how many food truck tacos have been consumed by the product team (as of today, it’s roughly 45).