At Coinbase, hackathons are a crucial part of our company culture. Each hackathon is a chance to take a break from our day-to-day work, explore new ideas, and build effective prototypes. Hackathons stimulate the creativity of participants and foster problem-solving and risk-taking in a casual and collaborative environment. Building an open financial system for the world will always require us to explore and innovate. This is why we hack — and we call these events “Vision Hacks”!
Hackathons are an innovative playground for new ideas.
Last week, we hosted our first hackathon of 2019. This was our first truly global hackathon, with participation from all of our offices, including San Francisco, London, Dublin, Portland, Chicago, and New York. Teams from across the company (Engineering, Communications, Design, Operations, Product, Legal and many more) came together over the last few weeks to make this event happen! Planning included everything from crowdsourcing ideas to designing posters, making swag, organizing events and crypto learning activities and, most importantly, giving people time and space to think about new ideas and form their hackathon teams.
During the 3-day “Crypto For All” hackathon, there were no constraints or restrictions imposed on what people could build. Teams could build anything, ranging from new features, product improvements, stand-alone apps, to experiments. All was fair game. The week was all about building, trying new things, and learning new skills. It was about enabling the cryptoeconomy. Top of mind for many of us last week was something our CTO, Balaji Srinivasan has been saying:
It may be the crypto winter for price, but it feels like the the summer for innovation. Decentralized lending, interest, derivatives, prediction markets, Lightning and L2, zk-SNARKS/STARKS, bulletproofs, staking, stablecoins…lot of good things happening across the ecosystem.
We know that many people are too intimidated to buy or use crypto — or don’t know where to start. We believe in educating people about crypto, and it starts at home for us. With the goal of making everyone at Coinbase comfortable with buying, selling, and using crypto, our Design Content Strategist, Val Klump, created a Crypto Study Hall activity, a list of 15 “Crypto assignments” that everyone could work through at their own pace. Even folks with deep crypto knowledge learned something new doing these assignments. These ranged from setting up Coinbase products, including Coinbase Consumer, Coinbase Pro, Coinbase Wallet, using them together to earn, buy, sell, send and receive crypto, to using crypto community tools and dapps on Coinbase Wallet. Some of the assignments highlights were:
- Earning BAT using Coinbase Earn
- Donating Crypto on GiveCrypto.org
- Using Etherscan to explore transactions on the Ethereum blockchain
- Using dapps like Compound to earn interest on crypto
- Donate BAT with Brave web browser
We also hosted fun crypto-first happy hours, where employees could make donations in crypto in exchange for treats and drinks, across our offices — all powered by Coinbase Commerce.
This year, more than 130 ideas were submitted from across the company — engineers, managers, executive assistants, recruiters, designers, product, business development associates, support team members, operations team, and even our CEO, Brian Armstrong and our VP of Engineering, Tim Wagner spent some time planning, designing, or coding.
On Friday, judges determined hackathon winners and handed out prizes based on various categories, like The Satoshi Award (best use of crypto), Sheriff’s Catch Award (best project from our leadership bounty board), Hard Fork Award (best technical debt improvement), The Altruist (best project built for the crypto community), Proof of People Award (people’s choice), and The Legend Award (best overall project).
Many projects were exciting, but here are a few highlights:
Coinbase Dark Mode is a frontend/UI design project. The Dark Mode team created configurable design themes for the Coinbase Consumer website and mobile app. Using themes simplifies the UI component code, makes it easier to reuse in different contexts and allows the frontend code to easily adapt to rebrands or reskins. Themes can be swapped at any point in the DOM (Domain Object Model) tree, thus changing the style/color/look of that UI component.
Codeflow enables engineers at Coinbase to securely deploy applications in the cloud, supporting both EC2 and Lambda. As the name suggests, the Fargate team built a Codeflow deployer that enables deployments of containerized applications to Fargate. Fargate is a managed service from AWS that allows us to run application containers without thinking about servers, while also enabling us to be more cost efficient by not paying for underutilized compute resources. In addition, we will gain operational cost savings and security benefits, because we no longer need to worry about patching and upgrading servers. The Fargate deployer is based on Fenrir, our AWS SAM deployer.
Provisions: Proof of Solvency
This project is prototype implementation of the Provisions proof of solvency protocol based on this whitepaper. It allows an exchange to prove they have enough assets to cover their liabilities without revealing their addresses, assets or liabilities by utilizing zero-knowledge proofs. The team implemented the protocol and a demo website which can prove that the “Total Assets — Total Liabilities = 0”.
Coinbase Seed — micro crypto purchasing
Coinbase Seed team built a tool that automatically rounds up your debit or credit card transactions and periodically uses those amounts to purchase the cryptocurrency of your choice. This automation makes it easier for new users to start investing in crypto.
A Slack “Thank You” Bot built on Lightning Network:
This is a Slackbot that lets Coinbase employees internally thank each other with crypto, an integration using Lightning Network that lets users send real crypto via Slack commands, and deposit/withdraw using their Lightning wallets. It is only available to Coinbase employees.
Internal rewards points to foster community at Coinbase:
This team built a points program that Coinbase employees can use internally to reward one another and nurture Coinbase culture. This encourages community, action by action, through the interactions of Coinbase employees. For example, employees might receive points for embodying our core values to deliver on a project, doing thorough code reviews, or as a thank you for helping a colleague, and may use points to obtain swag like stickers. These points are only available to Coinbase employees.
Coinbase Lite is a new mobile web experience that is assets-first and tuned for performance. By building a next-gen mobile web experience, the Coinbase Lite team reduced TTI (Time to Interact) on our mobile web pages by 5x, improving app performance significantly!
In summary, if you give people space to build and try out new things, without giving them specific guidance or imposing any constraints, space where it’s okay to fail, then great things happen! We believe in giving our employees this space to bring their own creative ideas to life — and “Vision Hacks” are just one fun example. If you enjoy working in a fun, high energy environment and want to join our next internal company hackathon, check out the open positions on our careers page. We’d love to hear from you!
To keep things fun and innovative, Coinbase hackathons allow Coinbase employees to explore a wide variety of concepts outside the confines of placing products into production. None of the products or services described in this blog post are in production or are otherwise available to the public, or represent any plan by Coinbase to do so.
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Crypto For All: What the Coinbase team built during our spring hackathon was originally published in The Coinbase Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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