Viasat interns get competitive in company’s largest Hackathon to date

Over 200 interns participate in the 2018 team-based design and innovation competition

Over 200 interns gathered on Viasat's main campus in Carlsbad, CA last month to participate in the company's annual 'Hackathon.' The interns from 13 Viasat campuses create ground-breaking projects to achieve victory in categories 'Hack for Good,' 'Best Life Hack,' and 'Capacity to Deliver the Unexpected.'

It may have been the weekend, but the parking lots were full on a recent summer weekend – Viasat’s Carlsbad campus was bustling with over 200 eager interns from various Viasat locations. Camped out in conference rooms and common-space corners, small groups of interns strategized, problem-solved and worked through the night to gain a competitive edge in the 2018 Hackathon, a team-based design and innovation competition held annually at Viasat for summer interns. In just two days, teams begin and finish projects to pitch to judges at a science fair-style presentation.

The Hackathon first became a Viasat tradition in 2012.

“A group of employees approached us and asked if we would be interested in organizing it,” said Dillon Ayers, a satellite products engineer who has become the main point of contact for the Hackathon over the years. “(Viasat CEO) Mark Dankberg was involved in driving the themes and categories for the event to ensure they were generally aligned with what he saw as the direction of the company.”

Interns participate in a late-night Wikipedia hacking game to boost energy and morale.

This summer, project categories included “Hack for Good,” “Best Life Hack,” and “Capacity to Deliver the Unexpected” – the theme of this year’s Hackathon.

“The overall goal of the event is to create a compelling experience for the interns and to generate ideas for potential products and services,” Ayers said.

With 37 teams, the 2018 Hackathon marked the biggest Hackathon to date. Viasat flew out 104 interns from 13 campuses to participate in the event – from places as close as San Jose, CA and Tempe, AZ to places as far as Marlborough, MA and even the UK office.

“I had a great time meeting interns from all across the U.S. and abroad,” said Clark Thompson, a video production intern from the Carlsbad campus. “It was cool to learn about their experiences at different Viasat locations and to hear their perspectives.”

The weekend kicked off with informational workshops and a relaxed beach bonfire on Friday – but come Saturday morning, interns flooded the Carlsbad campus at 8 a.m. to scout out the best workspaces and materials to begin hacking.

After two sleepless nights, endless food and challenging obstacles, the teams set up tables in a multipurpose room and engaged with the judges – including Dankberg, other executives, and employees – as they wandered from table to table.

“The technical questions were great,” said Christi McKnight, a secure network systems intern. “It was really cool when employees who have that knowledge asked questions most people wouldn’t think to ask. It opened up more learning opportunities.”

Intern teams set up projects in science-fair-style and make their pitches to Hackathon judges.

“Seeing people really like our idea and understand my team’s vision was really rewarding,” Ahan Mukhopadhyay, a broadband communications intern, added. “And getting to pitch to Mark D. himself was awesome.”

After a long morning of judging, the teams made their way to the courtyard where the winners would be announced.

In the category, “Hack for Good,” team Viaworks took the prize. In their project, the Mobile Ordinance Breakdown (MOB) intercepts and ends malicious drone (UAV) missions with a user-friendly interface.

Team CODY won “Best Life Hack,” creating an app that functions as an intra-building guide to Viasat. The user types in the starting location and ending office/conference room, and the map provides drawn instructions.

Lastly, in the “Capacity to Deliver the Unexpected” category, The Slackers team created a device optimization tool that uses Alexa to tell you how much bandwidth each app on your computer is using.

Other judging categories included “Best Pitch/Presentation,” “People’s Choice,” and “Leader’s Choice.”

As the weekend came to a close, interns went home with a little less sleep but a lot more experience.

“All future interns participating in the Hackathon should take the opportunity to learn something new,” said Tamar Esserman, a user experience design intern. “At the end of the day, win or lose, we all walked away having learned something. That’s what it’s all about.”

Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg with hackathon winners
Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg, left, poses with The Slackers — the team that took home the grand prize in the “Capacity to Deliver the Unexpected” category in the 2018 Hackathon.
Katherine Firsching
About Katherine Firsching 11 Articles
Katherine Firsching is a rising third-year student at the University of Virginia. She is a Distinguished Media Studies and English major who enjoys looking for the story in everything she does and experiences. At Viasat’s Carlsbad campus, she works in Content-Marketing, writing for the corporate blog and helping manage the company’s social media channels.