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Engineering A More Secure Cloud

Hackathon August 2021 Yellow

Teamwork and Collaboration Fuel Lacework Engineers to Create Tomorrow’s Cloud Security

Amidst the pressure of everyday responsibilities, it can be challenging to take a step back and reconsider how things get done. Fortunately for Lacework’s engineering team, routine hackathons encourage innovation and collaboration. The team devotes three days each quarter to expand their horizons and quickly build fun, useful things: they clear calendars, freeze release timelines, and adjust deadlines so they can focus solely on the hackathon. Only a customer escalation has the potential to interrupt activities. At Lacework’s most recent quarterly hackathon, which occurred May 12-14, small teams of two to five people set to work on 25 unique projects.

Hackathons are crucial opportunities for tackling tough problems and prototyping. According to Distinguished Engineer Ansari Mohamed, who organized the event, Lacework’s hackathons “provide total freedom to engineers to do what they think is right.” The engineers have the opportunity to work on a range of issues, which need not even be product-related. In fact, says Ansari, “we encourage them to look for problems that inhibit them from performing their day-to-day job with the utmost efficiency and effectiveness, but anything is fair game.”

While product roadmaps tend to overwhelm every other type of work in any engineering organization, setting aside some time to address different issues can spark innovative solutions — and often, these solutions improve the engineering team’s ability to deliver a product roadmap. Ansari also notes engineers are encouraged to explore a variety of ideas, such as:

  • Creating debugging tools
  • Creating test and mocking frameworks
  • Developing tools and plugins to expedite internal communication
  • Automating environment deployment
  • Analyzing customer datasets to extract useful information
  • Experimenting with alternate algorithms

Engineers met with widespread success as they addressed many of these areas (and more!) during the most recent hackathon. Of the 25 projects teams took on, 22 were ready to demo at the end of the three-day period. Thanks to the efficient and highly productive model of hackathons, the return on investment was instantly apparent: six of the 22 demoed projects have been deemed product roadmap candidates, while eleven total projects will drive cost savings and significantly impact engineering productivity and software quality.

Every hackathon wraps up with a rapid-fire demo session, where each team showcases their projects in six minutes. In the four brief summaries that follow, team members recap a few of the many projects undertaken during May’s hackathon:

Ivan Montiel and John Ho recognized the need for a robust solution to localize text, data, and date-times to the language and formats that Lacework customers are accustomed to using. They approached the “Go Global” hackathon with the goal of evaluating different tools and data formats to tackle the various aspects of internationalization and localization. They started with a few key questions: how could they store and serve translations for text and labels throughout the app, and how could they localize text, date-times, and numbers in our data and visualizations? The hackathon gave them the opportunity to try new frameworks and data formats, and rapidly experiment with their approaches to internationalization. Their results laid a foundation for future work by the engineering team.

This team, which consisted of a UX designer, an engineer, and a technical writer, joined forces to create a demo of interactive walkthroughs. Interactive walkthroughs help users navigate through the right places in a website or a web-app, often appearing as tooltips or as balloon tips that highlight particular elements and prompt users to take action. Since most web products are not designed to be intuitive, they require several iterations to get to the right track of user experience. To reduce confusion and clutter for users, Surendra Harikantra, Kinjal Gandhi, and Shuba Subramaniam worked on creating in-app interactive walkthroughs that can streamline onboarding, training, and support. They enjoyed the creative work and team building — and they even came away from the hackathon with an award!

James Jung, Michael Hsieh, and Joe Chen began the hackathon with the goal of building on Lacework’s key differentiating factor, the Polygraph®. Unlike other methods of event investigation, the Polygraph shows the customer the exact relation each event has with others from within a single event dossier page, shortening both the time spent stepping through pages of events and the time spent investigating an alert. The team extended their current datasets into new Polygraphs, which was the first time they were able to use cross model and time data. Though a project of this scope would typically take much longer than three days, the team arrived at their unique discovery by harnessing the existing platform and data.

The hackathon allowed production engineers and data scientists on the modeling team to tackle a problem that hits close to home: how to enable ML models to run effectively and efficiently. The team of Srinivas Doddi, Ting-Fang Yen, Joe Chen, Andrew Emmott, and Ranaji Krishna aimed to devise an automatic scheme for resource allocation (including CPU and memory requirements), given statistics of the input data as they relate to the feature processing and computation. Over the course of three days, they dealt with challenges including the lack of ground truth, finding useful metrics for the workloads, noisy datasets, and designing the evaluation criteria. Through continued collaboration post-hackathon, they hope to bring this model to production, improving their service reliability and reducing costs for customers simultaneously.

Lacework’s most recent hackathon spurred the type of innovation and collaboration that only dedicated time and space can make possible. The engineering organization, in particular, applauded the hackathon’s many benefits. For one, the event facilitated the type of cross-functional collaboration and personal engagement that has become increasingly important in this age of remote work. The engineers also appreciated the reprieve from everyday responsibilities, which allowed them to pursue self-directed projects, discover creative solutions, and hone their soft skills at the same time as they learned the latest technologies. Armed with new knowledge and solutions, Lacework’s engineers are gearing up for the coming quarter — and looking forward to the next hackathon.

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