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Engineering Better Solutions: The Intelsat Hack-A-Thon

Proving hacker-type concepts makes for stronger engineers.

Dozens of Intelsat Commercial Aviation engineers recently demonstrated this while taking part in a company-sponsored virtual Hack-A-Thon.

The word “hack” in this manner doesn’t mean testing security of a system, but rather allowing teams to implement something, without following formal development processes.

Developers are limited to a range of technology and tools in their daily work. In a Hack-A-Thon, developers can learn new skills and technology to demonstrate a working prototype.

This year’s event brought together 30-plus Intelsat Commercial Aviation engineers who formed eight teams spread across two different time zones (Chicago, U.S. and Chennai, India).

The annual event encourages collaboration across various teams to seed novel new ideas that translate into resolving potential features for the upcoming release, or even an idea that can be patented.

“The Hack-A-Thon not only provides an excellent platform for team building but also allows the engineers to stop and take some time to innovate without the concentrated focus of the bi-weekly program deliverables that are part of the agile practices,” said Peggy Shumway, senior vice president of software and IT for Intelsat’s Commercial Aviation business.

The engineers’ innovative ideas were evaluated by a judging panel comprised of Intelsat senior leaders. The solutions that earned top honors included:

  • Enhancements to our Virtual Airborne Central Processing Unit (vACPU) – these allow us to test and update inflight entertainment solutions virtually, without physical hardware.
  • Autoscaling Cloud Usage for Enhanced Operational Efficiency – this experiment demonstrated how we could increase or decrease our usage of cloud instances based on memory use and existing triggers on processing use.
  • Dark Mode on Demand – this enhancement allows airlines to activate “dark mode” whenever they want, preventing electronic devices from glowing so much, particularly on overnight flights.

Some of these ideas, and others, have since been implemented and awaiting deployment, while a few others have been tapped for future development.