Once a year, we hold Down Tools Week at Redgate’s Cambridge headquarters. It’s our version of a hack week – a chance to put down the day job and spend a week working on something completely different. It’s an opportunity for our developers, designers and even marketers to work on ideas that interest and inspire them beyond the scope of their day-to-day roles, and it also gives everyone a chance to mix things up and work with a different set of people outside of their usual teams.
During Down Tools Week, we challenge our teams to spend the week working on a project and present what they’ve done at the end of it. Was it a success? What did they learn? Has the project solved a particular problem? Have they built something useful from it?
Only one team can be the winner at the end of the week, and we judge them across a number of areas – how much they got done, whether they were able to ship something within the week or not, how well the teams worked together, and whether they managed to communicate with real users during the process.
Our theme for 2017 – machine learning
For the last few years, we’ve tried to focus Down Tools Weeks around a theme. This year’s theme is machine learning, which is becoming more and more prevalent. Computer programs typically follow a set of rules without deviating from them – and they do it pretty well. With machine learning, algorithms are used to tell a computer how to solve a problem using lots of examples that they can, literally, learn from. As a result, they can detect patterns and change what they do.
We’re fascinated by this at Redgate and we want to find out more about it, and explore how we might be able to apply it to some of the problems that our products solve.
We aim to have one charity-related project team each year. In the last few years we’ve worked with SimPrints, who build open-source software and biometric hardware to help people in the developing world who lack formal identification access essential services, and WaterScope, who provide simple and inexpensive water safety testing kits.
This year’s Down Tools Week charity project involves working with The Whistle, who are creating a digital human rights reporting app. The project is based at the University of Cambridge and funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research program. It was initially set up to provide digital verification for human rights violation reporting, but the team also began to build an incident reporting tool after they found a general lack of coherent reporting options for human rights violations.
The Down Tools Week team are looking into the digital verification angle, as well as reviewing the app’s existing code and user interface. They’re also getting some input from our marketing team on messaging and positioning for the app.
The Share Bears team are working on how we can share Redgate tool features and settings across teams, and across other Redgate products.
SQL Clone extensions
The Clone Extensions team are spending the week making SQL Clone extensions for Visual Studio and SSMS.
The Sensitivi-team are looking into sensitive data within databases – specifically, which database columns are likely to contain sensitive data, and what type of sensitive data the columns are likely to contain.
SQL Monitor machine learning
The Monitor machine learning team are looking into how we can apply machine learning to SQL Monitor – whether we can predict the future states of your estate from past data, and how that might impact alerting.
Team Point of No Re-churn are spending the week investigating how Redgate’s existing data about customer renewals could be used to predict the likelihood that a given customer will choose to renew their support contract in the future.
Down Tools Week is an opportunity to have fun alongside learning new skills and working on something different – we’ve got decorations around the office, local food trucks booked every evening to feed the hungry teams, the occasional delivery of doughnuts, and an afterparty at the end of the week.
We’ve also hired a VR kit for the second half of the week, so that the teams can take a break from learning about new technology to experiment with a different kind of new technology!
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