Creative Outlet for the Passionate Engineer

NANOG Hackathon

by Elizabeth Drolet

Creative Outlet for the Passionate Engineer: NANOG Hackathon


Hackathons are not only a key part of the North American Network Operators’ Group (NANOG) conferences, but a unique opportunity to engage in the sheer “joy of creation,” collaboration and learning within the networking industry. 

“It’s relatively easy to take a class and do homework, but this is a venue for people who are really passionate about what they are doing,” NANOG Hackathon Committee Chair and Netflix Director of Engineering Michael Costello said.

“It's an opportunity for participants to do something that is not required, but instead in service of learning, expressing and enhancing their own level of excellence,” Costello said.

Hackathons represent the essence of NANOG's mission.

Bringing together a diverse community of networkers, the NANOG Hackathon provides hands-on education in real time, and is progressive enough for the engineer of tomorrow to truly sink their teeth in. 

In 2013, the Network Engineering master’s degree program at CU Boulder was the first university program invited to attend a NANOG conference. And when it comes to educating the next generation of engineers, NANOG and CU Boulder share the same love language: hands-on learning. 

"We are a hands-on lab based degree. We teach the technologies and protocols in-depth, but then also partner with industry organizations like NANOG to apply academia in the real world,” Levi Perigo, CU Boulder Professor of Networking Engineering said.


A hands-on practicum can be a real game-changer for graduate students.  

According to Perigo,  “the number one takeaway” from a NANOG event for their students is confidence. Students return to the University knowing the concepts they are learning are actually what the industry is needing. 

“Hands-on experience is absolutely critical. If you can't apply theoretical knowledge to real world practice - then that's all it is - just theory,” Perigo said. 

“To be able to troubleshoot and learn from your mistakes in this type of environment is a rare opportunity,” he continued. 

In many ways, an event like the NANOG Hackathon is icing on a well-baked cake. In addition to boasting an impressive 50-year history in the evolution of technical engineering, the University of Colorado Boulder is one of the nation’s top-ranked Tier 1 research institutions.

nanog presentation-crop.jpg

The NANOG Hackathon, in recent years, has become more creative and passion-fueled, as it is no longer about winning a prize. 

Costello has been instrumental in adding a more creative component to the overall program. 

“We provide a theme, and participants come up with some project on their own based on that theme.  For some time before that, we provided not only a theme, but also exercises or tasks related to that theme...this was useful for some participants, but didn’t provide the level of creativity others wanted,” Costello said. 

Furthermore, Hackathons provide a profound space for building connections. Instead of introducing yourself to a stranger in the lobby of a conference hall, you can divulge in problem solving and collaboratively “hack.”

“It’s deeply satisfying,” Costello said. “Participants are really there for the joy of creation and learning something new.”



Elizabeth Drolet

Elizabeth Drolet is NANOG's Multimedia Story Producer

All Author Posts