This week at Smooch, a team of engineers turned a simple office gong into an emblem of democracy and communitarianism. What was once a way for the sales team to signal their successes to the office is now accessible to everyone thanks to a Slack integration. It’s part ancient Eastern tradition, part robot, part team effort. How’s that for future of work?

Our Hack Days are an opportunity for Smoochies from across the office-scape to break ranks and take on a variety of projects. Some created a dating CRM that didn’t end up working (cough, cough), while others developed more noble projects like improved employee onboarding tutorials. While those were great and might possibly be explored in future blog posts, I want to take this chance to call attention to the loud noise sounding through the room. Because it doesn’t announce itself.

Gong Days are Over

Initially, software developer FX proposed an announcement speaker as a hackathon project. People could type announcements into Slack and a speaker would say them. Nay, quoth Mike. Not ambitious enough. The gong needs to be involved. After all, if we can use Slack to feed announcements through a speaker, why can’t we use it to hit the gong? How hard can it be?

Why'd you have to gong and make things so complicated?

It is, after all, “obnoxious to have one team hit the gong,” according to one Smoochie speaking under the condition of anonymity. “Other teams accomplish things too.”

Gong with the wind

Here’s how the finished product works: Users type the command `/gongshow [text]` into Slack. It sends a request to a Raspberry Pi, which lives next to our Martech Award on a shelf beside the gong. The Raspberry Pi pings a controller, which releases a mallet. An arm reaches down to retrieve the mallet — fully automated. Neither human nor divine intervention is needed to reset it to its resting position. Tada! Democracy!

A robot arm fit for a gong

Under Gong-struction

How they accomplished it was surprisingly easy. Just kidding — I can’t even begin to wrap my head around this.

In the Slack workspace, you can add apps. Software developers Marc-Antoine and Mario integrated Slack with AWS, creating an app that registers commands. This is integrated with the contraption attached to the gong. When triggered, the mallet drops, sounding the gong before the announcement begins. The announcement — translated automatically into French for Loi 101 compliance — swaps text for speech and plays over a speaker.

The parts attached to the gong were made in developer Ubald’s 3D printer. Yes, he has his own 3D printer at home. Yes, he’s using it to build a hexapod robot. After the first day of Hack Days was over, he modelled the parts he needed on his computer and set the printer to work. They were ready when he woke up the next morning. Thankfully everything fit. Ubald said:

“I was very lucky because usually I print the first draft and there’s something I need to like, glue. We were lucky, everything fit nicely together”

The old me? Dead and gong

There were some hang-ups along the way. A Micro SD card needed to be swapped out before anything worked. Unplugging and replugging the wifi dongle cleared the airwaves. An`Illegal Instruction` error was rectified by swapping out Google Translate for Amazon Translate. An early iteration of the project with a small motor broke — they needed a way to easily lift the mallet while letting gravity do the swinging work. Pascal introduced a sturdier motor. Success!

The engineered gong is full of easter eggs, most of which the office is yet to discover. There’s a line of code exalting Ubald. Birthdays are announced with cushy French descriptors like “Bonne fête [NAME] avec du gâteau McCain et une médaille de vrai champion,” or “Bonne fête [NAME] avec un joyeux festin et un cirque acrobatique époustouflant.” Époustouflant indeed.

Indeed, the engineered gong is not immortal. If anybody decided to manually release the mallet, it might break. This is to say: Please do not manipulate the gong with your hands.

Here Today, Gong Tomorrow

Our Hack Days are a chance for Smoochies to break from our routines and get to know each other. We have the chance to reflect on our values as a company, blend silos, and enjoy ourselves. Creating the gong brought together talented employees from different departments while creating a tool that everybody is welcomed — if not encouraged — to use.

A lot of great things were accomplished during the Hack Days. One team worked diligently on refining our developer documentation, another turned our newsletter into a conversational experience available on Messenger — which should be coming soon! People had a chance to flex their creative muscles, learn, and have fun. And now, most importantly, we are all able to hit the gong for any reason at all.