How to Run an Awesome All-Company Hackathon

let the hacking commence

Hack Day has long been a tradition on the Springest team. We’ve built some amazing prototypes in ridiculously short timeframes — some of which have gone on to become real product features.

Uniquely, we also don’t limit Hack Day to the development team. From marketing to sales and customer support, everyone at Springest takes part in our monthly all-company hackathons.

Why we hack

We have a few core goals for each hack day:

  1. Innovate: Work on something not on our usual roadmap.
  2. Learn something: Try out a new coding language, service, or skill.
  3. Have fun: Whatever you do, it should inspire you.

Preparation

All month long, Springeteers are encouraged to keep track of inefficiencies in their workflow and brainstorm possible solutions.

Is there a boring, repetitive task taking up way too much of your time? Let’s find a way to automate it. Is there a key metric that takes forever to compute? Let’s write a script to calculate it for you.

For coders and non-coders alike, there are plenty of awesome tech tools to hack your way to a more productive workday.

For high-tech solutions, developers are brought in for cross-team collaborations, which often produce the most interesting results. For example, our office management team ended up with a Raspberry Pi hooked up to a temperature sensor, complete with on-demand Slack notifications.

Execution

Hack Day starts at 9:30am with an all-team meeting. We each present our ideas to the group, which often involves convincing other skilled team members to join in on a big idea. Afterwards, we’re all free to choose what we work on, and we turn on some music before settling into our projects.

While every Hack Day has its own distinct personality, they always include a few key features that any company can use to make their own hackathon a success:

Encourage Non-Developer Participation

Developers are always ready to jump in on Hack Day, but in our experience, non-coders can feel a bit daunted when asked to “hack.” What can you possibly hack if your role involves customer sales or support? Doesn’t that require software or hardware skills?

The answer is of course: No, you don’t have to code to participate in Hack Day. You can “hack” your way to a better office space by painting a wall or hanging a swing. Or even better, you can learn a new tool to optimize your workflow. The point is to get your team thinking way outside the box of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Supply Food

What’s a special office event without delicious snacks? We typically provide hack snacks (hopefully a few healthy ones), an ordered-in lunch, plus drinks during demo time. This really adds to our fun Hack Day energy.

Sit Together

This one depends on who’s doing what, but we find the community vibe increases significantly once everyone gets out from behind their desks and hacks together in the same space. It’s easier to collaborate and share jokes and wins. We usually push together two or three large tables in the kitchen for this purpose.

Result

5pm is demo time. While some still hunch over our computers making final tweaks, the rest of us crowd into the kitchen to see whatever working (or almost-working) prototypes made it out the door.

While we don’t have prizes or accolades for “winning” ideas, there is always plenty of beer and applause to go around.

And what exactly did we achieve this month?

Here’s a look at this month’s Hack Day projects:

Revenue “Wall of Fame”

Hacker: Ewout Meijer, Director of Corporate Partnerships

Problem: We hit revenue records all the time, but we have no easy way to see whether a high number is our true ‘record’ without looking it up. That’s lame — we should know when to celebrate!

Hack: Display the “Revenue Record” output of our Google Sheets metrics on a giant screen, so everyone can see it and get stoked.

Gym Class Wait List Jumper

Hacker: Liz Hubertz, Software Developer

Problem: Gym classes are always full, and you have to be SO fast to register when a “you’re off the wait list!” email is sent. This decreases workday productivity, because you’re always looking out for that email.

Hack: Used Zapier to trigger a webhook when the email is received, then built a small Rails app to handle the automatic login and registration process. Classes are thus instantly booked upon receipt of the “you’re off the wait list!” email.

SSL Quality Slack Notification

Hacker: Tim Flapper, Software Developer

Problem: We currently have no way to easily and conveniently monitor our SSL setup. Wouldn’t it be awesome to get a notification right in Slack? Yes.

Hack:

Learning Advisor Booking Scoreboard

Hackers: Midas and Merel, Learning Advisors (Customer Support)

Problem: An important part of measuring the success of our Learning Advisors is knowing how many bookings they achieve per week. This data therefore needs to be easy to find and visible for everyone.

Hack: By linking Slack with Google Docs with Zapier, they made an automated scoreboard that keeps track of how many bookings were done by Learning Advisors and how many were done by users themselves on our site. The scoreboard will be displayed on the TV screen in the Learning Advisor corner, so they can always see how they are performing that week.

New Springeteer Onboarding Program

Hackers: Debbie van Veen, Smooth Operations Lead and Anne Nynke Jansma, Learning Advisor

Problem: Our current onboarding process feels like it can be improved, but we don’t have any data to back up how or why!

Hack: Next to partially rewriting our onboarding help articles and making clearer tasks, they also created a survey for new Springeteers to track how often our tools are used and what people think of the program / what they miss.

Automated Inbound Lead Email Flow

Hacker: Sofie Angevaare, Inbound & Content Marketing

Problem: We lose out on a lot of useful leads by not using smart enough filters on our inbound flow.

Hack: Brand new automated e-mail flow that identifies whether our users should be followed up on by our provider sales team, plus a Slack notification whenever a key user is identified.

Polish ALL the Things!

Hacker: Rik Matena, Product Owner

Problem: Rik has been working on an internal customer support tool called Scoutest for awhile, but there are always improvements to be made. As a technical guy in his own right, he also helped out non-tech folks with their hacks.

Hack: Awesome UX improvements and a working and beautiful display for Ewout’s Wall of Records hack.

ASQ API

Hacker: Dennis Paagman, Product Owner and Developer

Problem: We want to use data from our ASQ MySQL query manager in external applications, which generates key metrics based on saved SQL. This allows us, for example, to automate filling in KPI metrics in Google Sheets.

Hack: Built the API! Awesome!

Pldealio

Hacker: Dennis Paagman, Product Owner and Developer

Problem: Sometimes our sales pipeline deals take a long time to go through — making it seem like not much is happening. Let’s visualize this data, so we can see what’s going on every step of the way.

Hack: Pldealio deal pipeline timeline!

Learning Advisor Reviews

Hackers: Zoe van Dantzig and Maarten Butterman, Learning Advisors

Problem: Our product focuses on quality reviews, so why don’t we let our users review our customer support team?

Hack: Created Springest trainer accounts for each Learning Advisor. Customers can now rate our customer support team in the same way that they rate trainers on the Springest website.

Notifilter API

Hacker: Mark Mulder, Software Developer

Problem: Mark built an awesome internal tool called Notifilter that would be super useful with an API, because that would allow us to grab statistics and re-use these numbers in Sheets, post them to Slack, etc.

Hack: Notifilter API and Slack Bot is now live!

Final Thoughts

I hope our examples give you some inspiration to try out your own all-company hackathon. While not all of our hacks will survive the test of time, Hack Days promote inter-team communication, collaboration, and learning. Plus, it’s a great way to ultimately boost employee happiness and productivity — not to mention an excuse to drink beer during work hours. ;-)


P.S. Think Hack Day sounds awesome? We’re always hiring talented developers, and you can contact us on Twitter @SpringestOps or by email at mark@springest.com.