Running our first company hackathon

February 10, 2020


Connor Ward

We walked out the office, left our work behind and did what we wanted for two days.

You might have heard of “innovation days” or “hackathons” before. They’re events where people come together, launch projects and solve problems that don’t fit in the normal working week.

We’ve wanted to put one on ever since we heard Strava’s talk at Jam London. They’d perfected the Jams format over the last 6 years and had the results to prove it: many of the projects started during Jams made it into Strava in one form or another.

Sawweeeet! Ideas coming thick and fast at the inaugural @browserlondon and @tweetsbytwine two-day hackathon. *frantically starts Googling obscure APIs*

— Elliot Coad (@coadstream) April 5, 2018

Since this was our first time, we didn't start projects with the intention of building new features. Instead, we had complete creative freedom. Here's what we came up with.

Twine does print: the world’s first intranet tabloid

Jams was all about doing things we don’t normally do. Since we’re a software company, I thought: why don’t we do something analogue, something in print?

I’d long been a fan of Newspaper Club, and I knew I wasn’t the only one at Twine. All I needed to do was inspire a few of the team to flex their writing skills. Thus, The W was born. Well, sort of.

Asking three people to produce twenty pages worth of writing and design in two days was an ambitious task. I will hold my hand up and say that I had the biggest lesson to learn about running a Jams: the ideal project should be achievable in the time available.

Don’t worry, we haven’t abandoned the whole thing. We’ve scheduled a mini post-Jams-Jams just for this project. To help get the ball rolling, we’re going to open it up to people who weren’t part of the original editorial team.

Thunderbirds, Meet Slack: Employee Status Tracker

We’ve got a few remote workers in different time zones. If you’ve ever been in the same situation you’ll know it’s surprisingly hard to keep track of when people are online and what time zone they’re working in. So, our Head of Development decided to do something about it.

He went out and built a micro-application that hooks up to our Slack account. Using the API, the application pulls out who is online and what timezone they’re in. Plus, everyone’s picture is housed in a picture frame, a nod to this project’s Thunderbirds inspiration.

We’ve made this public, so you can set one up for your team too.

A fresh employee onboarding experience

You might have already read about this one (we’re pretty proud of it). We’d had a flurry of new hires and they were keen to spearhead a project about something fresh on their mind: our employee onboarding.

They rebuilt our knowledge base, expanded our people directory, built a welcome micro-site and set up an interactive map of the local area. All in just two days.

Next time we hire someone, we’re going to get their feedback and start all over. And then with the next person, and the next and so on.

Running a Jam: Our recommendations

  • Before the event, keep up the comms and make sure everyone has a Jam idea in mind. Outline what the day will look like and what people are expected to have prepared
  • Don't be too prescriptive – it requires a bit of a leap of faith, but you'll be surprised with the quality and range of ideas people will come up with
  • Do it out of the office – book a space elsewhere. This makes it not your normal day at work and builds up some anticipation around the event
  • Start the day with a creative activity – ask everyone to draw the person next to them. This will loosen everyone up for the day (seriously, you'll be surprised how funny this can be)

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