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Hack Day 2015: How We Scale Culture and Internal Tools
Yesterday we held our semi-annual hack day (re: internal hackathon). If the day made one thing clear, it’s that a collaborative, innovation-driven culture is very, very important to us. In the last year alone we’ve grown from 85 people to 200, and opened five new offices in London, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, and Los Angeles. In our New York office we’ve gone from working on one floor of the building to three.
So when it came time to come up with Hack Day projects, almost all of the teams looked at this rapid growth as both a challenge and an opportunity to help scale our culture across our expanding departments and geographies. Even as we grow bigger and further apart, how can we bring our people more closely together to achieve great things?
Here’s a look at some of the projects:
Team Where is Shamu?
Led by: Kyle Jackson (IT Manager)
[Editor’s note: For non-Percolators, Shamu is the name of our office HipChat bot and informal digital mascot.]
This team built a tracking system that helps find employees and potentially alert the team to visitors in the office with bluetooth low energy beacons. Kyle said his team was able to break out into small groups, covering back-end engineering, front-end and design. While this project required heavy technical thinking and building, the team members coming from business teams like Sales, Client Solutions, Marketing, and People Operations helped make the product great with fun, automated responses that the system generated when it couldn’t find the person it was looking for.
“It was impressive to see an app come together in one day that was truly full-stack. From the layer to low energy radios to the user interface,” Kyle said, “I think everyone learned something new in the process.”
Team Ghost Finger
Led by: Brent Watson (Mobile Engineering)
Team Ghost Finger built a mobile app that improves movement between offices. The sleek app impressed us all with its promise to improve the flow of ideas coming into our office. The team’s diversity of talent really shined in the presentation. While the engineers worked on the app, Kim Solow, a member of the marketing team, led a squad to film a promo video. “We thought it was a great opportunity to satire our day-to-day and poke fun of some of those ‘very Percolate’ moments, but it also allowed us to showcase how the app really could open doors for everyone here at Percolate.”
Team Remote Office Love
Led by: Melissa Bickford (Client Solutions) and Megan MacCaughey (Account Management)
Melissa and Megan led a team focused on finding creative ways to cultivate culture and inclusion across all Percolate offices. They interviewed remote office employees to understand their challenges and came up with a few solutions to help everyone, wherever they are based, feel more included in our weekly Friday Wins meeting.
“We didn’t necessarily have a fully fledged engineering team at our disposal, but we found other creative ways to build products – involving ducktape, remote control cars and colorful stickers,” Melissa said.
The team’s outcome was twofold, there was the “Perco Porsche” – a remote controlled video conferencing car, and “Cortado” – a software platform to help put a face to the name of whoever is speaking at the wins meeting, and automating the collection, storage and distribution of weekly win recaps.
Team Flashing Lights
Led by: Ian Westcott (Infrastructure Engineering) and Thomas Cain (Sales)
Team Flashing Lights’ goal was to find a way to notify Percolators of various notable company events including new business wins, new client onboarding sessions, product releases, new hires, and (most importantly) when lunch is served.
“We chose Philips Hue bulbs because they have a REST API and they can be programmed to show a range of colors,” Ian explained, describing how the team programmed a light bulb to illuminate with our brand colors based on email signals. “Inadvertently, we created a project about lights and thankfully there was a light bulb store less than a block from the office,” Thomas joked.
Team Fair Trade
Led by: Doug Tabuchi (Mobile Engineering)
With such a fast growing company, it’s hard to feel like you know everyone very well, so Team Fair Trade launched the “Fair Trade – Never Lunch Alone” app that matched Percolators that wouldn’t typically interact directly in their daily work for lunch dates. Doug noted that, “there was a good mix of people discussing how to implement this from a technical standpoint and how to make it part of the culture.” He also pointed out that with Hack Day, it often comes down to the buzzer to deliver a working product, but in the end they demoed the app successfully.
Team Ninja Coffee
Led by: Regis Wakefield (People Operations)
Team Ninja coffee went head-to-head with the most obnoxious (but most valuable) member of the Percolate team — the coffee bar grinder. We take coffee seriously here, so while having a gorgeous La Marzocco espresso machine is a great perk of working in the New York office, the coffee grinder is notorious for interrupting conversations, distracting interview candidates and causing headaches.
“We abided by the tried and true method of ‘measure twice, cut once’ and built a cardboard prototype called ‘Albert 1,’ named after the first monkey launched into space. This model offered no sound abatement, but did provide the opportunity to fine tune our design, test our dimensions, and practice our construction skills,” Regis explained, “Albert II, our final model was made of wood with two doors for easy use, and sound baffling material lining the interior. Albert II was able to bring the noise level down from 96 decibels (roughly between a motorcycle and chainsaw) to around 25 decibels (similar to the sound level of a whisper).”
Team Big Screen Percolator
Led by: Rebecca Holland
Team Big Screen Percolate built Robusta, a monitor display that highlighted the different employees in the office as a way of helping everyone get to know each other. The team was inspired by the new release of the Macchiato product — a TV visualization tool for displaying a brand’s marketing activities. Rebecca, herself coming from a non-engineering background, was proud of how the 15-person team collaborated.
“Every single person contributed to the success and final product of the project,” She said, “For example, Mary Beth, who just joined us a week ago, had ‘new-hire’ perspective; while sales people had their perspective on pitching and presenting; and the dev teams were building product – everyone played an important part in the success and completion of the project.”
From the objectives we took on to the way our teams came together to complete their ambitiously creative projects, by the end of the day it was clear to everyone involved that one of the most important things that makes a company so special is having a culture worth expanding and innovating around.