WorkOS Hack Week #1

December 27, 2021 (3y ago)

In early December, I participated in my first Hack Week, which happened to be WorkOS’s first Hack Week.

A Hack Week is a week (or another period of time) when company employees take a break from their planned projects and regular workflows to get creative and try different things.

The purpose of Hack Week is encourage innovation and strengthen team culture. Folks from various parts of the company that may not normally work together form teams around their ideas and have fun building them out.

Since I have never participated in one before, I wanted to share my personal experience and how we did it at WorkOS.

Planning, the week before

Screenshot of Hack Week 2021 Ideas page, reads: You know that weird bug you've been thinking about for months? That thing you've been itching to build if you had some free cycles? An idea which is kind of crazy but maybe just crazy enough to work?

We created a document where we put all of our ideas: no judgment or constraints. Here are some of them:

  • Slackbot to notify the Marketing team when Twitter posts include relevant SSO keywords or hashtags;
  • Building a mobile app to demonstrate how to integrate WorkOS using React Native;
  • A bot to deploy Pull Requests to separate environments for testing before merging;
  • Building a Rust SDK for WorkOS;
  • Creating a Vercel "add-on" integration for WorkOS;
  • A creative and fun 404 page, see https://www.figma.com/foo for inspiration;
  • Interactive educational pages explaining SSO and SAML;
  • A system that sends swag after an activity is triggered. For example, after a user submits a suggestion in the docs;
  • And many more!

There was not enough time and people to work on all of them, so we voted for the ones we found more interesting and fun, and formed teams of at least two people per idea.

During the company All Hands the following day, we announced the teams and which projects we were going to work on. We were now ready to start.

The event - Start the hacking

The week started with a kickoff meeting with all of the participants. Then the teams split into virtual rooms to begin pairing on their ideas.

I found this to be an excellent way of working with different people outside of my daily routine. I also got to learn about something different as I chose a project that was both new to me and useful to customers.

At first, my team quickly built a prototype with no tests, duplicated code, and hardcoded variables. It was very hacky.

We then identified potential pitfalls and areas of code that could be split up and allow us to work on individually. By doing that we could take the time to polish it and make it production-ready.

For the first few days of the week, we demoed our projects to everyone, letting them know the progress, our learnings, and the next steps.

Fun break - pizza time!

There should always be pizza involved in a hack week, so on Wednesday we took a break from the usual sync meeting to have a pizza party and played a Trivia game to have some fun while getting to know our colleagues better.

Our focus was getting our solution production-ready by the end of the week to deploy it and have customers using it.

Although not all hack projects need to get deployed, sometimes the learnings we take from building them are enough to get us in a better spot when we come back to work.

On Friday each team live-demoed their solutions during the All Hands. As with most live demos, some things don’t work as they should, but in the end, we all managed to do showcase our projects!

The key thing I liked about the live demo was that participants asked us what we learned, which emphasizes that the focus was not necessarily on the outcome of what we built, but on our takeaways from the experience.

Conclusion

Some projects from that week still needed polishing. We are working on them as we have time and plan on getting them live in the next few weeks.

Tip: There is now an easter-egg in WorkOS' documentation page: let me know via DM on Twitter if you find it :p

Hack Weeks are a fun way of doing something different and breaking the routine for a while. They boost creativity, let people explore technologies, and encouraging colleagues to connect outside of their teams.

I believe Hack Weeks also help participants come back fresh to their normal routines after it is over.

If your company is not doing them yet, try organizing one and seeing how it goes. I believe an ideal cadence is about twice a year, but I’ve seen companies doing it once per quarter.

Although a lot of people were involved in Hack Week, what worked great for us was that we had one person responsible for planning and keeping us on track. They mediated the meetings and figured out the logistics.

Now, what are your Hack Week experiences? Tell me on Twitter. If you want to be part of WorkOS Hackweek #2 apply here.