Hackweek 2018 Recap

A story from the Engineering, Product and Design crew at Envoy, Inc. Challenge the Status Quo This summer ⛱ we paused our current development for one week to focus on innovation. This focus was an opportunity to invest in both our engineering, product, and design staff, as well as invest in future product ideas. We worked on […]

A story from the Engineering, Product and Design crew at Envoy, Inc.

Challenge the Status Quo

This summer ⛱ we paused our current development for one week to focus on innovation. This focus was an opportunity to invest in both our engineering, product, and design staff, as well as invest in future product ideas. We worked on new product ideas to extend our product’s use cases, applications for internal tools, new products to make our own workplace better, improving our current technology, and improving user experiences, e.g. accessibility.

Why stop forward development to experiment? Well, work should be fun, creativity should be common, a good idea 💡 can come from anyone. So, why not build something we believe will be great?

Orchestrating a hackweek ⚒

Our staff pitched their ideas/projects then organized by teaming up based on personal interest. We posted internal help wanted notices on a shared spreadsheet. Next we teamed up and joined project channels in our Slack chat. To create time to hack, we paused our current work in progress, likewise our scheduled ceremonies. This provided the freedom to hack on the ideas which our people believe will make a better future for our mission, to challenge the status quo of workplace technology. We focus on creating a better and safer workplace; and deliver solutions for visitor and employee experiences in the office that stand out. So our aim was to challenge ourselves to build and demo as many prototypes of something awesome we can, in about a week.

How can our technology make a difference? Can we expand upon our platform to transform mundane tasks and even make complex tasks more efficient? Our application services for mobile apps and back office tools include a variety of software choices, we experimented to discover where we might fill gaps and expand our capabilities. We asked ourselves… Can we do better with data? Can our complex and automated solutions get faster and more accurate? Do we have any use cases that surround our existing solutions that we should explore? What can we quickly prototype or even build a MVP for? What’s missing in our office? (Lets build an app for that.)

At the end of the week we demoed 🎬

  • 😲 Improvements to streamline our visitor sign-in with TouchId/FaceID.
  • 🏭 A new application for tracking facilities maintenance tasks.
  • 🚧 An icon repository for our graphic library.
  • 🎡 A queues app for managing a wait list.
  • 🗣 Improvements for accessibility of our dashboard application.
  • 🎛 Machine learning to leverage patterns for improving OCR recognition.
  • 🗓 Event registration and sign-in.
  • 📷 Facial recognition capabilities to by-pass manual checkin.
  • 🚢 A new deployment solution for our dashboard application.

…what a great demo this was 👏

A quote coined while demoing our A11y improvements:

“Workplaces must be accessible. So too must workplace technology.”
Steve Szczecina

A few screenshots from our live demo to close out the week…

iOS app to fixit
Exploring machine learning
Facial recognition app
Event registration app
Learning from data to improve features
Queues app sending live text
Icon library
Deployment app to activate a release
Using face ID

As the week finished, a few questions arose…

  • What can we ship?
  • What can we use internally?
  • Which ideas can be segmented for beta testing by an existing customer, or even a new customer?
  • How can we make work always feel like a hackweek?

We do not have all the answers yet, only time will tell. One thing we know for sure is — we want to do this again 🙂

When we take action through experimentation we discover that we can make the impact we strive for, to make workplaces better, safer, more fun, and do so with style. We will able to ship some of the internal projects so that we may learn more; and iterate. Also, we made plans to iterate upon some of the prototypes we demoed.

Since we innovate for the office, we strive to solve problems that meet our own interests. Likewise, we strive to develop solutions for the challenges that our customers experience. We are a distributed company, meeting together for our hackweek and demoing solutions was a rewarding experience. Our team had plenty of fun when we all met up at our headquarters in San Francisco, and it was a pleasure to connect and work together onsite. We rolled up our sleeves and built solutions not only for our own distributed office 🏢 but also for the workplaces of the tomorrow 🚀. We would love to ship some of the prototypes that we presented at the close of our hackweek — time will tell which become winning solutions as we iterate 📐and experiment ⚗.

A few observations from our experience hacking together…

What were your initial expectations for the hackweek?

– I figured that it would be fun 🎪, but was uncertain if we’d finish anything. What happens if we get pulled back on an issue for ongoing work? I was optimistic that we could build something cool to demo at the end of the week. I was not sure yet if I would have something valuable to contribute as a new member on the engineering team but hopeful to make a contribution.

– Building a half-working product that is 🐝 buggy and unusable.

What were the highlights, what stood out?

– The fact that all week long, ceremonies for organizing work were not really needed, we met as needed and at impromptu times of the day. We skipped formal processes in favor of just organizing ourselves. There was plenty to demo at the end of the week. I really liked the fact that many of the projects were something that we could actually put into play after the week was over. I was impressed by a mobile solution that simplified the steps users had to take by using features baked into the OS which created a streamlined and more natural experience. The efforts made on the dashboard project to apply changes to make the application more accessible to users was great, a demo with voice-over 🎙 helped us understand the experience of users who rely on voice over features to use a web application.

– Being able to see potential of our teams — building 🏗 a new features in a week, explore different solutions for a goal.

What made you laugh?

– During a demo an engineer mentioned “when you have a problem…” and at the same time the camera 🎥 used in the demo was pointed at a specific individual, the presenter started giggling and the crowd broke out in laughter 🤣. Not because the person was problematic, instead that as a group the team already knows how to work through problems and this individual proves that point.

– 🐶 Dogs in the office. 😀

What did you enjoy about the demos, or team effort?

– I was fortunate to be on a team with a designer, product lead, API engineer and an iOS engineer. I contributed to the user interface portion of the feature. I was impressed that, as a newly formed team, we were able to identify the specific outcome we wanted to demo — even an ambitions scope of work. We were able to demo a full experience that involved coordination between multiple devices 📱 and users. It was fun to explore the possibilities of what we could deliver as a prototype in only a few days. As a new engineering team member, it was a pleasure to work with people I have not yet had the privilege to work aside yet. I enjoyed the collaboration with individuals from our product and design teams. The variety of demos was impressive, from internal tools to solutions our which customers may benefit from.

– To see how far our team can go in one week.

Where there any risks you took and/or challenges you faced?

– I thought it was pretty risky to take on the scope of the prototype that we wanted to demo/present in only a few days. Along with other all-hands 🙌 activities 🍻 🍷 🍩 🍹 🎉 occurring the same week – we only had a few days of focus. I tried out a library for a small mobile web app which I had not used before. It appeared to have the tooling I needed to move quickly and provided testing as well (I favor test driven development). Our designer did a great job, I knew I may not have the time to apply all the polish that would make the design really shine. But I made the effort to keep up with the iterations of the designs; while also developing a solution.

– Not being able to socialize as much as want to for all-hands week because I was focusing on hackweek project 🚧.

What did you learn?

– I learned that the leadership team values experimentation and discovering solutions for the workplace; even by looking for solutions in our own environment 🕵️‍. I learned that talented people will do the right things to reach their goals, they will collaborate and have fun while taking on an ambitious goal. I learned how to use Glimmer.js for a small mobile web application and also tried out Tailwind CSS, a utility first library.

– How to build an iOS app.

What did you take away from the experience?

– I would like to ship 🛳 the project we worked on, I know it was only a prototype but I think we did show a viable solution. I’ll lean on our product team to know if that solution is also desirable for our customer base or even new customers. It was a pleasure to see the innovation that resulted from dedicating a week toward hacking on ideas brought up throughout the engineering, product and design teams. I would enjoy doing this again. I think I also have less reliance on the ceremonies we keep for producing software and instead a stronger reliance on the people to do so. We pulled off a nice prototype/demo without any traditional agile ceremony, just ad-hoc meeting and syncing up as questions arose.

– Learning new things and being able to work with different people 👾 👩‍🚀.

In Closing…

Hopefully sharing our hackweek experience can provide some insight into the kind of people we employ at Envoy, as well as the values we hold. It’s a pretty accurate snapshot 🖼 of our internal culture that we hope inspires other teams to experiment, to create margin for innovation, and to attract like-minded product owners, designers and software engineers to work with too.


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Source: Envoy