Can Everyone Hack It?: The Results of an Inclusive Hack Day

Hack Day at Mode

A lot of engineering-focused companies have hack days to foster a more open and innovative culture. The freedom to ignore a nagging task list for even just one day can lead to unexpected creativity.

When Mode turned two in August, we decided it was time for a hack day.

But as we started planning, we realized the hack days we were used to felt pretty exclusive. In most of our experience, only some people—engineers—had been invited to hack. And in the cases where we’d seen hack days open to teams beyond engineering, the setup had made it difficult for customer-facing folks to actually participate. We thought about our company values and decided an “engineers only” hack day just didn’t feel right for Mode.

Was there any reason hack day couldn’t—or shouldn’t—feel inclusive? We felt that bringing all of our teams together could have a positive impact, especially on product and engineering. We hypothesized that different perspectives and skills would inspire new kinds of projects that are absent during engineering-only hack days.

We made it our goal to create an event where everyone would want to hack. And that meant defining a “hack” in ways that made clear they didn’t require code. Here’s the charter we laid out for ourselves:

  • Hack day is for everyone. Everyone from any area of the company is welcome to contribute and participate either as part of a team or individually.
  • Hack day is creative. It’s a time to push yourself to be creative and try things that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Your outcome doesn’t have to be polished, shipped, or really make any sense whatsoever.
  • Hack day is challenging. It’s a time to challenge what you think you can do, to challenge the common view of what can be done or how it should be done.
  • Hack day is focused. It’s a time to put serious energy and hard work into your hacks and take pride in creating something new.
  • Hack day is respectful. It’s a time to appreciate the incredible intelligence, ingenuity, and spirit of your colleagues. No disrespectful hacks, and no disrespecting hacks.
  • Hack day is for hacking. Be proud to present to the rest of the team what you hacked, even if it turns out broken.
  • Hack day is optional. Just like all of Mode’s activities. But, contribution and participation are encouraged.

As it turned out, everyone on our then 18-person team participated.

Of course engineers built cool new features. But salespeople developed new pitches and marketers created an entire site for a new community initiative. Analysts came up with—let’s call them “wildly creative”—ways to look at our company. There was even a music video with some sick drops. Cross-functional teams formed to take on cross-functional projects. For instance, one team gathered members from HR, recruiting, engineering, and analytics to hack on metrics and dashboards to improve recruiting efficiency.

At the end of the day, we presented 12 projects that hadn’t existed just 36 hours earlier and everyone voted for their two favorite hacks. Here’s the kicker: The overall winner was the hack from the marketing team. They developed a program called the Join Initiative to connect analysts with nonprofits that need help making sense of their data. We’d love for analysts to check it out and give us feedback.

Working to create an inclusive culture has huge upside. It inspires people to think about solving problems in new ways. It builds trust and understanding across the organization. It aligns everyone around the same goals. Our team is growing quickly and we’re always working to help new folks understand our values. We found hack day to be a great way to show—not tell—why being inclusive matters.

No post about engineering culture would be complete without a plug to check out our job openings. Any engineer can tell you that it’s easy to become disconnected from the rest of the company and end-users. It makes it hard to feel like you’re having a real impact. But when connected we build better products and it’s just a hell of a lot more fun. So if you want to join a company working hard to create great products and an intentional culture, mosey on over here.