Why We Hack

Great ideas can come from anywhere in your company, and hackathons are the perfect tool to source new ideas and bring them to life. Quickly.

What are the ingredients of a successful hackathon? A set timeframe (usually a day to a week). A focused theme or goal. Everyone in the same place (ideally the same room). The freedom to hack away without distraction from your usual work duties. And fun! Think beer, pizza, t-shirts, prizes, mascots, and more beer.

Here at BSD, we have homegrown technology that has powered seven presidential campaigns and supported countless nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups, and brands. Everyone has an idea on how to make that tech even better, so each year we host an intensive two-day hackathon to encourage big thinking across teams and offices to create potential new features, products, or BSD Tools integrations that benefit our clients. All employees, regardless of department or tech chops, are encouraged to participate. The ultimate goal is to produce a working, demo-ready product within two intense days.

The results? Employees from London and D.C. working together for the first time. Designers and developers sharing tips. Deeper trust, collaboration, camaraderie, and engagement. Team bonding. Oh yeah, and viable products that empower progressive organizations to do more and help brands run more effective programs.

Each team contributes in a big way to furthering innovation at BSD before the event even begins through ideation in chat rooms, meetings, and our wiki. Twenty teams then form across the company around projects that employees have pitched. Awards are given out in five categories:

  • BSD impact: makes us smarter or more efficient in how we work.
  • Impact on our client work: improves our work in a client-visible way.
  • Pushing boundaries: adds to our technical knowledge or capabilities and pushes us to explore new tools or platforms that we wouldn’t otherwise work with but which may play a role in future work.
  • Cross-team collaboration: embodies the spirit of the hackathon by incorporating the expertise of many different disciplines, from UX and design to analytics to platform.
  • People’s choice: participants get to vote for their favorite project.

Thanks to the hackathon we have launched products and features that have moved our company forward and made a difference in the lives of our clients, their missions, and the people they serve. Highlights from this year’s hackathon include:

  • CONFPOL: a rare hardware project designed to ease conference room congestion by detecting empty rooms.
  • Robinhood: a project exploring new ways of testing that continuously optimizes the results, rather than use a time-bound a/b test.
  • Journey Conditionals: a way to adapt a user’s journey through a series of asks that are tailored to what we know about the user. For example, a donor gets a different experience from a non-donor along the same journey.
  • Not to mention…an email template starter kit, push notifications, an internal labs initiative, GA plugin for BSD Tools tracking, email campaign sentiment analysis, and more!

We all know that Facebook’s “Like” button was the product of a hackathon. What could a culture of hacking do for your organization?