Below is an article originally written by Sam Bail and Ovadia Harary at PowerToFly Partner Flatiron Health. Go to Flatiron Health's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Hackathons have been a part of Flatiron Health since the company was founded in 2012. Our Chief Technology Officer (back then, Flatiron's second engineer) Gil Shklarski brought the concept with him from his previous stint at Facebook. For Flatiron, our quarterly hackathons are meant to be two days free of meetings or sprint commitments for the whole company, where employees form teams to work or "hack" on something that they are passionate about, but just haven't had the opportunity to work on. This could be exciting new product features, radical code cleanup ("dev happz" or, as Gil refers to it, "fixing s**t liberally"), cutting-edge data analyses or the occasional "gotcha" experiment from our security team. Each hackathon culminates in a live-demo session where participants have three minutes to present their projects in varying states ranging from "duct-taped together" to polished and ready to go into production, and then everyone at the company has the opportunity to vote on their favorite hacks in different categories.
Over the past few years, as Flatiron has grown, our hackathons have grown with it — from a handful of small hacks to a large, company-wide event spanning almost three days with over 40+ hacks presented at each final demo event. We have found these hackathons to be an important part of our company culture that have significantly shaped how we innovate and collaborate.
As we host our 16th hackathon this week, we wanted to share our top five reasons why we love running hackathons:
Hackathons encourage cross-functional collaboration
One of our favorite aspects of running and participating in hackathons is the ability to collaborate with people you usually don't get the chance to work with. Flatiron's hackathons may be different from those run by traditional tech companies, as we very much encourage non-engineers to participate — we firmly believe that bringing in different areas of expertise can be hugely beneficial. While teams at Flatiron already make up a number of different functions, including engineers, designers, quantitative scientists, and often oncologists and clinical staff, joining a hackathon team with an entirely different focus than your day-to-day is often eye opening, allowing you to see the work you do in a broader context. For example, we brought our informatics, clinical, data engineering, front-end development and marketing teams together to build a new trial finder for Fight CRC (read about it here). We love cross-functional collaboration so much that we introduced the "Best non-coding hack" as well as the "Best collaboration" award categories.
Hackathons allow anyone to innovate in anything
As customer commitments increase and the breadth of the company has grown to many different business lines, it's only natural to become focused solely on one's own responsibilities and near-term customer commitments. We encourage our employees to use the hackathon as way to step outside of their day-to-day role and use their creative juices to work on whatever problem they believe is worth solving. Most importantly, a hackathon provides an outlet for people to quickly spin up a minimum viable product or a demo to spur conversation without needing to talk in the abstract or request resources. We've seen amazing new products ship from our hackathon, and time and time again it is stimulated from a diverse group of functions and initiatives.
Hackathons help develop those "soft" skills
As has been written about by many successful engineers (most recently, here), we know that being a good software engineer doesn't just require good technical skills, but also what many usually call "soft skills" — the ability to collaborate, empathize, present and even sell an idea. Within a hackathon team, engineers often take on the role of product manager as well as project manager, where they have the chance to learn to radically prioritize different parts of the project (two days go by pretty quickly!), navigate disagreements on the team and give a compelling three-minute pitch. Especially for engineers who might often be heads down in code, hackathons are an amazing opportunity to step up and get themselves out there in a low-risk environment where everyone is in the same position of learning and possibly failing — see the next point!
Hackathons celebrate failures that can lead to even bigger successes
Some projects fail hard by the end of the hackathon, but these failures should be celebrated just as much as successes. Since our first hackathon, Gil has encouraged teams to keep Facebook's motto in mind: "What would you work on if you weren't afraid?" Celebrating failures also creates a culture in which teams are encouraged to stretch boundaries of what was thought possible, and in turn, successful projects often then yield larger rewards. However, creating this culture of intense innovation and experimentation requires an acceptance that some projects will fizzle out after two days for many different reasons. While these projects may not make it out to our customers, they still provide learnings. Spending two days learning that a product idea is not feasible, a new technology doesn't meet its promise, or that current infrastructure won't support a new use case, are all highly valuable and important learnings that will ultimately drive your engineering organization forward. At Flatiron, we encourage teams who have worked on failed projects to still present their demo at the end of a hackathon.
Hackathons improve upon the "20% time" concept
We love the concept of dedicating 20% of each person's time to working on side projects that spawn exciting new product lines — but let's be honest, especially in a growing company like ours, it's usually all hands on deck to push a new feature, fix a bug or carefully orchestrate changes that affect several teams. Dropping all these responsibilities one day a week to work on a passion project is simply not always possible. Hackathons give us two or three days of undisturbed time where we de-prioritize sprint work and staff engineers to keep the lights on, but otherwise really try to give everyone the opportunity to experiment, explore and collaborate. This focused burst of activity once per quarter is easier to schedule for the entire company; and since everyone participates, it's also easier to find people to collaborate with. There is also the added benefit of getting your idea immediately in front of the entire company and leadership team during the demo sessions. And just as with 20% time (which famously gave us Gmail), we have had several amazing hacks developed. One of our most successful product features — Document Search — was actually conceptualized and prototyped during a hackathon. Read more about it in this Fast Company article.
While hackathons may not be the answer for every company, Flatiron has found them to be incredibly valuable both to our culture and to our business. They have helped encourage cross-functional collaboration, allowed people to stretch themselves professionally, helped with soft skills development and much more.
Not Everything is Engineering: Logicworks’ Courtney Pearce on Taking on Tech from a Sales Perspective
Courtney Pearce’s background isn’t one you’d expect to find in a tech sales position. But as a motivated self-starter, it makes all the sense in the world that she’s been so successful in her role as Solutions Specialist at Logicworks.
If you ask her what she’s most proud of about her time so far at Logicworks, she’ll say her growth over the last four years.
“Even though I came from a technology company that was selling software, selling infrastructure and infrastructure managed services is very different. There was a learning curve. And when I started four years ago, I was the only woman. So I felt like there was this uphill battle of educating myself on the cloud platform. Now, I'm one of the top sales reps and have consistent top performance. So I'm most proud of my growth over the last four years.”
Courtney has a lot of wisdom to impart to those interested in taking on the sales side of tech. We sat down with her to learn more about how she broke into the tech world by utilizing her retail experience.
An Unexpected Path Into Sales
Courtney started college as an Orthodontics major but eventually realized that science wasn’t her calling.
“Although I'm a great student, science and math were difficult subjects for me,” she admits. "I ended up taking a random textile and clothing elective and it was my favorite class.”
She enjoyed the breadth of the program and decided to become a Textiles and Clothing major.
“You got the opportunity to learn the sociology behind why people wear clothes, the chemistry behind dying, how to make fabric, then creating a line from start to finish and marketing that to the class,” she shares.
Although fascinated by the program, her career journey didn’t lead her to the fashion industry but rather to an adjacent career in retail.
“I ended up accepting a leadership position for a big box department store,” she says. “At 23 years old, I ran a 35 million dollar store. It was a great experience and I learned a lot.”
After two years of working in retail for various name brands, she found her way into a tech company through a recruitment role.
Breaking Into the Tech World
While Courtney was working at a recruiting firm, she was approached by a security tech company with a position as a technical recruiter. She was interested in the role and applied, but didn’t get an immediate response.
“I didn't hear back, but continued to follow up,” she recounts. "One night, I got a phone call that said, ‘You're not a good fit for the technical recruiter role, but we have this new group that we're building out called business development and they're working directly with sales. Based on your experience and the fact that you're willing to follow up, we think you'd be a great fit’.”
At the time Courtney knew nothing about the tech space but that didn’t stop her from interviewing for the position.
"I spent an entire week browsing the website, watching all their product marketing videos, and tried to wrap my head around what this security company did," she explains.
During the interview, she blew them away with her knowledge of the company.
“I gave my five-minute spiel and I think that impressed them,” Courtney shares. “I had taken the time to research the company, and not having had a tech background, I tried to comprehend what they do.”
Hired as a business development rep, she had the opportunity to build the team from the ground up.
Reaching New Heights at Logicworks
Courtney continued to rise in the ranks, but she eventually felt that she had hit a plateau. With a desire to try out something new, she looked to Logicworks who offered her the career advancement she was looking for.
“I had reached my potential with my previous employer. There wasn’t anything new for me to learn. I wanted to figure out what was next in my career. There was an opening at Logicworks for a Solution Specialist to be based in Boston. That was enticing for me.”
When Courtney moved to Logicworks she was able to explore job autonomy.
“It gave me the opportunity to move into a territory that I'd been working in for many years, but also run that territory like my own business,” she explains. "There was nobody else working within that space, and I could create the process that I wanted to.”
Now at Logicworks, she experiences the constant changes of a cloud system.
“I'm constantly learning,” she shares. “We're constantly evolving our services, what products we're providing, and how our services are integrated as the cloud is maturing. It keeps me interested every single day.”
Now as a sales lead, Courtney focuses on building relationships with current and potential clients.
Coincidentally, the relationship-building skills that Courtney uses on a daily basis come from her experience in retail.
“I think coming from retail, you have to be able to talk to anyone,” she says. “You're getting a lot of different customer personalities, so it allows me to be comfortable talking to strangers, which I think is key in sales.”
Along with sales experience, Courtney's internal drive has been key in propelling her forward.
“Being a self-starter and watching YouTube videos on what the cloud is, what AWS is, and taking that time on my own to learn and absorb as much as I can are, at the end of the day, the kinds of things that you can prepare you to enter the tech space,” she explains.
Ultimately, it was the skills she learned in retail and her self-taught understanding of tech that have led to her success.
Advice for Entering the Tech World Through Sales
If you're looking to enter the tech world from a sales angle, Courtney offers this advice:
- Find companies that resonate with your values. “Whether you like their product and think that product is solving a pain point in the marketplace, or you align with the company's values, work for a company whose mission you support,” Courtney advises.
- Be pleasantly persistent. “The biggest thing that helped me was when I reached out and nobody responded, and then I followed up and nobody responded, and then I followed up again and they called me. Being pleasantly persistent shows that you’re interested and invested in the organization,” she explains.
- Do your research. “Take the time to figure out what the company does and what they are all about. Educate yourself above and beyond the basic training material to ensure that you have the right knowledge base to be successful in the role.”
If you are looking to grow within the tech space, check out these open positions at Logicworks.
Recruiter Tips to Answer This Question!
💎 Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years? Does this question make you anxious? Watch the video to the end to learn all about how to best answer it in an interview!
📼 When asked "Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?", don’t be scared! Kathy Brehmer, Lead Technology Recruiter at Spectrum, wishes to know what drives you in your career path and shares tips on how to prepare for your interview.
📼 When applying for a position at Spectrum it’s very important to know where you do see yourself in the next 5 years, but also here’s some more insight into what the whole application process looks like: First, your resume will be reviewed, and if your skills are aligned, an initial phone screen with a recruiter will be set up. These conversations are typically informal and you will be asked the basic questions to get to know your background and skills. But then, of course, some of the most important would be, what're your top criteria. It could be the work environment. It could be the type of culture, the team, or career growth. In a follow-up interview with maybe a panel of developers, if it's a more technical role to deliver on technical questions, it would be advantageous if you would ask questions yourself that are important around the particular technologies or how you approach a particular strategy or deliver. Finally, on the interview piece, there might be a final interview that would be with the leader or the product owners and cross-functional teams. So you have a chance to identify with the folks with whom you'd be working. And then, of course, they would as well.
📼 Besides being ready to answer "Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?", prepare yourself to share your story. The life experience does also contribute to Spectrum’s evaluation of a candidate. Life learning lessons do contribute to who we become. There are always these opportunities where we learn from our mistakes and we provide process improvement and building on relationships. Therefore, Spectrum does look at the transferable skills in their interview process. Those are certain factors that would come into play in consideration alongside the skills and the experience set. If there was an opportunity, there might be some more junior level folks who apply to positions that Spectrum does have hiring managers who would offer the opportunity to interview and deliver on how their work and life experiences or studies have applied to maybe where they can be a great asset to the roles of which they are interviewing.
Where Do You See Yourself In The Next 5 Years? - Express your enthusiasm
At Spectrum, they place a lot of value on reaching out to each of those folks who interviewed you. They would recommend you do that and pull up their LinkedIn profiles, and send them a quick thank you note there or follow up via email. They would recommend the delivery in those thank you notes to be anything from a simple thank you to include a quick collaboration on something mentioned in the interview process. That being said, make sure that you are expressing your enthusiasm for the role. Spectrum thinks this goes miles, and they would recommend doing that within the first 24 hours of your interview just to keep it fresh.
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Spectrum? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Kathy Brehmer
Kathy is AIRS Certified, Sr. Technical Recruiter with experience in Corporate Recruiting, Contract Recruiting, and Agency Staffing (Contract and Perm positions). If you are interested in a career at Spectrum, you can connect with Kathy Brehmer on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Spectrum
Spectrum's Products and Services are powered and innovated by Charter Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: CHTR), a leading broadband communications company and the second-largest cable operator in the United States. Their company provides a full range of advanced broadband services, including Spectrum TV™ video entertainment programming, Spectrum Internet™ access, and Spectrum Voice™. Spectrum Business® similarly provides scalable, tailored, and cost-effective broadband communications solutions to business organizations, such as business-to-business Internet access, data networking, business telephone, video and music entertainment services, and wireless backhaul. The advertising sales and production services are sold under the Spectrum Reach™ brand. News and sports networks are operated under the Spectrum Networks brand.
💎Nestlé’s manufacturing excellence team is growing. The team supports Nestlé USA factories that produce bakery sweets brands including Toll House, Libby's and Carnation, and Nestlé Professional Brands which supply food service operations. Watch the video to the end to apply and begin your career there!
📼The manufacturing excellence team seeks someone passionate about driving world-class manufacturing through continuous improvement methodologies. Jennifer Watson and Taylar Marshall, Senior Managers, give you all the information you need to join their team.
📼Join the manufacturing excellence team if you are a go-getter, someone who takes the initiative to establish cross-functional teams to eliminate losses. This also means you should be highly collaborative with a variety of people and have a curious mindset about how things are manufactured. If you fill these requirements, don’t hesitate to apply!
📼The manufacturing excellence team unlocks career path opportunities throughout different functions, locations, and brands across Nestlé USA. Jenny Watson shares her own experience: her career has included roles in three different functions: manufacturing excellence, manufacturing, and operations strategy. She was based out of three different locations: Springville, Utah, Solon, Ohio, and Medford, Wisconsin across four different categories. The opportunities at Nestlé are truly endless!
Inside The Manufacturing Excellence Team
This team is driving continuous improvement and project management routines in the Toll House factory to contribute to the overall expected business results in the bakery and sweets category. It is a boots-on-the-ground team that tries to solve complex problems with a focus on people development and operator capability building. No day is the same in their team!
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Nestlé USA? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Jennifer Watson and Taylar Marshall
More About Nestlé USA
Nestlé USA has been nourishing a growing world for generations. No matter where you work within the Nestlé organization, you’ll discover new opportunities to grow while you help them inspire healthier lives, support local communities, do what’s right for the planet, and make an impact.
From September 12-15, 2022, PowerToFly hosted a four-day virtual event, featuring a three day summit and single day virtual job fair.
To kick off the event, attendees had the opportunity to partake in a one-hour guided networking session followed by three full days of fireside chats and panels where they were able to listen and ask questions to experts and thought leaders across multiple industries.
Featured Summit Topics Included:
- The Art & Science of How to Clarify Your Best Fit Career Path
- Going Back to the Drawing Board: How to Navigate Major Career Shifts
- Pulling Back the Curtain: Understanding What’s Happening Behind the Scenes In the Hiring Process
- 4 Ways to Get Your Foot in the Door to a New Career
- Nailing the Basics: How to Grow with Intention and Purpose
- How to Break Into a New Industry Without Starting Over
Companies We Hosted At The Job Fair:
- Bank of America | Hiring for: Senior Financial Analysts, Business Bankers, Senior Technology Managers, and more!
- ScienceLogic | Hiring for: Technical Support Engineers, Chief Marketing Officers, Product Managers, Executive Assistants, and more!
- PowerToFly | Hiring for: Global DEIB Strategist & Trainers, Account Executives, Support Specialists, Events Specialists, and more!
Thank you for joining 4 Ways to Get Your Foot in the Door to a New Career with Flatiron School Career Coach Betsy Kent! In case we weren’t able to get to your question in the Q&A, or if you thought of additional questions after we wrapped, here are two ways you can contact the Flatiron School Admissions team directly:
- Schedule a casual 10-minute chat with a Flatiron School Admissions rep
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Attending information sessions, panels, and workshops is the best way to get a sneak peek into what studying at Flatiron School is like — so don't miss what else is coming up! You can find a list of our events HERE.