Why We Love Running Hackathons At Flatiron
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.
Branwyn Baughman, recruiter at Lockheed Martin, shares an exclusive take on the most important tips to keep in mind when preparing for an interview.
Take a look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as some top-notch tips that Branwyn outlines on how you can make your application stand out.
To learn more about Lockheed Martin and their open roles, click here.
6 Tips for Companies & 5 Tips for Individuals from Indeed's Group VP of ESG, LaFawn Davis
Earlier this month, LaFawn Davis, Indeed's Group Vice President of Environmental, Social, & Governance, joined us as part of our Diversity Reboot Summit to talk about the 'shecession' experienced by many women, and especially women of color, as a result of COVID-19.
LaFawn shared some great tips for companies and individuals looking to be part of "the great rehiring." If you're looking to find a new role, or to ensure that you help bring back diverse talent displaced by COVID, check out her advice below, and catch her complete talk here or by clicking the video above!
Q: What would your advice be to companies that are looking to step up their diverse hiring in 2021?
My advice: Good intentions are no longer good enough. Nobody wants to hear what you meant to do, wish you could have do, intended to do. Nobody wants to hear that you can't find Black Women or any other dimension of diversity. We're obviously out here.
My squad and I have a saying "Impact over intentions." So, if 2020 was the year of good diversity and inclusion intentions, let's make 2021 the year of actions and impact.
So, now that we got that out of the way. If you're looking to step up your diverse hiring. Stop and get your house in order. Because you shouldn't just want to hire a diverse workforce, you should want to grow and keep them too. So there are 5 things, ready?
1. Focus on long-term systemic change.
There's a lot of momentum — and need — for change right now. It's not just about a message of support or donating to a cause one time. Take a look at your own systems. How do you hire and grow employees? Do your succession planning, talent reviews, recruiting and other processes have built-in biases? Is equality part of your core values? Are you actively working toward change? Recognize that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Above all, hold yourself accountable for the way things are, then work to improve.
2. Take a close look at your data.
Share it internally to be transparent with employees of where you are now. When possible, share it externally to be visible and accountable (I'm happy to announce that Indeed will be releasing its own diversity data this summer). Use it as a baseline for comparison against what you hope to achieve.
3. Change behavior.
Focus on behavioral changes throughout the company with an emphasis on coaching, training, and having crucial conversations with managers. Leaders and managers set an example for the entire workforce. If employees see the behavior of managers or leaders in a negative light, a true sense of belonging is difficult to achieve.
4. Representation matters.
If leadership roles are perceived as exclusive to many members of the workforce, then a broader sense of belonging will continue to elude many employees. People in leadership roles should reflect the diversity of a company's workforce. Observing someone "like me" in a leadership role helps attract and retain talent and motivates workers to pursue roles with greater responsibility.
5. Create Policies And Procedures Reflective Of The Entire Workforce.
As you work through new or existing policies and procedures, be aware of barriers experienced by different populations. Take, for example, the case of caregivers. More scheduling flexibility for calls can go a long way for employees who share their home workspace with others and must tend to family responsibilities while working remotely.
Q: Do you have advice for individuals that are looking for new career opportunities, especially women of color who might have lost their previous jobs during the pandemic?
Adaptability has always been an important part of an individual's career progression - even before COVID-19, it is especially important now.
It is important to show a potential new employer how your abilities adapt to a new role or a new industry. Focus on skills more than just experiences because skills can be applied in so many different ways. So… I'll give you 6 things for this one.
1. Perform a professional audit. Taking some time to understand your qualities, qualifications and values can help focus your career transition and narrow down your career path options if you haven't already. Doing so can also help you understand how you might position yourself during the job search.
2. Identify your hard and soft skills. Soft skills are often the most transferable, so identifying them early can help you understand the ways you might bring value to a new role or industry. Taking inventory of your hard skills will help you identify if there are certain industries that might be easier to transition into.
3. Highlight your biggest career wins. Communicating the impact you've made throughout your career can help employers quickly understand the value you'll bring to their organization, even if you come from another role or industry.
4. Utilize online job search to your advantage. Pay close attention to the requirements and duties of jobs so you can evaluate whether the career would align with your skills, interests and values.
5. You just need to meet "most" of the qualifications. Try to focus on positions for which you meet at least 60% of the qualifications with your transferable skills. Meeting 60% of the qualifications isn't a hard rule, but it's a good general guideline to help you determine whether it's worth applying for.
6. Get a sense of the company. Before interviews, do some research to learn how inclusive a company is. Peruse the organization's core values, its social media accounts, and any recent statements in support of marginalized groups. Pay attention to the interviewers themselves. Is the panel diverse or are you likely to be an early "diversity hire"? If the interviewers seem to be emphasizing "cultural fit," ask what that means. Basically, be an active participant in the hiring process. You are also interviewing the company, as much as they are interviewing you.
Stephanie Acker, director of inside sales at Commvault, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as her own career journey.
To kick things off, Stephanie mentioned the three things that make a great inside sales professional: an independent work ethic, the ability to learn and execute on their own, and an awareness of what keeps them motivated.
Over her 12-year career at Commvault, Stephanie's greatest motivation has been helping customers to find solutions and catapult them to success. In both her past role as a sales representative and her current director position, Stephanie remains committed to ensuring her team understands what motivates them to sell and setting them up for success.
The biggest surprise during her career at Commvault was becoming the director of inside sales. Stephanie shared that she loves working for a company that listens to new ideas, thinks outside of the box, and tries new things.
Don't miss her take on what moves a candidate forward in the interview process! For example, Stephanie loves when the interviewee gets into "the zone"—showing their selling technique. She also shares her favorite interview questions.
As Stephanie says, stop thinking and apply today!
To learn more about Commvault and their open roles, click here.
When you think about strong female leadership, what comes to mind? For Tatiana L., a global client partner in Miami, it's about more than having an executive seat, being a mother, or making dreams come true. "Good leadership is about being open, flexible, and able to understand different perspectives," she says. "It's about fostering collaboration, bringing people together, and empowering them to connect."
Tatiana L. is a global client partner based in Miami.
Tatiana is part of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group and helped plan Women's Leadership Day, an annual global community summit. While the highly-anticipated event takes place over just one day, its massive impact is felt over the course of the entire year.
Amy W. is an operations lead based in London.
"Women's Leadership Day is more than an event. It's energy, and it's a movement," Amy W., an operations lead in London, says. "Moments like this can completely change the perception of women in technology."
From choosing the content and programming for the event to making it accessible for women around the globe, we went behind the scenes with seven members of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group to learn more about how women are empowered—and are empowering one another— in their career journeys at the Facebook company.
Behind the scenes with Women@
Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager based in Singapore, speaking onstage at 2019 Women@ Leadership Day in APAC.
"I've always been passionate about empowering women, but I didn't know how I could do it at work. My first Women@ experience changed how I felt at Facebook," Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager in Singapore, remembers. "From then on, I wanted to help other women feel heard, valued, and confident."
Planning the global event, which brings together women from more than 20 countries, calls for close collaboration across multiple teams, regions, and timezones. Members of Women@ also partner with other Facebook Resource Groups, such as the Pride@ Resource Group, Latin@ Facebook Resource Group, Desis@ Facebook Resource Group and Black@ Resource Group, to ensure all women at Facebook are represented and feel included.
Vivian V. is a program manager based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Across regions and communities, we each bring unique differences and powerful stories. When one of us moves forward, we have the opportunity to bring all of us forward," Vivian V., a program manager in the San Francisco Bay Area explains. "While planning the summit, we meet weekly to talk about what women in different regions are experiencing. From the event theme and content to planning speaker sessions and fine-tuning details, we each have items to own. Two months before the summit, we meet daily to share updates and make sure nothing slips through the cracks."
"Just like me, women in APAC look forward to Women's Leadership Day all year long," Amanda says. Planning something that's deeply meaningful to so many people can feel like a lot of pressure, but at the same time, it's uplifting. I appreciate that we have the opportunity to talk about our individual and shared challenges, and we map out ways we can build community while empowering leadership for women across the globe."
Empowering confidence, equality, and leadership through storytelling
Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, and Amanda M. collaborate with women across the globe to plan Women@ programming and events.
Women's Leadership Day encourages women to talk about challenges like experiencing imposter syndrome, breaking through barriers, and how to manage work/life flexibility. "Storytelling is a huge part of the event," Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, explains.
Vivian says, "I've been at Facebook for nearly two years and help plan these events, and honestly, I never really understood imposter syndrome before I got here. Working with the Women@ community and hearing from our speakers—who are talented, brilliant superstars—I've seen firsthand how it affects them too."
Michelle C. is a client partner based in London.
Michelle C., a client partner in London, says that the summit's speaker sessions, which feature people from inside and outside of Facebook, are a highlight of every event. "We had a speaker from Tel Aviv who talked about the importance of balance in her personal life and how she co-parents with her husband. She shared specific things she's done, like adding her husband to the WhatsApp chat groups for mothers she's in and reminding her daughter's school that her husband is also available when their child feels sick. Her message was that we'll never be equal in the workplace until we're equal at home, and it really struck a chord."
Paris says that in APAC, Eva Chen's talk about facing challenges amidst the coronavirus pandemic and how she's raising her daughter was a top-rated session because it was so relatable. "From talking about her daughter's love for dinosaurs—a "boy" thing—and raising kids to fully be themselves to opening up about what it was like to grow up with immigrant parents from China and Vietnam, Eva inspired us with her authenticity and openness. Her struggle to feel supported while working in fashion and tech, rather than medicine, is something a lot of people in APAC understand."
"Every woman has a unique story," Michelle says. "Hearing from others is inspiring, validating, and truly eye-opening. It reminds us that we're not alone."
A memorable and lasting impact
It's no surprise that with the tremendous amount of planning and careful consideration that goes into the summit, its full impact is impossible to measure.
"It meant so much to me when people shared such positive feedback about Women's Leadership Day," Paris says. "We heard that some attendees felt inspired for days and weeks."
Kira G. is an agency partner based in Berlin.
Kira G., an agency partner in Berlin, has witnessed how the summit's programming can inspire action, even helping people push past a career plateau. "We might reach a point in our careers when we think, "I can't do this anymore, I'm not moving forward'," she says. "Women's Leadership Day gives us fresh perspectives, shows us new approaches, and starts important conversations. This can unlock new paths for growth and help us move forward."
Impact is felt in other Facebook groups, communities, and across teams too, inspiring interest and allyship. Amanda explains, "I felt so proud when a male VP from the Sales team came to us after hearing about what people talked about at Women's Leadership Day. He told us he wanted to learn more because it's everyone's responsibility to be an ally."
Empowering the community throughout the year
While Amanda describes Women's Leadership Day as a "bump in energy and inspiration" and "an injection of adrenaline", Vivian says that the real magic is what happens afterwards—and takes place all year long.
"When we think about Women's Leadership Day, our focus is on making sure that the powerful messages we hear and experience serve us throughout the entire year. We ask ourselves questions like, "How can we sprinkle these themes into our programming throughout the month or quarter? How do these ideas fit with our Women@ initiatives?" Going through something awesome together is just the beginning. Our work takes place year-round and we're constantly building on it to do more."
Paris agrees: "There's no shortage of amazing stories from our Women@ community throughout the year. Women's Leadership Day is just one channel for those stories, and I love how it stays top of mind with people and empowers them to do more good. When we come together, we can do anything we dream of."
"We're building a sisterhood and a community," Tatiana beams. "It feels so good to know there's always someone there to support you."
Learn more about Facebook's Employee Resource Groups, including Women@ here.