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Hacker Hours: 2021 in review and the progression of 2022

Lawrence Williams Lawrence Williams
Lawrence Williams
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Where did 2021 go? That year was tumultuous for a variety of reasons but the Dev Org at Bandwidth achieved some impressive milestones. We:

  • Hired a wave of new Bandmates who are already rockstars
  • Went through an organizational restructuring
  • Combined two separate technology organizations
  • Rolled out a bunch of new programs

One of those programs was Hacker Hours; a program for Bandmates to innovate, learn, and collaborate on new technology and approaches to software development. Let’s dive into what we’ve achieved in 2021 and what’s on deck for the rest of 2022! 

Wait, what is Hacker Hours again?

Hacker Hours is Bandwidth’s program for technologists to take 10% of their time to learn, experiment, and innovate. We give Bandmates time to contribute to open source, get certified, or tinker with their own ideas. And it’s all voluntary! No Bandmate is required to use their allotted Hacker Hours. We strive to have all developers use their hours but there’s no penalty for not using them. This voluntary aspect is vital to the success of the program. Some time-based innovation programs have jokingly become 110% time programs as participants feel they must have some side-project on top of their actual work. We strive for participation to be freeing and exciting rather than obligatory.

2021 A Year in Review

Last year was the inaugural season for the Hacker Hours program, and much was accomplished. Let’s take a look back at our goals and see if we achieved them.

  • Roll out the new program
  • Establish tools and resources to help Bandmates come up with great ideas and share those ideas
  • Establish a committee for governance and oversight of the program
  • Establish a theme and judging criteria for Hack of the Year awards

Rolling out a new program isn’t easy. Bandwidth achieved ample participation by finding the right supporting software and resources to spur ideation. We introduced the Viima tool to help Bandmates collaborate and visualize what their co-workers were working on. The R&D team graciously put together a Brainstorming workshop which dived into the ideation process and how R&D at Bandwidth operates. The Hacker Hours internal webpage became a resource for all things innovation and helped track the successes of the program. In 2022, we are continuing with the tools we loved and trying new technologies to improve the Hacker Hours experience.

A committee was established and worked together to help drive the program to its current iteration. We have also welcomed two new committee members and are always looking for more contributors!

In November 2022, The Hack of the Year Awards took place with over 90 Bandmates attending, with $4000 in prizes being handed out, in addition to multiple days of PTO, and we highlighted the innovative projects Bandmates worked on. The submission for Hack of the Year remains optional as participation in the program continues to be voluntary. 

To summarize here’s a quote from our 2021 Hack of the Year winners; “Hacker Hours sparked us to explore one of Bandwidth’s core principles; innovate. But instead of challenging what is with what should be, we got to explore what could be and bring it to life.” – Nirmit Patel & Sean Gaston. Overall, we found the rollout of Hacker Hours was a success and we’re looking forward to continuing that success in the future.

What’s going on in 2022

As we look to build upon what we accomplished in 2021, our goals for this year were:

  • Expand the Hacker Hour’s Committee to include international Bandmates
  • Increase usage of individual hours across the Development Organization
  • Introduction of metrics for the program to help track usage of hours, project visibility, and manager involvement
  • Rebranding from Competition to Showcase for Hack of the Year
  • Facilitate Hack of the Year Showcase event

Last year, after an international acquisition, the Development Organization joined together and welcomed international Bandmates to the Hacker Hours committee. We’re excited to have representation and new perspectives to push this program higher and are happy to have this program be worldwide!

This program is 100% voluntary and our objective is to have Bandmates use their hours to improve their skills or display their creativity as developers. There is no requirement or restrictions for a project to achieve revenue for the business. Compared to last year, we are seeing an increase in usage of hours and are excited by the results. 

Last year we wrapped up 2021 and the Committee realized we were missing many data points to reflect the program’s success. This year we are trying to capture this information to help enhance all aspects of Hacker Hours.

The last two goals revolve around the Hack of the Year competition from last season. We want to rebrand the competition as a showcase to highlight what we really want to celebrate, which is the achievements of participating Bandmates—rather than needless competition. We are currently in the process of planning the Showcase for this year and we are excited to put that on. We plan to have similar prizes as we had last year.

Viima

One of the tools we introduced was the Viima application which is an innovation platform designed to collect, develop, and analyze ideas in a centralized location. The purpose of this software was to solve the problem of transparency with what Bandmates were working on and how to proactively share their hacks. We want to continue the objective of not requiring participants to log what they are working on, but to give the ability to share their ideas.

In 2021, we saw 16 unique ideas submitted within the software with over 30 comments shared between them. This collaboration was awarded during the Hack of the Year showcase with cash prizes. This is something we want to continue doing as one of the primary objectives of Hacker Hours is collaboration.

There is no requirement to use this tool, and Bandmates are still welcome to use their hours without having to supply that information into a central repository. This tool’s primary objective is to give visibility and inspire other Bandmates to use their hours.

Metrics, metrics, metrics

Bandwidth continues to be a data-driven company, and Hacker Hours is not out of that worldview. After the first year’s success, we believe we have a strong foundation of a program to start collecting metrics to help fund and drive future initiatives within the program.

At the end of every month, we now gather usage statistics on how many Bandmates actively used their hours in the prior month. Whether that was for 1 hour or for the full 10% each week. We’re collecting information about how many managers engaged their directs to use Hacker Hours. The question we’re asking is “During the past month, have you encouraged your team members to use Hacker Hours for professional development and experimentation?”. Lastly, we utilize Viima analytics to understand which ideas are having involvement with the application.

This information helps decide what’s working within the program and what isn’t. The data will be shared with the organization during the Hack of the Year showcase and the 2022 Review. We believe this information will help drive the program to a better iteration and with that visibility we can produce a better experience. For those of you who have been responding to these polls, thank you!

The Future

Thanks to the prior effort and involvement of Bandmates, the Hacker Hours program is entering its sophomore year with great success. In 2022, we are seeing increased participation and innovation. We are hoping to put out a Hacker Hours Day and other Hacker Hours initiatives to help spur innovation. We are looking forward to the Hack of the Year Showcase and hope to see you there!Want to participate in our Hacker Hours program? Apply to any of our engineering roles at Bandwidth.com/careers!

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