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Hacker Hours: A New Program from Bandwidth Engineering

Dan Goslen Dan Goslen
Dan Goslen
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Great ideas can come from anywhere—and they especially come from our Bandmates. We’ve always provided ways for Bandmates to develop their ideas and given them time to make them a reality. We’ve hosted: 

  • Hackathons
  • Big Idea Days
  • Even had a Sabbatical program


But there’s a new kid in town. Recently, the Engineering team at Bandwidth took everything we’ve learned about time constraints and ideation challenges, brainstormed with other colleagues, and created Hacker Hours. And we are excited to tell you about it.

What is Hacker Hours?

Hacker Hours is Bandwidth’s 10% time program for technologists to learn, experiment, and innovate. We want to give Bandmates the time they need to become better Bandmates by contributing to open source, getting certificated, or tinkering with their own ideas. We believe that better Bandmates build a better Bandwidth.

If this sounds like the mythical 20% time programs from the tech giants, you aren’t wrong. We modeled several aspects about this program around those programs. However, we believe Hacker Hours has a unique staying power that those programs traditionally haven’t had. Here’s why.

Added Flexibility

Several years ago, Bandwidth created the Sabbatical program. In this program, Bandmates could take two full weeks off of their regular day-to-day work to build and develop prototypes for their ideas. The only requirements were that they learned something new along the way, and they presented whatever they learned back to Bandwidth.

Early on, this program had great success and participation. Over the past few years, however, we have seen participation drop. Why is this? We decided to ask our team directly.

One of the top responses we received was that Bandmates wanted more flexibility around when and how they could innovate. Bandmates on Sabbatical would have to coordinate when they would take a Sabbatical, have an idea fleshed out, and have merely two weeks to make something worth presenting. In reality, it wasn’t very flexible at all.

In contrast, Hacker Hours allows Bandmates to use their 10% time in much more flexible ways. A Bandmate can use four of their hours a week or a week every other month. Or a combination of both.

We’ve also moved away from the intensity of learning something new. Learning something new is encouraged and valuable, but perhaps a Bandmate wants to prototype a new voice feature using the tools they already know? Or maybe they want to get certified in a technology they use every day, but haven’t had the time to take the exam? We’ve expanded the program to include such plans.

Voluntary Participation

No Bandmate is required to use their allotted Hacker Hours. While we want all Bandmates to use their hours, there is no penalty for not using them.

Keeping the program voluntary is vital to the success of our program. Many other 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 want participation to be freeing and exciting rather than obligatory.

Additionally, we don’t require that Bandmates spend their Hacker Hours on ideas to improve Bandwidth’s revenue. Many ideas will be created towards that goal, but we want to encourage all sorts of ideas. For example, tools that make development easier for teams or improve communication are ideas worth working on.

Removing Barriers

The other common deterrent for the old Sabbatical program was that many Bandmates felt enormous expectations around their Sabbatical. Many expressed fear that their ideas were not good enough or that other Bandmates wouldn’t find their project interesting. There was a sense they needed to prove something.

The Hacker Hours program is trying to remove these barriers. To help Bandmates discover what to spend their hours on, we designed a brainstorming workshop to help Bandmates find great ideas. We’ve created an internal innovation hub to share those ideas with others and even vote or join existing ideas. We also don’t require any presentations for a completed project.

We’ve also made it easy to participate. There are no forms or bookkeeping to start using your hours. Just talk to your manager about what you want to work on and when you plan to work on it.

Hacker Hours So Far

Since launching the program in March, we’ve seen several positive outcomes. We are seeing Bandmates creating and building remarkably different ideas than ones seen in previous initiatives. Many of these ideas are focused on helping our teams better develop and deliver their core products. Some of these projects include starter applications or debugging tools. While not anticipated, we are happy to see these ideas. 

We’ve also jump-started our idea sharing tool and seen it facilitate some great collaboration. Bandmates are giving early feedback on ideas listed in the tool, voting for ideas they find interesting, and even teaming up to work together on a few.

We are trying to embrace the Agile mentality through incremental and iterative changes based on the feedback from Bandmates. Our most recent survey shows that ~60% of our Bandmates are using their Hacker Hours in some way. We hope we can continue to encourage our Bandmates to use their hours and improve that engagement.

We are eager to share more about our success (and failures) with the program as it evolves. We are even more excited to see the new ways we will develop and deliver the power to communicate as a result.

Want to participate in our Hacker Hours program? Apply to any of our engineering roles at Bandwidth.com/careers!

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