Following another successful Blend company hackathon last week, this time with the theme #BlendBlockParty, I feel compelled to start a discussion around why hackathons, though often deemed over-hyped, fuel industry innovation, particularly for complicated industries like finance and healthcare.
My love for hackathons dates back to high school, when I would tag along with my software engineer mom as she went to hackathons herself. I learned to code and interacted with some of the smartest engineers in the industry as they worked on their hacks. There was something magnetic about engaging with inspired people building crazy things.
In a fast-growing startup, there’s constant demand for everyone’s time to work on things like product updates, customer requests, stabilizing the platform, building the next big feature, and so on. In this type of environment, it’s easy to miss out on personal growth and culture-building opportunities. Hackathons create a specific time period where employees are expected to set aside their everyday work and be creative and entrepreneurial. Not to mention, it’s a ton of fun, there are prizes, and it creates unlimited opportunities to bond as a team.
During last week’s event, I asked others how they feel about hackathons, and having them at Blend, and some of the answers were pretty interesting:
“Working outside of our usual framework makes friction in our day-to-day work a lot more obvious, leading to improvements there.” — Eugene Marinelli, CTO and Co-founder
“We always want to ensure none of the great work coming out of the hackathon goes to waste. In fact, our mobile app for lenders came out of last year’s hackathon and is now an extremely popular feature of the platform.” — Pranay Kapadia, Head of Product
“They’re a great way to work on projects we may not otherwise have the opportunity to work on, and to work with team members we don’t get to interact with on a daily basis.” — Grace Qi, Product Team
“Hackathons are a fantastic return to the long-lost ways of college programming: late nights, red bull, and absolutely zero regard for quality of code produced.” — Graham Carling, Engineering Team
“This was the first hackathon I’ve ever attended, and I was absolutely blown away by the diversity and level of work the teams were able to accomplish in such a short time. Now that I’ve seen the team in action, creating completely new things in just 48 hours, I’m excited to see when some of these features and functionality, many of which we at Movement would use right away, pop up on the product roadmap.” — John Third, COO at Movement Mortgage
*Of note, Movement Mortgage is a Blend customer and top 10 U.S. mortgage lender for purchase.
“Collaboration is one of our core principles and hackathons are a perfect example of why. When team members of varying viewpoints come together to think creatively and build quickly – incredible things happen.” — Sarah Guber, Head of Talent
This year’s projects
The hacks at this year’s event covered a wide spectrum of topics and worked to solve lots of different problems. Teams tackled everything from speeding up our engineering cycles to making onboarding at Blend quicker and easier to automating the QA process with a Slackbot.
Honorable Mention went to Chao, Heang, Albert, and Daniel for building a portal for real estate agents to get updates from Blend. This is particularly useful for complicated loan processes, where many people must be involved.
The People’s Choice Award went to Blend CTO and Co-Founder Eugene Marinelli for using Blend to make our recruiting process self-serve, cutting down on cycles for the recruiting team.
Third place went to the team of Hugo, Dani, Allen, and Ryan that built an entire internal Blend employee portal. The site is searchable for any information we have in Blend’s internal systems, and will soon have SSO capabilities for all Blend employee accounts.
Second place went to the team of Ian, Alex, and Clayton for upgrading the configurability of the Blend platform for lenders and making improvements to the “co-pilot” feature, which allows loan officers to see the borrower’s view and help them fill in information as they move through their digital mortgage application.
The grand prize went to the team of Danh, Eliezer, Graham, and Will for their hack that makes it much easier for loan officers to process ALL their borrowers’ mortgage applications through Blend, even when a borrower calls to discuss over the phone or sends an email instead of starting the application themselves online.
We plan to implement these projects within the product roadmap and/or internal processes within the next couple of months.