November 10, 2022

Why You Should Care About Vendor Hack Weeks

by Dawn Slusher

Hack weeks and hack-a-thons are like foosball tables; if you don’t have them, are you even a tech company? These events, once revered for innovation, are now relegated to being blasé and often perceived as little more than playtime for engineers. As someone who’s worked in tech for longer than I care to admit, I had started to ignore them - until I came to Forward Networks.

I’ve just experienced my third Forward Networks Hack week - and what I find remarkable is that while teams are free to choose any idea they want to pursue, they always focus on delivering customer value and making life easier for the people who use the platform on a daily basis.

A cynic might say they do this because customer value is the most heavily weighted judging criterion. Or that they want to win a coveted HackWeek letterman's jacket and commensurate bragging rights. Those who listened to the presentations know better. Our engineers talk about our customers as close personal friends, with a level of caring I have not encountered before joining the Forward Networks Family.

Over half of the concepts presented in our Hack Week sessions quickly become new platform features. (We’re still a small start-up with a lean engineering team. Otherwise, I genuinely believe all the ideas would become part of the platform.) This is a testament to the passion we have for supporting our customers.

Other companies bill their Hack Weeks as time for employees to “experiment, create, test, and learn” or to “explore novel and even heretical ideas.” Engineers at established companies have described Hack Weeks as: "We’ll all be building things that are separate from our normal work and not part of our day-to-day jobs.” While this sounds fun and creates the opportunity to deliver valuable innovation, it’s unlikely to benefit customers in the short term.

Our Hack Weeks combine creativity and competition with real-world problem-solving. The collective goal is to deliver features that enhance our customer experience within a quarter.

I can’t go into detail about the specific projects that our engineers presented without teasing new product features, but I can say this: the underlying theme was delivering otherwise inaccessible data in an intuitive manner. The data uses include improving efficiency, preventing human errors, improving decision-making, securing the network, and reducing manual efforts.

Hack Weeks should be about solving your problems - not chasing rainbows.

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