Dispatches From Our Fall Hackathon

Our hackFN judges were clearly entertained by the presentations

“We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.”

— Larry Page and Sergey Brin in their 2004 IPO Letter

For FiscalNoters, fall means a lot of things—pumpkin carving, open enrollment, ping-pong tournaments, FiscalBoat, and our bi-annual hackathon, hackFN! Even two weeks out, office-wide excitement was tangible. The energy was infectious. There were quiet conversations about ideas that would have the greatest impact on our product, and whispers of recruiting former champions to form teams. Would our reigning champion, Dan, take home another win? Which ideas would be integrated into our platform?

Why throw a hackathon? For us, it’s our way of empowering every employee—from Engineering to Business Development—to innovate at FiscalNote. Projects from our hackathons have become integral parts of our product. It’s a great way for employees to be creative, take ownership, and think deeply about how our product can improve. This delivers on the autonomy, mastery, and purpose that Daniel Pink describes as the three elements for boosting workplace productivity. We’ve also found that FiscalNoters care about getting to know people we don’t typically interact with on a day-to-day basis, and many have voiced that they’d like to learn how to code or have the ability to shadow an engineer. A hackathon is a great way to interact in a cross-functional capacity: to form new relationships and learn from a different set of coworkers—not to mention a great time for client-facing roles to try their hand at coding.

Chief Strategy Officer Gerald Yao (L) and Associate Product Manager Conway Yao (R) present their ideas

We kicked off on Monday, October 23 with a pitch night. We pitched a total of 14 ideas spanning from an internal tool streamlining the prospecting process for cold calls to maps that outline legislator impact within our web platform. Thought provoking questions were asked, pizza and beers were consumed, and teams rallied around their favorite ideas.

The hackathon officially began Wednesday, October 25, after teams scattered to their favorite in-office spots to deep-dive into their ideas. By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, competitors were feverishly writing last lines of code and adding that last, pithy meme to their presentations. Our judges’ panel and audience gathered in the OTC Café, eager to see what these small-but-mighty teams had built in just three days.

Strategic Account Manager Lillian Bijl (L) and Software Engineer Neva Reed (R) posted up in the OTC Café to hack ’round the clock

This season, three skilled teams—each with 4-8 members—participated. They hailed from a variety of departments: Product, Account Management, Engineering, Professional Services, Business Development, Marketing, and Research. On the afternoon of October 27, each squad presented its ideas and demo’d MVPs, followed by an intense round of voting by judges and audience members. We asked voters to consider polish, impact, and completeness when evaluating these projects. The screen showed a live scoresheet as votes came in, and teams gathered around in anticipation.

After ten minutes, the Trendanators claimed victory. Aptly named, their project would give our user the ability to follow trends on topics that our users care about. After a round of congratulations, we wrapped up another successful hackathon at FiscalNote.

This victory comes on the heels of the release of an internal scraping tool, The Kraken, which was built during last season’s hackathon. We’re thrilled to keep with this momentum, and can’t wait to see how our new #hackFN projects develop. 

— Software Engineer Taylor Wan