Why Faithlife Hosts Hackathons

Faithlife Hackathon 2015

Every now and then, Faithlife hosts a company-wide hackathon. This 24 hour competition pits teams of developers, designers, marketers, and others against each other to create innovative new software products. Open to all Faithlife employees, hackathons encourage anyone with an idea to form a team, and make that idea a reality—in one day.

Micah Ellis presents his project
Micah Ellis presents his team’s idea to the judges and an audience of Faithlife employees.

Faithlife Executive Jim Straatman says part of the reason he loves hackathons is that they promote ownership. “When you give someone a project, ownership isn’t required. You learn what ownership means when you create your project and push it through.” Hackathons welcome new and long-time employees alike to champion their own ideas.

For our hackathon last weekend, we created an employee Faithlife Group for people to pitch their ideas and connect with others. Anyone in the Faithlife Group was fair game to recruit.

This year’s panel of judges included Eli Evans, Bradley Grainger, John Barry, and Bill Nienhuis.
This year’s panel of judges included Eli Evans, Bradley Grainger, John Barry, and Bill Nienhuis.

“It’s on the idea generator to find the people they need,” Straatman says. About 20% of the hackathon participants have their own idea. Everyone else tries to find the idea that interests them the most—or that has the best chance of winning.

At Faithlife, the competition has a winner in each of three categories: awesomeness, shipping, and people’s choice. The first two categories come from Faithlife’s company values.

Hackathon trophies
The tribal mask trophy was for people’s choice, the truck for shipping, and the eagle for awesomeness.

To win the awesomeness category, hackathon projects need to exhibit unique features that excite the people that use them (in this case, the judges). Bob Pritchett says, “Good is boring. Quality is the standard. Professionalism is expected. Awesome is a delightful surprise. Our products should have features that cause users to laugh in delight when they find them.”

To win the shipping category, participants have to create fully-fledged products in the 24 hour period. These projects are practical, and immediately useful.

“We get stuff out the door. It doesn’t matter how great something is if no one is using it,” Pritchett says. “Artists pursue their own vision of beauty—beautiful is more important than done. Scientists seek objective truth—it’s a never ending journey. Businesses ship so we can live to ship again.”

People’s choice works a little differently. At the end of the hackathon, when teams showcase their projects to the judges, all Faithlife employees are welcome to witness the fun—whether they participated or not. To win the people’s choice category, you don’t need to have the most practical, useful, or impressive project—you need to win the crowd.

Hackathon audience
Faithlife borrowed a local theater to facilitate hackathon presentations.

Jim Straatman says what he loves to see most at hackathons is “rapid career growth among participants.” The unrestrained experimentation in hackathons “help people discover what they really want to do.”

“I once heard someone say, ‘A company willing to throw a hackathon is worth working for.’ It shows people we care about your ideas, and we trust you with the freedom to experiment. It shows that we honor people’s potential regardless of their position,” Straatman says.

Want to be here for our next hackathon? We’re hiring! See our available positions here.

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See what we do and who we are at Faithlife.com/about.


  1. Bev Sterk says

    Hello, just read your post on covenant eyes, and saw that you are in B’ham (I’m in Lynden)… would be very interested in connecting with you re “herbie” the elephant…

    because of several friends who have and are dealing with the repercussions of porn, this is an area that is on my heart along with it’s on the hearts of a number of other people who have been negatively impacted by it…

    and I agree the Church has been doing a horrible job of dealing with this “thing”…

    hope to hear from you soon…

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