Caffeine, Code & Too-Little Sleep: Faithlife Hackathons Are Intense & Fun

It was 2 p.m. on a Friday, but the Faithlife offices were largely empty. Across the street, hundreds of Faithlife employees settled into the seats of a local theater. Caffeinated interns buzzed around them, putting the finishing touches on their presentations. In just minutes, the interns would ascend the stage one-by-one. There they would pitch a panel of executives and managers on projects they had conceived and developed with a team of Faithlife employees—all within the last 24 hours.

The judges’ favorite projects would receive awards in the 2017 Faithlife Hackathon. The most promising apps, websites, or product features might even be chosen for further development and eventually go to market.

Halfway through the event, Faithlife intern Virginia Pettit took the stage to present her team’s project: a site to help Christians find a local church to call home. At one point, Virginia encouraged the judges and audience to pull out their phones to see the site for themselves. It was already live.

Just two hours earlier, however, the site didn’t even work on mobile. The team realized its oversight just minutes before the event organizers called “pencils down” and all work had to cease.
“With the clock ticking and us freaking out, we all looked at each other and kept saying that we could do it,” Virginia recalled. “And we did! One of the developers fixed all the style bugs with record speed. We got it pushed live with less than 5 minutes to spare!”

Why we host Hackathons

The Faithlife Hackathon is an annual competition where teams of developers, designers, and marketers race to create new Faithlife products, apps, websites, or features in just 24 hours. While the event is open to all Faithlife employees, each team must include at least one intern. It’s one of the many ways Faithlife provides an intensive and fun learning experience for its interns.
Doing all that work in just 24 hours may sound like a nightmare, but for many Faithlife employees, it’s their favorite event of the year.
“I love Hackathons because they bond groups of employees together in a way that is very hard to replicate,” said Aaron Dutton, Faithlife’s Systems Engineering Group lead. “Staying up late to experience both the joys of success and the lows of failure—all within a 24-hour period—is not something that you get working regular hours.”
Intern Jason Saler said, “Working closely together with a common goal was a really cool experience that helped build trust and friendship.”

Delighting the customer

Faithlife doesn’t just host Hackathons for the sake of employees. It’s also good for customers. Faithlife CEO Bob Pritchett is fond of saying, “Our products should have features that cause users to laugh in delight when they find them.” Faithlife hosts Hackathons to discover wild ideas that may end up becoming a customer’s favorite feature.

“Hackathons give us an opportunity to try out those weird ideas that would never get funded on a regular basis,” said Auresa Nyctea, a software developer. “And sometimes, those ideas work out. Rapid prototyping is a great way to test an idea. Soundfaith, Proclaim Bible Trivia, and other projects have all been tested during the Hackathon.”

Way too much fun

Keeping morale up when you’re frustrated by technical problems sometimes requires a creative approach, too. Add sleep deprivation to the mix, and a little bit of silliness is sure to ensue.
“My team and I were starting to feel down as it was getting late and drowsiness set in,” Jason Saler said. His team was working in the same room as other Hackathon participants, so he decided to get inside their heads. “I jumped up in excitement and started yelling, ‘Yes! We got it!’” He high-fived all his teammates and pretended they’d just made a major breakthrough. “Not only did it give a little encouragement for my team, it also instilled fear in the hearts of nearby teams.”
Competitive jokes aside, it’s the teamwork atmosphere—a major aspect of Faithlife’s culture—that keeps morale afloat.

During a final lunch just before pitches, members of competing teams mingled and shared Hackathon war stories. “Everyone was so excited to share whatever convoluted hacks they had come up with to fix that one silly problem, or super happy to show off their product,” Virginia recalled. “And even though it was a competition, everyone was so proud and impressed with everyone else.”

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Ready for your next challenge? Check out Faithlife’s current job openings.

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Written by
Taylor Jones
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Written by Taylor Jones