Health Fidelity Company Culture: The Hackathon

Health Fidelity CCO Bill Zahn discusses company culture and hackathonsThere’s no shortage of focus on innovation in technology. It’s a big part of Health Fidelity’s company culture. Google and Atlassian tout the 20% rule, that people should have 20% of their time each week to dedicate to fully creative projects. Not every organization is scaled to dedicate that much time away from the primary tasks, but the principle is still effective: Give people the freedom to be creative and it will rise the tide of innovation.

Early in 2020, I was talking to a friend and he’d mentioned they’d recently done a hackathon. For those who don’t know, you set some boundaries– a location, a narrow window of time– and have a group work on a challenge. The group uses enthusiasm and the focus from the event’s constraints to rapidly innovate around the task. This was at a point where the pandemic was isolating people from each other, and we were rapidly losing any chance of our typical in-person culture events for the year. That led to a proposal company-wide: What if we did a hackathon?

We knew a few things up front. We wanted executive sponsorship. We wanted t-shirts, (because who doesn’t like a t-shirt?) We also wanted to make sure resources were available as teams developed their ideas, and it was made abundantly clear that this could be a work priority for the duration of the event.

It was also going to be a culture-centric event. Everyone can be involved and contribute to their ability and interest; a way to spend time together on something other than the typical day-to-day. It would also be bottom-up led. We didn’t give out targeted issues, the challenges were to be decided by the teams themselves: anything they wanted to address, they could tackle it.
Hackchella t-shirt 2021

Aside from a planning committee laying the groundwork, it was a fully democratic process, down to the name we collectively voted on: Hackchella.

The first year was a big success and We knew immediately we wanted to do it again the next year.

Shocking no one, Hackchella 2021 was initiated by the innovation team. Team members Hannah Catri and Alex Miller set to work on refining last year’s event. It started earlier this time, giving folks something to decide on projects ahead of the event itself. Servers were set up, demo data was generated, teams were assigned with options for opting or or trading. Our technical program manager CJ Harries was ringmaster and is serving as ongoing champion for the projects going forward. Our UX designer Prisca Ekkens (who also coined the term Hackchella last year), knocked it out of the park on another t-shirt design.

All in, we had eleven separate projects spread across the company covering everything from new supervised machine learning algorithms, billing infrastructure, a dashboard for project management, a digital water cooler.

In each case, the teams identified their own priorities, ideas, or even pain points, and innovated new solutions that directly improved their quality of life day to day. The day before the presentation we had a fiercely competitive round of games over video. The day of, we had surprise guests and the Health Fidelity board sat in to see, first hand, just how fantastic our team is. Speaking personally, despite the team already having my full confidence and respect, I was continuously blown away by the projects.

With the event wrapped, I’m excited to say this years event was a big improvement on last years. The success of the event, not just from an innovation perspective, but as a morale booster (it really was a party), left us with one conclusion: we have to do it again.

As I said, early on, the goal was to further support our culture of creative freedom into the DNA of Health Fidelity. We’re an innovative company. When a good idea comes our way, we try it and see how it works. Well, this worked. I don’t think we’ll be waiting a full year for the third Hackchella. If you’d like to be here for it, check out our open positions.