EPD in San Francisco showing us their hands before the hacking begins

Once or twice a year, Gusto’s engineering, product, and design (EPD) team likes to pause, convalesce, and spend three days writing “non-roadmap-approved” code together. Engineers, designers, and product managers with ideas pitch them to other EPD members to have them join their teams. Non-EPD folks throw their hat in the ring too by getting others excited about their ideas in a formal “pitch-off” a couple of weeks before the hackathon. Teams form around ideas, with each having a “lead.”

This time there was no set team structure. Some comprised a single person. Others had 8.

Gusto’s Denver engineering team posing for a family photo.

Key to this experience was finding places away from the office where we could focus on our micro-projects. The San Francisco team came together at The Laundry, and our Denver team worked out of an AirBnB loft near Union Station. Both were structures adorned with old brickwork, which is compulsory for any good hackathon location.

Our CTO, Eddie Kim, dusted off his IDE to participate.

And everybody coded. Even Eddie Kim, our CTO, got the development environment raring to go on his laptop.

Two of our hackers collaborating at our San Francisco location.

Projects ranged from histograms produced by an AI-like analysis of tax payment trends to camera-based systems that might help hourly employees clock in and out of work by pausing for a brief scan on their way in and out of the office. We saw one project add “communities” to our HR product so employees could connect around shared interests, while another made it easier for people to report expenses. And yet another introduced a system that would integrate metadata into rails models to better track data typing and mandatory fields, among other things.

We demo’d our hacks to a company-wide audience during the second half of Day 3. A panel of judges from all company disciplines convened to designate winners in each category, which were:

  • Cole’s Customer Experience prize
  • Andy’s financial responsibility prize
  • Tomer’s product innovation prize
  • Phan’s code deletion prize
  • Josh’s Team Collaboration prize
  • Sherry’s Growth Experiments prize
  • Joe’s Security prize
  • Nikhil’s development experience prize
  • Lexi’s Biz Team prize
  • Maryanne’s People Team prize

It’s not a bowling ball. This prize is a fully functioning helmet.

We gave guidance early on that people’s hackathon projects could have nothing to do with Gusto (one engineer created a checkers board). Indeed, it was important for us to create a boundary-less construct in order to optimize for creativity. But we were floored by the number of projects that came back to our core business, which stood as one data point that folks here care deeply about our customers and how their experience can be continually improved.