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Dreaming Big at NGP VAN's 5th Annual Company-Wide Hackathon

Shai Sachs

Earlier this month, we concluded our fifth Hackathon, and we're excited to announce the results!

Hackathons at NGP VAN have a long and storied history. Beginning with our first hackathon in January 2014, we have regularly held two-day events, during which staff members are encouraged to work on any project they choose, so long as it relates to our mission in some way. Many projects are technical in nature, and involve some remarkably swift and sophisticated programming. In some cases, a hacker will take the time to explore a new tool and report back on its suitability for our work. Other staff members use the time to explore new ideas, take a step back and revise our day-to-day processes, and even put together some wonderful murals on our office walls.

Our hackathons have generated quite a few innovative concepts that wound up as useful products:

  • OpenVPB was prototyped during our first hackathon
  • VAN 5 started out as a Chrome plugin, also scraped together during our first hackathon
  • 'Best Ask' had its origins in a nest of microservices glued together during our second hackathon
  • MiniVAN Manager grew out of a couple days' worth of hacking in one of our conference rooms, during our third hackathon

This hackathon's projects fit squarely within that tradition! The top award, Best in Show, went to a project called "Hacktivity Stream". This project gives our users a powerful new tool to organize and understand their voters - by creating a focused, chronological view of each supporter's activities.


(Pictured above: Hacktivity Stream)

Hacktivity Stream aims to make the new Activity Stream readily available on every supporter's details page, saving organizers tons of valuable time. The team pulled together a very promising prototype - from mockup, to APIs, to fully-functional UI - in just the brief amount of time available during the Hackathon. Now, we plan to put the finishing touches on the code, and have the final project released later this fall!

Another project, called "#KillTurfCutter", aims to make the time and labor-intensive process of cutting turf obsolete. The idea is to leverage the work that went into the Democrats' Knock 10 app and generalize it for use by organizers. Instead of manually cutting turf and assigning that turf out to volunteers one-by-one, field organizers will be able to specify a universe of targets, and then volunteers will check out a predetermined number of those targets based on their current location. We are planning to release this feature in the next few weeks for beta testing, and hope that it will save field organizers precious time in the run-up to the 2017 elections.

And these projects were just the tip of the iceberg. We saw a lot of very exciting projects taking shape during the Hackathon. We've already shipped five different projects focused on internal efficiency, providing our staff with the tools they need to do their jobs more quickly. And we saw a few different teams use the Hackathon to really make our office shine. Staff in our DC office spruced up an area affectionately known as the "Raptor Pit", while some very creative folks in Boston painted a beautiful mural!

We're proud of these projects, and all of the great work we saw come together during the Hackathon. Each Hackathon is a great opportunity for us to flex our creative muscles a bit, and to try something new. Not every project works out, but that's what successful innovation requires - a lot of experiments and not a few failures. Our hackathons inspire us to dream big, in order to make our clients successful.

Topics: hackathon