Innovating and collaborating, one hack at a time

by Praerit Garg

Last week our product, engineering, and user experience teams had the opportunity to step away from their day-to-day work and have a go at creating something new during our annual “Hack the Sheet,” Smartsheet’s internal hackathon. 

Here’s how it works: People submit their ideas as to what they’d like to build, create, or work on. Then other people sign up to work on those ideas and bring them to life over the course of a week, ending in a full day of demonstrations given to our product, engineering, user experience leadership, and members of our executive team. 

Sounds simple, perhaps, but the energy this creates in the team is something I look forward to every year. To me, Hack the Sheet is a reminder to our entire team that each and every one of us has within us the courage to put our ideas out there, and the power to put our talents to work to create meaningful change for our customers and for ourselves. The creativity that flows from this always inspires me. It reinforces my belief that we work to have fun, to make an impact, and to continuously challenge ourselves to learn and grow.

Here are just a few of the ways I saw that this energy come to life at Hack the Sheet this year:

1. This team truly seizes the opportunity to innovate

Hack the Sheet is fundamentally about innovation, about creating something new or building upon or improving some aspect of our product already in place. Our team doesn’t hesitate to think big when coming up with their ideas, but some also think small, recognizing that a small change can make a big difference.

This year, I’d say about half of our hacks were things that were already on our roadmap, and teams chose to use this time to work on a proof of concept for one of those ideas. Others explored hacks for how we might improve developer productivity, improve our infrastructure, or apply promising new tech. We grouped the projects into five themes this year: 

  • Delightful end-user experiences
  • Improve scale, performance, and availability
  • Reduce engineering toil
  • Address papercuts
  • Rethink and reimagine

Most of my favorite hacks from last week I can’t share yet, but a lot of them will show up on our platform sooner rather than later. In the past, we’ve seen significant product innovation come from Hack the Sheet, including WorkApps, Document Builder, and real-time conversations.   We’ve also seen innovation around how we test and deploy our services. 

In addition to really seizing the opportunity to innovate and build great things at Hack the Sheet, I love seeing those hacks get incorporated into our product or into the ways we build and deploy our services to have an impact for our customers right away. In fact, one of the reactions most often heard during the Demo Day Q&A is “This is great! Can’t wait to get it into production.”

2. People get to work across teams and locations

Hack the Sheet gives people the opportunity to work with those from other teams and different departments, and get to know team members they don’t usually work with. We have a global team here at Smartsheet, so people also get to work on their hacks with others in different countries and across time zones. 

Tools like Zoom, Slack, and, of course, Smartsheet, help a virtual hackathon work really well. Our teams are already comfortable with a digital first way of working, and in some ways I think a virtual hackathon works even better than one in-person. 

With a virtual hackathon, teams are empowered to decide how they want to work together. They can kick off all together, whether in person or on Zoom, then break away and focus on their part of the work, connecting asynchronously as needed, then come back together for synchronous touchpoints. They have choices around how they want to interact, designing their own way of working together while they work. 

I love connecting with our entire team on our virtual Demo Day, when everyone comes back together to share what they’ve created. I even think that Demo Day is better on Zoom. I know, this might sound weird, as I do love seeing my team members in person. But there’s something about having the demos on Zoom that evens the playing field, so all of the presenters can be viewed as equal contributors and get their full five minutes “on stage” when presenting. The entire team can cheer them on without being limited by the capacity of a physical room.

 3. New team members come in and make a difference right away

As part of our daily challenges during Hack the Sheet, whoever wins each challenge gets an intangible prize, like a double time slot on Demo Day, lunch on Demo Day, or a 60 minute consult with me on their hack before they present. This year, the team that consulted with me was made up of a designer who has been at Smartsheet a year, a researcher who started in December, and an engineer who started just two weeks ago!

Their project blew me away. They had a whole plan around improving the experience of our document proofing capability, walked me through the data they’d based their plan on, and were getting things built to share with the team on Demo Day. I loved seeing them take an idea and run with it, not hesitating because they were relatively new to the company. They jumped right in to pursue progress together.

If you’re interested in joining our team, I invite you to explore the many opportunities we have on our careers page. It is a privilege for me to get to work with this brilliant set of people every day, and I would love to have you join us.

Bonus: The fun…and the puns

Our week-long Hack the Sheet hackathon includes daily challenges, prizes, demos, and awards, full of moments of fun for the entire team to come together and connect. And the theme is always a pun that we choose from ideas that team members submit. From this year’s theme “Hack and Cheese” to another personal favorite “Hack to the Future,” there are never any limits to the creativity the team brings to the playful aspects of Hack the Sheet either.