We recently held our 5th annual Hack Day and it was a huge success. We caught up with Jon Walker, CTO at AppFolio, to get the scoop on all the details and history behind this awesome event. Check out the video at the end for more!

What is Hack Day?

A full 24 hours dedicated to creativity and building cool projects. People work alone or in teams on projects that they invent/choose. At the end of the 24 hours people demo their projects. All Hack Day participants vote on the best projects. We have only one rule for the projects – you cannot work on the same project that you would work on if Hack Day was just another work day.

Why does AppFolio do a Hack Day? And how do we make it our own?

There are other people doing Hack Days for a lot of different reasons. Students sometimes hold hacking events to gain experience building projects. There are 4 or 5 “mega-hackathons” held around the US. One of the largest ones is held at the University of Pennsylvania called PenApps. Last year there were 1,200 participants. Some companies will often organize Hack Days as recruiting events.

We do it for a very different reason. For us it is one of the ways that we promote innovation at AppFolio. We have been very successful as a company because we apply modern technology and innovative ideas to industries like property management who have not had the benefit of a lot of innovation in terms of their technology solutions. Because this is key to our success, events like Hack Day are an important part of our culture. My dream is that one day AppFolio will be recognized among the most innovative companies in any industry.

I believe we have a pretty unique take on Hack Day. We do a lot of things that look silly on the surface that serve to get people’s creative juices flowing. We usually have a theme. Our last two themes were Fiesta (which is the name for the Old Spanish Days celebration in Santa Barbara) and medieval times. We have a lot of fun theme related items like ponchos and sombreros for people to wear along with theatrical mustaches. For the medieval theme we had shields people could decorate, medieval themed food and even a mini renaissance fair in the parking lot during one of the breaks. We had a face painter at one of the Hack Days. I was amazed at how much people got into face painting!

How many employees participated in Hack Day? From what departments?

We had 121 people participating with representatives from every department in the company. This is our 5th Hack Day and it started with the engineering team, so in the past engineers had been the majority of participants. Participation from other departments has been growing steadily and this Hack Day is the first one where we had more non-engineering participants than engineering participants. We do a survey after every Hack Day to see what people really loved and what we could improve and we consistently get feedback from participants that they love the opportunity to work with people they don’t normally work with.

How many projects were created?

We had 45 projects. The projects are always amazing and this Hack Day was no exception. Many of them were very interesting from a technical perspective. Things like very intuitive notifications in AppFolio Property Manager, an intuitive help interface that used natural language processing and machine learning to suggest help topics, and even a coffee pot with a sensor that detected who took the last cup without refilling the pot and took a picture of them! But there were also some really creative non-technical projects. Probably my favorite was the AppFolio board game.

We’re looking forward to next year’s Hack Day!