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Dev Blog

Value Fun: The FreshBooks Hack Off

by Corey on February 11/2011

We’re pretty busy at FreshBooks. Like lots of companies; there’s always a ton of work to do, and sometimes it can be hard to keep your eye on the longer-term goals.

Having fun, for example.

We value fun at FreshBooks — people do their best work when they’re engaged and excited, but it can be hard to maintain that spirit in the midst of all the day-to-day work that needs doing. So we’re always looking for ways to keep things fun, to break up the ongoing work and give the creative people who make up this team a chance to stretch their skills and show off a little bit in front of their colleagues.

We call it a “Hack Off”.

They’re usually once a month, on a Friday (cause, you know, Fridays are good for this sort of thing). Developers are asked to stop working on whatever features or fixes they’ve got on their plates for the current release (we deploy to production every two weeks), and instead spend the day working on….

Whatever they want. Anything is fair game — the only caveat is that they are expected to show whatever they’ve been working on to the rest of the company at the end of the day.

Sometimes people introduce slick new features, or try out brand-new technology. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Now you can see how many database queries there are on every page!” Sometimes it’s as crazy as “Watch this logo spin around in circles!” or “Shoot INVOICES IN SPACE!”

It doesn’t really matter. Sometimes it’s a command-line tool for interacting with our API that to most viewers isn’t really very exciting.

And sometimes it’s just a total disaster and more than once a developer has had to regretfully announce they had nothing to show for their day of hackery. It’s part of the nature of trying ambitious things — if every attempt succeeds, maybe the bar isn’t set high enough. I said before that “Fun” is one of our values, but so is “Strive”. We believe in setting difficult goals for ourselves, goals that challenge us to work hard and push our abilities.

Fun things like Hack Offs are one way we do that. Plus, sometimes a great Hack Off gets turned into a feature — our multi-language invoices started life as a Hack Off entry, for example. But honestly, that’s not the point. If the Hack Off turned into just another way to build stuff in FreshBooks, it wouldn’t be nearly so much fun.

And like I said, fun is something we value at FreshBooks!