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Serving our Communities by Hacking it Forward

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Brandon Farber

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Twice a year at realtor.com, our technology team comes together for a three-day hackathon. In the past, this has been an event where employees have a dedicated week of sprint time to focus on a new technical project outside of their normal work. Employees have proposed and created new software tools both for fellow employees and our end users, enhanced user experience interfaces, and much more. This year, we decided to do something different with Hack-it-Forward — a company-wide hackathon where every employee would have an opportunity to work on a project to benefit the communities we call home.  

We have incredible employees that bring great heart and talent to work each day, focused on helping home shoppers and owners make informed real estate decisions. So, the logical question was, “Why not use our collective technical prowess to support local charities in the important work they do?” 

Once the idea was born, employees throughout the company had the opportunity to nominate local charities. Together, we came up with a roster of 14 employee-nominated charities that were looking for help with a wide-range of projects. 

Employees across our offices also volunteered their time to help with technical projects for charities, including: Friendship Place, Mountaineer Spay-Neuter Assistance Program, PACE Enterprises, Minds Matter, Pawsitive Friendships, Good Karma Bikes, Life Moves, Silicon Valley Pet Project, Resource Area for Teaching, Covenant House Vancouver, Home Start, Richmond Food Bank, My Brother Rocks the Spectrum, and White Heart Foundation.

For those who didn’t feel up to solving a technical challenge, employees were able to make blankets for Project Linus, a charity that provides blankets to children in need. In all, we made 1,100 blankets. 

It was amazing to watch employees who, in many cases, had never worked together, form strong bonds and innovate to create something powerful for a charity. For instance, one team included cross-functional employees from our Santa Clara and Vancouver offices that focused on developing a software tool to improve donation processes for Good Karma Bikes. Although the charity is always looking for bike donations, donated bikes need to be in good condition and the charity needed a way to determine if bikes were donatable before they were dropped off at their office. The realtor.com team not only created a tool to let people upload a photo of their potential bike donation so that it could be assessed, but also implemented image recognition to automate the assessment.

What made this year’s hackathon so special was the collective impact we were able to make. I loved seeing the broad spectrum of all of the projects we accomplished. The thought of the ripple effect we made in helping charities themselves, and therefore help them better serve millions, is something I’m very proud that we did together as a company. 

When we’re able to have that level of impact, our relationships with our colleagues are that much stronger. We made new connections with each other, learned some new skills along the way, and certainly go back to our day-to-day roles with an enhanced collaborative spirit and reminder that at the end of the day, it really is all about making our communities better.


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