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Behind The Scenes: Hackathon Planning

Each year, Foundation Medicine hosts a Hackathon, bringing together employees from different departments and geographic locations to create, innovate, and propose actionable solutions to evolve our business and improve how we work together to better serve our patients and partners. Hear from AriLee, Project Manager, Information Technology, and Erica, Senior Manager, Experience Design, about what it takes to put on this event each year and their takeaways from our 2022 Hackathon. 




AriLee, Project Manager, Information Technology

Hello! My name is AriLee and I have been at Foundation Medicine for over two years on the Technology Team, and have had the pleasure of planning our most recent two Hackathons. When I first joined Foundation Medicine in 2020, I was excited to hear that one of my tasks would be planning a completely virtual company-wide event that encourages people to collaborate and work cross functionally. Each year, the Hackathon is an event that inspires employees to think outside of the box, empowers innovation, and allows team members to meet new colleagues by joining forces with shared ideas. After quite some time of being completely remote, the 2022 Hackathon really brought people together and boosted morale.

Hackathon planning begins approximately six to eight months before the event. Our Core Planning Committee brainstorms themes to hack, who needs to be involved, including judges, planning members, mentors, and patient advocates, entertainment, swag, and much more. Once the core team figures out the key pieces, we begin to grow our planning team and pick dates. This year, we decided to ask different team members throughout the business to help us plan, which ultimately increased cross-functional collaboration. Choosing a good date that allows employees throughout the business to step away from their everyday tasks to participate in this annual event can be a challenge. We need to be cognizant of all activities taking place throughout the business and find a date when we believe will allow for maximum participation. In order to choose a date, I work with our wonderful Executive Assistant Team to figure out when most Executive Team members and their teams are available. Usually, we need to explore at least three different dates before announcing it to the company.

Planning a completely remote event for hundreds of people located across the globe is no easy task, but luckily, we had a great planning committee two years in a row to help figure out the logistics. The biggest challenge of planning the first virtual hackathon was figuring out how team formation was going to work and how mentors (50+ people!) would be available to the teams. When we are in person, everyone is physically in the same room and can talk to each other to figure out who wants to work on what project, and mentors are available at the ready! We had to innovate in order to recreate this experience in a virtual environment. By our second completely virtual event, we had solved this hiccup completely by bringing on our Experience Design Team during the planning process. Michael, Manager, Experience Design, used Foundation Medicine’s virtual collaborating tool, LucidSpark, to create virtual rooms as a one stop shop for the event agenda, team formation, problem pitching, mentor specialities and availability, and ideas being hacked on.

Once all of the logistical details are set, the most fun part of planning comes—prizes, swag, and entertainment! We work with our partners to identify fun items we can send pre-Hackathon, and awards for our winners. Once we have swag identified, the planning team starts to think of entertainment for the event. We include brain break exercises such as yoga, meditation, or another activity that gives the participants a quick break when they might be stuck in a rut during their hacking, as well as entertainment for the participants and viewers to engage with while the judges deliberate (I love this part!) While remote, we had a magician via Zoom the first year and an origami making experience the second year. My origami is still stuck to my at-home monitor, and I smile every time I look at it, reminded of the Hackathon.  




We have seen increased participation over the past two years that I have been part of the planning committee and I hope to see even more participation across the company in 2023. We will begin planning the 2023 Hackathon this fall, with a date to be set for Spring of 2023. I have not yet planned an in person or hybrid Hackathon at Foundation Medicine, but I am excited to see which route the planning team decides to take next!

Erica, Senior Manager, Experience Design

I joined Foundation Medicine as a Senior Manager of Experience Design in December 2021. I was excited to join the Hackathon planning team shortly after my arrival. After months of planning and coordinating the event with the committee, I was delighted to see how incredibly well this year’s Hackathon went. The level of effort and participation was inspiring and seeing all of the teams’ hard work come together was truly amazing. 
When the first Hackathon day arrived, I was nervous anticipating the hiccups that might occur with such a big online event. But I think I speak for everyone at Foundation Medicine when I say that the 2022 Hackathon was a great success.

As an experience designer, I was particularly excited by the problem pitching portion of the event. I enjoyed watching the teams come together around common ideas. It was so motivating to see many people across different roles and backgrounds collaborate on solving difficult problems. The sense of unity and collaboration across the Hackathon teams was remarkable.

As AriLee mentioned, there are various themes for our Hackathon events. During the 2022 Hackathon, I supported teams in the patient track to help coordinate their practice pitches and facilitated their discussions with our incredible patient mentors. Watching the teams refine their ideas based on the mentors’ feedback was gratifying, and ended up in high quality, patient-centric final pitches.

The 2022 Hackathon was a great experience for me, and I look forward to participating again in the future. 

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