Tales from Hack Day: Braze Senior Software Engineer Maya Hernandez on Collaboration, Personal Projects, and That App Group Search Bar
Three times a year, technologists from around Braze take two days away from their normal duties to participate in Braze hack days. These events—a long-running Braze practice that reflects how the company creates space for dreaming up and implementing new ideas—provide a chance to encourage innovative thinking, highlight pet interests, and even optimize the Braze platform in ways big and small. To recognize the work that goes into each hack day, Building Braze will be profiling participants with particularly memorable projects or experiences. This week, we’re talking to Maya Hernandez, Senior Software Engineer at Braze.
I’m Maya Hernandez and I’m a software engineer. I joined Braze back in August 2017 and I’ve been actively participating in hack days since right after I started, so I’ve taken part in a lot of them—probably more than ten over the years.
Collaborative Hack Day Projects vs. Going It Alone
When you’re figuring out your hack day project, one of the first things you need to decide is if you’re going to work on it as a group or if you’re going to do it all yourself.
For Braze hack days, there’s often a signup list where people can pitch their project ideas and try to convince other employees to join their teams, and I’ve joined projects that way before. Usually in those projects, I tend to do more of the front-end stuff. Sometimes, though, I’ve partnered with one other person and co-led a project—a really long time ago, I partnered with Annie [Lu, Software Engineer II at Braze] and we made a trivia app for people to play Braze trivia during hack day. That was an extremely collaborative project; we actually pair programmed on that one.
But my most recent hack day projects have been me alone, so it really depends on how I feel.
Hack Day: A Time to Pursue Passion Projects...Or Address Little Annoyances
My philosophy is that hack days are an opportunity to work on something you normally don’t get a chance to work on and to do it during work hours. Maybe there’s something you want to learn that isn’t a part of your day to day. Maybe you’ve got a personal passion project that you’re looking to make some progress on. Or maybe there’s something to do with the software you normally work on that you think could use a quick fix. Any of those approaches is a good use of your time and can make for a successful, rewarding hack day project.
In the beginning, I would tend to focus on my own side projects and build them out during the hack day period, but more recently I’ve started doing more with Braze-specific projects. It really just comes down to what I feel excited to work on when hack day rolls around. If I want to work on a personal project, I start by considering whether there are any technologies I want to become familiar with that might make sense to use; if it’s a Braze-specific project, I usually think about my pain points when using the dashboard and what might help address them.
Maya’s Hack Day Project: App Group Search Bar
Probably my most popular hack day project was the one I did last December. I’d been doing some work on the Braze staging environment, and because we have a lot of different app groups on staging, I kept trying to scroll to look for the specific app group I needed. And I wondered to myself, “Why don’t we just have a search bar there?”
Since hack day can be an opportunity to get things done that aren’t normally in your sprint or part of your team’s assigned work, I decided to reach out to my manager, Nick [Willett-Jeffries, Director, Engineering] and ask, “Is there a reason why this doesn’t exist?” And he told me that he didn’t think so, so I decided to build it.
And it was actually really simple. It’s just a search bar that filters through the app group—so if you know the name of the app group you want, you can quickly find it—but even though it wasn’t that challenging technically, it was really popular among the Braze Product and Engineering teams, because we all spend a lot of time on our staging environment trying to search for app groups. We ended up implementing my hack day project in the main Braze product, and once it went live I started hearing positive feedback from Customer Success Managers (CSMs) and from Braze customers who had lots of app groups and who felt like having the search bar really made their lives a lot easier.
A lot of people think that solving really complex technical problems is the most important thing you can do as an engineer—and don’t get me wrong, that’s definitely important. But sometimes you can make just as big an impact by knowing your product well enough that you can identify and implement simple improvements that just make everything work better. That’s basically what happened here. Nick told me later that even though the project wasn’t that complex technically, it was one of the highest-impact product improvements to come out of one of our hack days.
Interested in getting involved in our hack days? Braze is hiring for a variety of roles across our Engineering, Product Management, and Product Design teams. Check out our careers page to learn more about our open roles and our culture.