Tales From Hack Day: How Braze Senior Software Engineer John Parsons Helped Build the Torchie Thanksbot During His First Hack Day
Three times a year, employees from around Braze take two days away from their normal duties to participate in 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 John Parsons, Senior Software Engineer.
A Hack Day Newcomer
My first Hack Day at Braze was held only two months into my tenure. I always enjoyed doing hackathons in college, and I figured that plugging into the process and collaborating with some of my new colleagues was a good idea.
What I love about these events is the chance to do something cross-functional alongside people with whom I wouldn’t typically create software.
The Thankfulness Challenge
Braze has a great process set up for Hack Day collaborations. Brainstorming takes place over several weeks, and people across the company use that time to announce and promote their projects to potential collaborators. You can also take advantage of an internal pitch day to showcase your project or consider whether you want to join one being proposed by someone else.
I reviewed a bunch of projects and found one from Bryan Collick, Senior Manager, Business Operations for Engineering, and Tifany Paisley, Senior Escalation Manager, for transmitting and sharing praise and recommendations. It echoed a problem I’d also recognized as an engineer: It’s hard to manage and compile the feedback you get over time. There was a solution in place at Braze that theoretically made it possible to share feedback with others, but because it required employees to log into yet another system to submit praise, using it often felt cumbersome and slow. Plus, the process of giving feedback can feel kind of boilerplate sometimes—we wanted to do something a little different, and make it more fun and engaging.
At prior jobs, Bryan and Tifany had access to a bot that made it easy to share praise and appreciation to a coworker as well as to their manager, so we used that as a starting point. Bryan was approaching the issue from a manager’s point of view, and Tifany’s role at Braze is focused on solving client problems; Tifany especially wanted to shake up the whole area of recommendations and thanks here at Braze. Between the three of us, we had a pretty diverse mix of perspectives. I knew we were onto something when Tifany’s husband overheard our planning session and started contributing system design ideas, inspired by a similar bot he’d seen at a previous job.
Building a Bot for Thank-Yous
We ended up creating what we called the Torchie Thanksbot; it was named after “Torchie,” the Braze company mascot. The Thanksbot was built in Slack, which we use to communicate between individuals and teams at Braze—and which, as it happens, has a really good developer API. We set up some Slack commands to trigger the bot and created a leaderboard to play up the competitive-but-for-fun possibilities, so people could see who could hand out the most praise and how creative they could get in the process.
A big part of Hack Day is the presentations about the projects. We saw an opportunity to deliver a funny, kind of zany presentation. This was mostly Tifany’s area of focus: It echoed the ethos of trying to make the “thankfulness” process a little bit happier. And while the project was really just a proof of concept, we did keep Torchie Thanksbot up long enough to win it a few fans.
How Hack Day Reveals the Culture Here at Braze
I had a lot of fun working with Bryan and Tifany, and I’m proud of the work we did and the response we got. But the best part for me was finding out just how collaborative and supportive everyone at Braze could be.
I needed help getting the Thanksbot into our Slack instance, so I put out a request in the engineering Slack channel. Not only did I get a bunch of responses, but people also wanted to contribute ideas. It didn’t matter that I was new. Even though they had their own Hack Day projects, they went out of their way to make mine better—and that means a lot.
In my experience, engineers at Braze love building cool things—and we like it even better when we're able to build them together. That focus shines through on Hack Day, but it extends beyond that specific aspect of the culture. People here bring that collaborative, problem-solving spirit to everything they do, and that's part of what makes working here so special.
Interested in getting involved in our hack days? Braze is hiring for a variety of roles across our Engineering, Product Management, and User Experience teams. Check out our careers page to learn more about our open roles. For more about our culture and how employees use technology to reinforce it, see our infographic about Braze LifeBot 2.0.
John Parsons is a Senior Software Engineer at Braze.