Coda's ritual of innovation: How we created (almost) 100 Packs in one day

The story behind our Coda Packathon.
We recently created (almost) 100 Packs in one day and had a lot of fun doing so.

Here at Coda, we celebrate maker culture — we believe that, with the right tools, everyone can be a maker. Quarterly Hackathons are a central part of that culture for us. And 75% of our best ideas come from Hackathons, including Packs, charts, reactions, and dark mode. (If you want to learn more about this important innovation ritual or want help running your own Hackathon, check out my .)

Usually, our Hackathons are very open to all ideas (the crazier, the better) and take a longer-term view. However, for a recent Hackathon, we decided to try something different and use the Hackathon to test a thesis.

Testing a thesis: Anyone can build a Pack—quickly.
, we recently added Packs — an extension that lets you customize how your doc looks, works, and integrates — to our Gallery and are giving makers the opportunity to publish their own Packs.

We wanted to test the thesis that anyone (especially anyone who is not an engineer) can build a Pack quickly. For our experiment, we changed three aspects of our Hackathon:

The scope. We focused everyone on building a Pack rather than exploring futuristic ideas. With that, the name of the event was clear: The Coda Packathon.
The timeframe. We shortened the time for hacking from two days to only one day. We wanted to push the limit and see how much Coda could be extended with a single day of time investment. Because the Packs engineering team was still very busy fixing bugs, we also didn’t want to take up too much of their time.
The deliverables. We encouraged everyone — not just engineers — to participate. To help with that, we trained everyone before the event with a 90-minute session. We also had support from engineers to help everyone navigate JavaScript or other obstacle.

Analyzing the results: Almost 100 Packs in a day.
And the results were spectacular. The participants rated the event with 4.5 stars (on a scale of 1 to 5). We ended up with:

The majority of Packs were not built by engineers, as you can see in the participation breakdown below:

Screenshot 2022-03-06 at 16.43.17.png

I was very impressed by the diversity of Packs the team built.
, a Coda product specialist, built a Square Pack to help manage customer and employee data with Coda in Square for her family’s pub.
, one of our designers, built a public transit Pack that helps him navigate San Francisco and to predict the arrival time of city buses.
, one of our engineering managers, built a Pack that imports YouTube playlists into Coda, which allows him to manage educational videos and his notes.
, one of our designers, built a Horoscope Pack to entertain his friends and family.
, a solutions architect, built an exchange rate converter Pack.
Jamie Fall, a customer success manager at the time, and , sourcing and recruiting specialist, built a Calendly Pack to help scheduling calls.
and Jessica Park, two of our designers, built a Pack to enrich a Coda document with an xkcd comic.

We also saw Packs for stock planning, Bible quotes, personal finance tracking with Plaid, Dungeon & Dragons game helpers, recipe finders and planners, jokes, statistics, meme generators, flight status, HTML email generator, a Pack that adds a Coda column format for phone numbers, and much more.

Here are a few examples of Packs made in the Packathon and during the Pack Studio beta:

Iterating on innovation: The future of Packs.
Our Packathon demonstrated how powerful our Packs feature is. And that now that we have the first set of makers publishing their own Packs, the Coda’s possibilities for features and functionality seem limitless — something I’m super excited about.

I also learned how useful it was to innovate within the format of our Hackathons and steer it towards a much more narrow topic, like Packs. Generating over 200 insanely diverse Pack ideas in a short time, and implementing nearly half of them in a day, is impressive. And last but not least, it reminded me of how awesome it is to work in a company that is full of makers — where every person, whether they are a customer champion, designer, engineer, marketer, or salesperson, is interested and capable of building powerful (and innovative and fun) projects in Coda.

Keep building stuff.

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