Five Reasons Why Redfin Loves Hackathons

Redfin HackathonAs a technology-powered real estate brokerage, we love building online tools that put information at the fingertips of our customers and real estate agents. Day-in and day-out, building innovative services like our Home Value Tool, mobile apps and Collections is what our engineering team does.

Not all of these features are brainstormed in a conference room or at company off-sites. Sometimes these real estate tools are dreamed up and built at a Redfin Hackathon. What’s a Redfin Hackathon? It is a mix of an intense multi-day brainstorm session, collaborative group project and party. Our Summer Hackathon is taking place today and tomorrow at our Seattle headquarters, and has been hosted twice a year since 2009.

At each Hackathon we bring our entire engineering team from our San Francisco and Seattle offices into one location. During the two-day event, staff put aside their normal work, divide into teams, and brainstorm and build new features and tools. Teams are specially assembled to include staff members who normally would not work together. This not only builds new relationships, but also fosters new, wild ideas. Between building new, exploratory features, teams have time for a group outing (last year the team tried our hand at Smash Putt), play games and of course enjoy plenty of food and drinks. So, why exactly does Redfin host these crazy events? Here are a few reasons why we love hackathons.

  1. Hackathons encourage experimentation and innovation. As a company that is dedicated to reinventing real estate, ideas don’t just come out of nowhere. Innovative thinking has to be encouraged. Hosting a hackathon twice a year for our staff encourages precisely the type of thinking that helps us build better technologies for our customers.
  2. Hackathons encourage collaboration across our staff. With our engineering teams in San Francisco and Seattle separated by almost a thousand miles, collaboration is always emphasized. Hosting these Hackathons is just another way we break down this geographic barrier and mix team members with people they might normally not work with.
  3. Hackathons show us the bigger picture. Sometimes when you work all day coding a single website feature, you forget to step back to see the bigger picture. Hackathons give us the opportunity to see the proverbial tree in the forest, or a new path through the forest.
  4. Hackathons let us play with big data. As a real estate brokerage with direct access to MLS-data, and a website that receives millions of visitors each month, we have access to mountains of data (wait, does that make our engineers Sherpas?). Hackathons offer us an opportunity to dig into this information as we build cool new features.
  5. Hackathons are FUN. After two days of feverous work and play, all attendees vote on their favorite new app or idea and the winning team is crowned. While each team of engineers compete for the title of Redfin Hackathon winner, really the point of the whole event is to have fun and to let all of the great ideas bubble up to the top. This, more than probably anything else, is why we love Hackathons.

Throughout today and tomorrow we will be tweeting out updates from our Hackathon. Follow @Redfin on Twitter to stay up on the action. To learn more about Redfin company culture or job openings on our engineering team, visit our careers page and give our developer blog a read.


  • balor123

    Sounds neat. I don’t suppose outsiders are allowed to join? :P

    • Joel Ballezza, Redfin

      @disqus_EUXoTRX2MB:disqus No, unfortunately this is an employee-only event. However, we ARE hiring! Good luck!

      • balor123

        Yeah I figured. I’m pretty certain of the answer but I’ll ask anyway – are there any plans for a Redfin API? I’d love to get my hands on some of that data or build a Redfin-based mashup. I couldn’t help but notice what’s prominently displayed under the laptop in the picture there :) Was that intentional?

        • Kevin Jonson

          That’s great that you noticed the Dominion boxes, they were my temporary desk for the Hackathon, and a pretty good one at that. I’m one of the many Seattle devs that took our computers down to participate at the event in the bay area and had to cobble together a workspace space with our team. I generally like my monitor on eye level so I grabbed the closest thing at hand. That being said, it seems as though there are always Dominion boxes at hand around our offices. Here in Seattle we have a board game night almost weekly. Other favorites have been Catan and more recently Small World. Although the Hackathons are employee only, we’re rolling the idea around of extending and invite to some of our board game nights to the local developer community!