Explorathon with three photos and a light bulb
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How Explorathons Make Textio

One year ago, Textio created an event called Explorathon, modeled on the “hackathon” that most frequently invites software engineers and, occasionally, designers and program managers to collaborate over a set period of time on a variety of new tech-focused ideas. Textio’s Explorathon invites the entire company, including marketing, brand, and sales teams, to participate in generating and pursuing new ideas — from internal code-simplification efforts to ease pain points in our developer workflows to projects investigating different ways we can better support our customers.

I wondered, what is it about this company-wide event that draws folks back to actively contribute their skills every quarter, especially given that there is no penalty or reward for participation?

To find an answer, I sat down with five Textios to ask them about what Explorathon means to them, what they do during it, and why they participate in it.

Photo of 8 Textios collaborating during Explorathon

Having a risk-free way to explore other areas of interest is a productive way of taking a break, and increases passion for our day-to-day work.

Explorathon has turned out to be one very effective way to reset on a quarterly basis. Morgan, a software engineer, spoke directly to this when talking about why she participates: “I was coming off a big project before this Explorathon and feeling a bit worn out, and I was completely invigorated by the pitches. So the inspiration piece is a big part.”

Dawn, another software engineer who helped create the first Explorathon, spoke about what Explorathon means to her: “It means creativity, it means energy. It means — I don’t know what the word is, for that wow factor, that astonishment when you see what someone else did. The awe of that.”

Across the board, Textios are impressed by our coworkers’ wide variety of interests and skills. Being able to see this show up in four distinct ways throughout the year, outside the day-to-day ways we witness each other’s work, is incredibly energizing. These moments encourage us to embrace new challenges, and help us return to work invigorated to continue our current projects.

Three Textios working on their Explorathon project

Collaboration across disciplines means a greater sense of unity, cohesion, and purpose as a company overall.

Explorathon brings Textios together across disciplines in a way most of us don’t experience on a daily basis. Allie, who leads the Customer Success Engineering team, described her team as folks who “work across functions and build bridges with the stories they tell and the insights they gather.” She goes on to say “Explorathon is cool because it’s our day job on steroids. It turns everyone, almost, into a CSE.”

Amira, a software engineer, agrees. She talked about why she participates in Explorathon, and some relatable social themes came up: “There are so many people at the company that I don’t get to know on a personal basis. As an introvert I don’t approach people individually, but under the pretense of doing a project together it’s a really nice, not weird way to get to know folks on a deeper level as well. On the projects I’ve been on, folks have to be really vulnerable, so you get to a deep level of intimacy over the course of three days.”

Explorathon also shows how much the company cares about each individual person and the reality that many of our passions may lie outside our daily work. Max, an engineering manager, put this succinctly: “Explorathon means that Textio values the ideas of every person.” And Dawn, while describing why she can’t imagine not participating in Exploraton, said “There’s no other company that I know of with the same commitment to personal growth and the same commitment to empowering people and giving them the autonomy to work on the things that matter to them.”

This company-wide awareness of the multidimensionality of each person here goes a long way towards helping us feel like we are valued for the entirety of who we are rather than simply what we directly contribute to the financial success of the company.

Explorathon group of 5 folks brainstorming their project idea

We love people, we love to learn, and we love to be challenged!

These conversations also spoke deeply to what kind of people enjoy working at Textio.

We enjoy our day jobs primarily because of how we are able to help other people. Max described his job as one where he “helps make Textio by empowering others.” Allie characterized her team as one that “helps us understand how Textio is working for customers.”

We also love to come together to figure things out. Morgan talked about how her first Explorathon was an exercise in learning something entirely new: “I had people come up to me and they said your project sounds interesting but I have no idea how it’s going to work. And I was like, me neither!” She was able to put an idea out there and found that with the right mix of folks around her, it just worked: “That magical team alchemy was really cool. To feel like your colleagues have you — if you put out a little something, there are really great minds that can keep that going and interpret it their own way and make it stronger!”

We like to stretch outside of our typical day-to-day areas of expertise, around different folks than we usually interact with. The highly collaborative nature of Explorathon really encourages this stretching in a safe way, as Amira discussed: “I am working with people I don’t usually work with, projects I don’t usually get to work on, using my brain in a totally different way — but it’s still within the safe space of the company I know rather than going to a hackathon that’s external and having it be a competition, for example.”

Explorathon gives Textios space to just be us.

Explorathon is a place where the whole company gets to step back and explore. Frontend folks get to work with sales folks who get to work with marketing folks who get to work with language folks. It enables us to learn about the company from different angles, as well as get to know each other in different ways.

As Amira said, “It’s really cool to see people have fun at Explorathon. I think we have fun at our regular day jobs, but with this it’s more fun because we get to really dive into the quirkiness of our culture.”

Thanks to my coworkers Max, Allie, Amira, Dawn, and Morgan for talking to me about Explorathon!

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