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Engineering
January 12, 2021

The 1st Lob Hackathon: Building Innovation One Hack at a Time

What does it mean to value innovation? Does it just mean having an innovative product and investing resources into making it even better? Having smart people onboard and always keeping an eye out for new talent? Or does it require something more?

At Lob, we think innovation isn’t just hammering away at your next product (although that’s part of it) — it also means taking some time out to give our team an opportunity to harness their own creativity, try new things, and work in new ways. That was the idea behind our 2020 Hackathon. 

While Hackathons are a tradition in the development community, we opened this project to all full-time Lobsters, giving them the opportunity to take a break from their usual routine to team up with new people and build new skills. For three days, we let our creativity run free, giving our folks the opportunity to build anything Lob-related that they could think of. Here are some of our favorite projects from the event.


Inclubot

Innovation depends on an inclusive atmosphere that respects the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the people you work with. But all too often, we exclude others in subtle (and often unintentional) ways. Particularly since the pandemic has turned Lob into an exclusively online workplace, the language we use on our Slack channel plays a major role in creating an environment that is inclusive for all.

Inclubot was prototyped to help in our mission to make Lob a more welcoming, multicultural environment by encouraging inclusive language on Slack. Working under the Inclusive Language Project of our Diversity and Inclusion Working Group (DIWG), the Inclubot team built a bot that notes non inclusive phrasings, and encourages people to use more inclusive terms. For example, if a member refers to their group as “guys,” Inclubot will message them with a list of suggested alternate phrases like “team,” “folks'' or “Lobsters” (what we call our coworkers at Lob.)

Inclubot also provides a daily display of diverse holidays and events from around the world. It can even track how inclusive the Slack channel has been, to help us improve inclusion over time!

Greeting Cards for Lobsters 

Like many workplaces, Lob has a tradition of sharing office greeting cards to celebrate special events. For birthdays and work anniversaries (or “Lobiversaries” as we call them), we pass around cards, with coworkers signing and including their own personal messages. 

When the pandemic transformed Lob into a fully remote workplace, we replaced these greetings with digital cards. But it wasn’t quite the same — there’s something special about a tangible, physical card that a digital message can’t quite match. That realization inspired one team to build the winning prototype of our October Hackathon: Greeting Cards for Lobsters. Using Lob’s API, the team built a service that will empower us to start sharing physical cards again, without breaking social distancing guidelines.

The application runs an automated daily script, checking a database for upcoming birthdays and other significant events. When an upcoming event is detected, the system emails a link out to the celebrant’s coworkers. The link takes them to a screen where they can sign their names and add personalized messages to the card. 

Once all the greetings are collected, the app sends a request to Lob, which automatically generates the card, routes it to our print partners and sends it to the recipient. Everything can be precisely timed so that the recipient receives the card on their special day — just like they would in a physical office. 

Lob Command Line Interface

Modern Graphical user interfaces are attractive, intuitive, and powerful, enabling users to quickly learn their way around new apps. But for a lot of technically-minded users, command line interfaces still have major benefits over GUIs. Developers in particular like to have everything available at the command prompt, enabling them to access the data and functions they need without having to take their hands off the keyboard and click/tap around the screen.

The Lob command line interface (CLI) isn’t the flashiest Hackathon project, but it is a wonderfully useful tool for developers building and testing apps for the API. Straightforward text commands enable users to quickly perform a range of tasks, such as:

  • Starting a session
  • Listing and sorting assets
  • Retrieving, updating and deleting resources
  • Creating postcards using HTML assets
  • Entering name, address, description and other relevant data

It’s just one more step towards a quicker, easier and more efficient development cycle for Lob and our partners.

Lob's friendly robot (Lobbot) 

Once upon a time, we had Lobbot, a Slack Bot for scheduling meet-n-greets with new coworkers, and boosting team morale through compliments and memes. Now, one of our Hackathon teams has resurrected it and made it better than ever before. 

During the October hackathon, the Lobbot team added a range of fresh functions, from the useful to the playful.To help customer support, the new, improved Lobbot can can now verify addresses on multiple tools with a simple command, saving our customer reps the time it takes to click over to the dashboard (and those extra clicks add up over time!) The new bot is also able to quickly retrieve the status of a ticket from JIRA, so our programmers don’t need to click around to find out if a particular module is completed.

Another handy feature the team added is the ability to verify pager duty for the engineering team. To ensure the uptime and performance our customers expect, we keep a roster of on call team members for mission critical roles. The new feature makes it easier for workers to keep track of the schedule, and helps ensure we’ll be ready for any unexpected event the universe decides to throw our way.

But no matter how useful, no bot is complete without a bit of flavor — so the Lobbot team took a trip to Flavortown. Using the open source robot sidekick, Hubot, they created a script that watches for that special phrase Guy Fieri fanatics know and love. Whenever someone types “Lobbot Flavortown'' or “take me to Flavortown,” the bot shares a quote from the celebrity restaurateur and food presenter.

Keeping Innovation Alive

Our first Lob Hackathon was a huge success. Our team built new friendships and collaborations, and prototyped more imaginative tools than we could cover here. And while not all of these prototypes will find their way into production, the innovative discussions and projects started in October will have a lasting impact on the Lobsters who participated, and the company as a whole.


If you want to do innovative work in a diverse and inclusive environment, Lob might be the perfect fit for you. Come join us in making great things.

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