Illustration by Olenka Malarecka

Inside DBX

Dropbox Hack Week 2020: doing good from the cloud


Published on September 08, 2020

This summer, Dropbox hosted its first ever virtual Hack Week. The theme was ‘Working from the Cloud’ and it challenged employees and interns to find solutions to the new challenges we’re facing while working remotely. Like previous Dropbox Hack Weeks, this was also a time that encouraged Dropbox employees to look beyond the company's products and to the community around us.

Skills-based volunteering is vital to the Dropbox Foundation’s approach to supporting nonprofit organizations working to promote and protect human rights. With a global pandemic, many nonprofits have been facing new challenges so Hack Week this year was the perfect opportunity for Dropbox employees and interns to help. There were more than ten social impact projects across our seven Foundation and community partners. They ranged from helping develop a new onboarding experience for Larkin Street Youth Services and redesigning Allies Against Slavery’s website to creating a fundraising strategy for GOAL and much more. The diversity of teams and offices that came together was instrumental in solving these problems. 

Onboarding from the cloud 

New hire orientation is critical to all organizations. It provides an overview of the company’s values, resources, and services. Larkin Street needed help onboarding new staff and showcasing their values virtually during COVID-19. Rachel Bycer, onboarding lead at Dropbox, created a thorough plan to transform Larkin Street’s 3-day in-person onboarding into an online experience for new staff. This Hack Week project included fun ways to integrate new team members into Larkin Street with ice breakers, client appreciation discussions, and a feedback survey to better understand areas for improvement in future virtual onboarding sessions. 

"Unlike traditional volunteering, this experience was more high touch,” says Rachel Bycer, new hire orientation lead at Dropbox. “I blocked off my calendar for an entire week to dedicate to this project, to make sure we came up with a final result that was worthwhile and professional. I viewed the Larkin Street team as my partners and colleagues. We were on many Zoom meetings planning, doing demos, and finally revealing the program. It was exciting to use my skills to enhance Larkin Street’s onboarding program and make it interactive and engaging, and to help out a worthwhile community partner." 

Redesigning from the cloud 

Allies Against Slavery helps partners identify victims of human trafficking to prevent their exploitation. In January 2019, Allies launched Lighthouse, a software application that enables social workers, nurses, case managers, therapists, probation officers, and other professionals to identify victims of sex trafficking. For Hack Week this year, Allies was looking for a way to update their website to show the product’s evolution over the years. Dropbox engineers updated their product landing page and also upgraded their website security, designed a new navigation bar, and added a new notices page.

“With refreshed content, a streamlined format, and enhanced navigation, we're seeing increased traffic to the site as we scale Lighthouse across Texas,” says Becky Austen, Lighthouse Director. “This is helping more professionals identify victims of human trafficking and get them the care and resources they need to heal and thrive.”

Larkin Street Youth Services also asked Dropbox to provide feedback on their website and give recommendations on visual design, architecture, and layout. Dropbox employees across several departments including marketing, engineering, design, and customer experience did a deep dive and offered recommendations on branding, layout, content, and SEO optimization. 

Strategy from the cloud

GOAL, based in Dublin, delivers a wide range of humanitarian and development programs, with a focus on systems, partnerships, and building resilience for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. Design research intern, Ryan Foulke, helped them create a campaign to inspire potential corporate donors during the holiday season. 

“Ryan was enthusiastic and gave so fully and fruitfully during Hack Week,” says Sarah O’Suilleabhain, corporate fundraising manager at GOAL. “I look forward to incorporating his creative ideas into my holiday plans.”

Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) needed help improving their website SEO and Google ad words strategy. Aglaia Ralli, on the Dropbox marketing team, gave an overview of digital strategies and completed the first phase of a search engine marketing strategy. This project fueled a longer-term partnership, with Ralli committing to being a partner throughout 2020 to help HRLC optimize all their digital channels.

“Hack Week was a fantastic experience for us,” says Rachel Richmond, development manager at HRLC.“ We needed help developing a strategy to help boost our impact using search engine marketing, so we were thrilled to work with Aglaia, who specializes in this area. Aglaia developed recommendations for a keyword strategy to bring more people to our website and take important actions like getting involved in our campaigns or making a donation. This is really valuable work and we are very excited to put the recommendations from the project into practice.”

Enlightened working from the cloud 

Physicians for Human Rights, a global organization with five offices across both North America and Africa, needed support to create a plan on how to return to the offices post COVID-19. Chau Vu and Easlynn Lee from the Dropbox legal team created a plan with a phased approach that took into account employee sentiment, company culture, public health guidelines, building and office design constraints, and security. 

Shelter Tech, a San Francisco-based nonprofit working to solve the biggest technology challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness, presented a unique opportunity for real time volunteering during Hack Week. Spearheaded by Stephen Soward, Dropbox employees from across the company helped maintain the data accuracy of the SF Service Guide, ShelterTech’s directory of resources for people experiencing homelessness. The Service Guide is critical to ensuring that people experiencing homelessness have the resources they need to get access to the shelter, medical services, food, and hygiene they need.

"I was drawn to working with ShelterTech during Hack Week because of the similarities between their mission and the Dropbox mission,” says Stephen Soward, product insights program manager at Dropbox. “Many San Franciscans are unable 'to work from the cloud’ as they face very real challenges in their daily lives. These challenges have only gotten more difficult with COVID-19. I'm very grateful to Dropbox for giving us this opportunity to participate during Hack Week.”

Another one of our community partners, Black Girls CODE, also participated in Hack Week this year. The nonprofit is dedicated to helping young women of color learn how to code so they can become technological innovators in the future. Black Girls CODE needed help creating coding activities for a workshop this summer and a team of Dropbox engineers helped develop a lesson plan using PyGame (set of Python modules designed for writing video games), and assisted with transitioning their in-person coding camp into a fun, virtual experience. 

Continuing to do good from the cloud

The last few months have shown the importance for all of us to help each other in times of need. And despite so many aspects of our lives becoming virtual, Hack Week proved that we could still be active participants in change for social good. We’re proud to partner with so many organizations that are doing good around the world and we are committed to continue supporting their efforts.