Many tech companies find ways to set time aside for exploration and experimentation, from Google to Facebook to Netflix, resulting in many different approaches. At Enova we developed our own: the “Fellowship.”
At Enova, we want to encourage innovation and experimentation, explore new and interesting technology, and provide unique opportunities to partner with different people. However we are not yet as big as Google. We have core products that need a lot of work to stay competitive and serve our amazing customers.
In addition to innovation, collaboration is really important here at Enova. It’s the final decider in our interview process and one of the reasons we do not have remote working. So we wanted to bring together innovation and collaboration to offer an “official” program that would give our people the opportunity to explore new, impactful ideas together.
Creating the Fellowship
We asked all of our software engineering department if they wanted to explore new technologies. The answer: “Of course!”About one third said they did, and most already had some idea of what to explore. We called it initially the ‘Secret Frodo Project’, which then evolved into the Fellowship.
So what is the Fellowship?
Experiments, lots and lots of experiments. Like all experiments, we know that some will produce something useful, while others will elicit a, “Let’s never touch that again.” (Well, until the next major version…). Another name for this could be a code sabbatical: you are off your main team exploring something new, and returning when your exploration is done.
Every quarter a pitching process occurs. The end result is that two to four people from Software Engineering (SE) work on a software project for one to four weeks, in a team or solo. The project will explore new technology or new methodology. Bonus points are awarded if it has a foreseeable use for Enova’s business or FinTech.
But first there is a qualifying step, whereby a group of managers receives all the pitches (both in writing form and face to face presentation) and then chooses the best five. During this process, any engineer submitting a pitch can lean on a “Pitching Mentor” who can help them improve their pitch. Then the qualifying five present to the entire SE team, which then chooses the winning project via an online vote.
Weeks later, once the experiment is completed, the Fellowship team(s) presents to the entire SE team an Enova Talk containing their findings (for instance, it could be a hypothesis with results rather than a timeline or project summary) and writes a blog post covering what they learned and any feedback about the process.
How is it working out?
So far we have completed one Fellowship cycle.
We had 19 ideas put forward, and five survived the qualifying round. (We actually found that a few ideas were so pertinent that we should just go ahead and implement them outside of the Fellowship process.) The five projects were presented to the whole SE team (about 110 people). SE voted and two projects were chosen. We’ll explain what the projects were and how they went in separate posts to come.
The next Fellowship is planned to start in January 2017.
- Helping stakeholders move from a place of focusing just on their product to considering the big picture (i.e., giving up engineers from their product for a month)
- The logistics of organizing so many qualifying interviews
- Supporting those who did not get their project chosen
- Organizing the time when the engineers would work on their Fellowship project
One Big Experiment
We will see how the program goes over the next year. For us success would look like this: people stay curious, we understand new technologies better, engagement and retention are positively impacted, and maybe, just maybe, we will build something out from one of these experiments.
We want and need our engineers to stay curious, engaged, and to try out new things, and the Fellowship program is just one way to encourage that.
Stay curious, friends.