Last year, one of our valued engineers came to the management team with the question of how we could increase time for pursuit of personal interest topics, relevant to the work being done at Endless but falling outside the day-to-day tasks assigned to our engineers. For example, how could our product engineers find some time to field test Endless Key within their local community?
We discussed this within our management and leadership teams and came up with the Endless Orange Week concept, a week-long period dedicated to learning, experimentation and growth, where each participant puts their ordinary responsibilities aside and instead work on a project according to their personal interests and motivations.
We communicated the plan to the organisation a couple of months before the scheduled Endless Orange Week dates, requesting everyone’s participation. We then asked everyone to brainstorm project ideas within the following categories:
- Public contributions to community initiatives that relate to your domain of work
- Teaching initiatives where you share your professional skills and knowledge around a particular topic to a group of participants
- Directed study towards skills that are at least tangentially related to the professional skills you employ at Endless.
- Advocacy initiatives related to Endless’s work or the technologies used at Endless
- Taking Endless’s work out further into the world
- Advancing one of your team’s interesting, long-neglected projects or ideas
We encouraged the sharing of a broad selection of project ideas – in addition to sharing personal projects selected by each participant, we requested further ideas to be shared that could act as a source of inspiration for their peers. We encouraged projects to be worked on in teams, as well claimed by individuals. We encouraged projects to be experimental, seeking personal learning & development over successful execution & results.
As the week arrived, we communicated the final plan, and asked everyone to begin their week-long project focus, additionally requesting the following communications & deliverables:
- “A-ha!” moments & milestones reached shared on Slack, in addition to a progress summary at the end of each day
- Creative assets (code, graphics, etc) produced as part of the initiative shared openly online
- At least one blog post explaining the project and the outcomes, to maximize the community learning aspect.
- A 5 minute presentation or demo, to share the project & results with the whole team.
Projects & results
Selected projects included directed study towards professional qualifications, public writing about Endless-adjacent topics, accompanied by a host of software engineering efforts. Here are a selection of articles explaining our results:
- Jerry Buckley: Open-Source Apps for Creators: Posers or the Real Deal?
- Ivanna Cole: AICPA Not-For-Profit II certification
- Daniel Drake: Kolibri learning platform in the web browser
- Bunmi Esho: Being inclusive with content
- Joana Filizola: Modular character creator
- Dylan McCall: SOMAS programmable cards
- Daniel Garcia Moreno: Hack Quest editor
- Dan Nicholson: OpenQA cloud deployment
- Jian-Hong Pan: Enabling graphics acceleration on Raspberry Pi 4B
- Manuel Quiñones: RedVuelta mesh network for education
- João Paulo Rechi Vita: Endless OS graphical boot animation refresh
- Simon Schampijer: Hack content creators platform
- Georges Basile Stavracas Neto: Adventures with Flatpak portals
- Will Thompson: GNOME desktop environment on Windows
- Philip Withnall: GLib runtime control of debug output and state persistence for apps and sessions
Feedback & reflections
“This was great fun and it seemed great for team morale! I hope we can have a repeat or another similar activity in the not-too-distant future.”
“Thanks for the really fun experiment. I hope we’ll get to do this again! I already have a bunch of project ideas in anticipation.”
The initiative was a clear success! We surveyed the participants at the end of the week, and recorded 100% agreement that participation was beneficial for their professional development and/or advancing Endless’s mission. The following week, the project presentations were strung together in two organisation-wide gatherings, which made for an exciting and engaging finale.
“I especially enjoyed seeing the work everyone was doing and having everyone working in the same space on Slack. I think several projects were a good opportunity for people to interact with other organisations doing cool things, as well, which felt useful and rewarding.”
“I was able to complete a significant portion of the classes during Orange Week. I absolutely feel there were positive and successful aspects of this initiative as it allowed me to get that much closer to obtaining my Not-for-Profit II certificate.”
“My impression is that the majority of the team engaged wholeheartedly with the initiative, and it was generally well-received, not only by engineers but by the broader organisation. It was refreshing for me personally to have an opportunity to focus almost exclusively on one thing for a week, in contrast to my regular work in past years.”
We enjoyed wholehearted cooperation with our suggestion to issue quick and vibrant updates about progress during the week, and that created an air of excitement amongst the group. And we had a real sense of cross-organisation “togetherness” through having the entire staff participate at the same time.
“One very positive aspect I found was reading the updates on the foundation channel. Sometimes updates can be very hard to follow, when they are very technical, and it’s hard to connect when you are not involved on the project, but during the week I think many of us tried to give updates to a wider audience which was great.”
Being the first Endless Orange Week, we also came away with some valuable observations and areas for improvement:
- Many participants felt that the week flew past surprisingly quickly. Many projects had been planned with optimism, but when we got down to the details, things went slower than planned.
- Even though everyone felt like they advanced their knowledge, several participants reported feelings of demotivation during the event. This happened when the project was found to be more complex than anticipated, or even infeasible.
- There were one or two impromptu drop-in “coffee chats” where participants discussed their progress and challenges; these were remarkably successful in reinvigorating any lost optimism.
“I sure did learn a lot about what I needed to do to make this project happen, but I believe I just set the bar too high in regards of what was the expected outcome of the project.”
With the fantastic engagement and results from this 2021 initiative, we are now exploring the possibility of repeating the event, incorporating some changes based on what we learned. We are also considering some different parameters, like further encouragement of team projects, and further pushing for projects to take steps away from our usual day-to-day work.