Investing in Company Culture Keeps Textio on Cutting Edge

Textio is known as one of Washington’s best places to work, with an innovative augmented writing product and a widely admired culture. This culture has been built in part through activities like Explorathons the company holds quarterly, during which employees form teams to innovate on short-term projects. Tev’n Powers, Margie Henry and Lynn Cyrin got together and decided to focus the Q3 Explorathon on what the company could do to have an impact in the local tech-for-good community.

Tev’n found Open Seattle, the Puget Sound’s Code for America Brigade, and through it discovered DemocracyLab’s open source platform connecting skilled volunteers to tech-for-good projects. The Textio team sourced projects for the Explorathon through DemocracyLab, selecting the Council Data Project, the Town Hall Project, and DemocracyLab itself. They also scoped a project for Ada Developers Academy, from which seven Textios graduated.

Extraordinary results from Explorathon

Textio employees spent three days contributing their time and talent to worthwhile causes:

Council Data Project: Like over 2,400 other US cities, Seattle uses Legistar to publish the results of City Council meetings. This system lists video recordings and meeting minutes (when available) but provides no easy way for citizens to understand the content of discussions. Council Data Project fixes this problem by transcribing the videos and making them searchable. Before Textio’s Explorathon, Council Data Project had a user interface only a back-end developer could love. Now its new skin is Google-simple and its back-end is NLP-ready. Search for a popular recent topic like “Green New Deal” to see how it works.

Town Hall Project: Members of Congress are generally expected to hold town halls from time to time, but some are much better at this than others. Town Hall Project lists all upcoming town halls in the nation, and shows which Members of Congress have not held any town hall events over various periods of time. Textio’s team worked to overhaul the platform’s event search experience, massively deduped archival records and created a new Cloud Firestore database for the future. All of this will make it easier for citizens to find and advocate for town halls near them.

Ada Developers Academy: Ada educates women and gender diverse people to code. The Textio team built an improved code review experience for the many volunteers who offer feedback to Ada students.

DemocracyLab: Our platform connecting skilled volunteers to tech-for-good projects has made great strides since its launch a year ago, but we’ve maintained a tight focus on the Puget Sound region while learning from users and iterating on our platform. We’re now ready to take the training wheels off and got help from Textio implementing new Groups and Events features that will make it easier for us to expand geographically.

Nontechnical Activities: Many Textios spent time with members of Black Girls Code, who spent a full day in design thinking workshops and career exploration. Other Textios ventured out to do battle with blackberries at the Lake Wilderness Arboretum, sorted 13,000 lbs. of food at Food Lifeline and delivered food to needy residents near the Pike Market Food Bank.

Doing well by doing good

Textio’s experiment with an internal tech-for-good Explorathon is paying off for the projects they selected and in employee enthusiasm. The strength of Textio’s culture is a strategic priority for company leadership and helps attract and retain the top-tier talent Textio needs to thrive. Textio’s co-founder and CEO, Kieran Snyder said, “The best ideas come from when we free people up to be curious and explore.” That’s why one of the benefits she is most excited that Textio offers is a volunteer benefit — employees who spend three full work days volunteering have $500 donated to that charity at the end of the year.