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Hacking Schoolhouse—aka Building Cool Things

By Drew B on October 19, 2021

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Last month, the product team at ran a two-day hackathon. It was the first one. Lots of fun. But also surprisingly productive.

The rules were simple:

There was nothing else to it.

Perhaps unique to was that we hosted the hackathon on our platform, just as a tutor would with any other tutoring series. Only here, instead of meeting over Zoom to discuss polynomials, we were meeting to discuss improvements to the platform.

The product team was the one hosting the hackathon, but the entire community was invited.

During the opening ceremony, community members provided invaluable input on the hackathon projects that team members were going to be building. During the closing ceremony, the community were the ones to vote on which projects to publish to the platform.

The results were, if not unanimous, overwhelming. The community voted to publish each feature (see the blue in each pie chart). And now, if you go to, you will see these projects live and scattered throughout the website.

Majority blue means the community voted to publish the feature!

So what were these that platform improvements that the community loved?

Without further ado, here are some of the most significant ones.

SMS Notifications

Built by Akshay R and Jackie L

This project from Akshay and Jackie clinched first place at the hackathon. Over 20% of the attendees chose it as their favorite project.

The idea was simple: sends lots of email (e.g. reminding you of an upcoming session in an hour), but many of our users—high schoolers in particular—don’t really use email. They want notifications on their phones.

The execution was stellar. Simply go edit your profile and enter in your number. Then start receiving SMS notifications.

Perhaps the simplicity of it is what made it so popular, and rightfully so.

Tutor Network Graph

Built by Christy H and Justin W

Not all projects need to serve an immediate need. This one didn’t, but it wasn’t any less cool.

Justin and Christy started by asking how they might represent the community in a graph or network form. They landed with the Tutor Network Graph — a visualization of each tutor’s connection to other tutors, based on how many mutual learners they both tutored.

Think LinkedIn 1st/2nd/3rd degree connections, but applied to tutoring.

Tutors closer to Sal share more mutual learners with Sal than those further away. See is network here.


Built by Anees I and Jackie L

Months ago, we added direct messaging to the platform between learners and tutors. But what if there was a way to liven up the messages?

The answer: emojis. Lots of them.

Featuring Feedback on Tutor Profiles

Built by Elysa K

Among tutors, one of the most popular feature requests has been ways to highlight feedback from learners and fellow tutors on their tutor profiles.

Well, I should say more feedback. For the past several months, they had been able to feature up to 3 pieces of feedback and only from learners.

However, during the hackathon, Elysa expanded upon this and came up with a clever design using carousels for highlighting many more pieces of feedback— both from learners and fellow tutors. Check out Ayushman’s profile as an example!

Ayushman’s featured feedback on his profile

Maintaining Safety on Schoolhouse

Built by Mariah O

Around the time of the hackathon, there was a safety incident with internet trolls trying to join the platform. As Mariah leads trust & safety, she decided to dedicate her hackathon to it.

With her leadership, and with the support of many volunteers, the trust & safety team revised the onboarding flow for new users to keep out bad actors while letting everyone else in. This involved a lightweight review process for new users wanting to join. It’s been working quite well so far!

Schoolhouse Stories

Built by Jackie L, Akshay R, and Drew B

The idea behind Schoolhouse Stories was to spread the love and highlight some of the incredible stories of how has impact lives.

Read through the stories or even submit your own on the Stories page!

Saving Series Progress as a Tutor

Built by Anees I

Some of the most impactful projects are often the ones least visible.

Until recently, if a tutor was creating a new series—particularly, if they were in the process of planning out months of sessions on the website’s “Create a Series” builder—a simple close of their browser tab would mean they would lose all their progress. It was devastating.

Unless you had personally experienced this frustration yourself, you wouldn’t have known. But if you did experience it, wow—was it bad.

Now, thanks to Anees, when you return to the website, your experience is a lot better. We save your in-progress series!

Other Projects

In addition to these larger projects, there were an assortment of smaller improvements made to the website:

  • Our toasts/notifications underwent a nice redesign.
  • Look at a calendar view of upcoming sessions on this calendar page.
  • Links are now clickable throughout the website in comments and messages.
  • Mascot Contest!
  • Improved design for applying for honorary certifications as a tutor
  • Improved the UX for users who are pending approval
  • Made our session reminder emails 1 hour instead of 2 hours before a session

Next Hackathon?

This was our first hackathon at, but it won’t be our last.

At times, given how productive the team was during the two days, we even wondered why every day at couldn’t be a hackathon.

The reality is that we do have longer-term goals to work towards, metrics to optimize for, and projects to work on that take longer than two days.

All that said… I still can’t wait for the next hackathon.

Huge thanks to the entire product team for providing feedback on this post. And, more importantly, for building everything mentioned here!

Written by Drew Bent, COO of [email protected] peer tutoring, for free.


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