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Hackathon 2023: Journey to an Innovative Win with Rich Morales

Written bySarah Auriemma
Posting date: August 24, 2023

The Achieve Hackathon is an annual event that our teammates look forward to each year. It's open to all teammates who want to stretch their creative skills and put their ideas to the test. The weeks leading up to the final event are full of connection, innovation, collaboration and excitement and teams gear up to share their projects with our leadership. 


The 2023 Hackathon theme was centered around new ways we can utilize Artificial Intelligence (AI), Large Language Models (LLMs) and Machine Learning (ML) to serve our members better.

This year, over 140 teammates made up 34 teams from various departments—engineering, marketing, communications, information security and more. And after a two-day event, the top teams presented "Shark Tank" style to the company and executive leadership to get their final votes. We're proud to share the winning team Gary Suen, Rich Morales, Dayton Beck, Jim Olness, Joe Gilkerson and John McCormick. 


To get more behind the scenes on the winning team and what led them to this exciting accomplishment, Rich Morales gave us the inside scoop on the challenges, wins, lessons and processes that ultimately led to their success.


Meet Rich

Rich has been with Achieve for over a year and works as a Lead Designer for the Customer Experience on our Freedom Debt Relief program. As someone with a passion for tech in the financial industry, he did not feel challenged or fulfilled in his work at past companies. 


"The contributions we make at Achieve make a tangible difference in enhancing the financial well-being of our members and bringing overall happiness to the people we serve. This role quickly allowed me to make a real difference with the dedicated CX team. I could sense the excitement everywhere as we were pushing the boundaries of our digital experiences, and it motivated me to jump right in."


All in for the Hackathon

"When the Hackathon was announced, I was ready to dive in. I've been fascinated by GenAI and believe it will play a large role in our passion to "get better every day". I knew we could create something to help us work more efficiently and enrich the quality of work we do here. I see a future workplace that's more dynamic, innovative and fulfilling."


As Rich began to ideate on all the ideas, he knew his team would be imperative to bring any ideas to life. They made sure to form a team that combined a variety of skills. Jim Olness, with his Data background, seamlessly bridged machine learning and Generative AI. John McCormick, a respected leader, provided the vision and encouraged everyone to push boundaries while staying grounded in execution. Joe and Dayton, skilled Product Managers, fine-tuned the project's direction and story. And Gary, the Product Designer, gave the project a visual identity with a standout logo. As for Rich's main contribution, he created the proof-of-concept and guided the product strategy.


"This hands-on experience granted me an in-depth understanding of Generative AI. With this foundation, I was better equipped to envision its potential applications at Achieve, aligning seamlessly with the team's broader goals."


Because of their synergy, the team could work through any roadblocks and frequently rallied around each other when frustrations arose to ensure no one felt isolated and pushed each other to innovate in ways that were immediately applicable and grounded in real-world solutions. 


From Ideation to Celebration 

Once the team was solid, ideas began to flow. They knew they wanted to create something to improve how our teammates work with our members and develop a concept that made the process more efficient and easy to integrate into current processes. 


"Once we landed on the final use cases of our project, we wanted to make sure that we were thinking about this new technology correctly. So, we started meeting with a team of Google representatives. I remember the first meeting with them, where we walked through what we had built so far, and they were quite impressed. With help from Google, we leveraged the latest Google AI technologies. I think they learned as much from us as we have from them in these early days of GenAI in enterprise applications."


The Future of AI at Achieve

The best part about our Hackathon events is that these projects don't go on the back burner once the event ends. Leadership truly looks at ways our teammates' contributions and unique ideas can be utilized throughout the business. As the winning team, the project focused on creating more profound, personalized relationships with our members. 


"Focusing on more intimate member relationships with a personalized, human approach will lead to enrolling more members, retaining more members and enhancing teammate performance by closing current process gaps."


Advice to Future Hackathoners

"Be ambitious but pay equal attention to the details. Aim for a clear and persuasive narrative that lets everyone quickly understand the project's core without getting lost in minutiae. But remember, a strong vision is only as good as its execution, so you'll have to be ready to dive deep when necessary. And most importantly, have fun with it! Focus on problems and solutions that inspire you to work best with your team. 


Magic happens when you get a group of passionate people in one room. When you bring together a team with a shared spark, amazing things can happen, and the journey's just as fun as the destination."


Ready to work where innovation is at the heart of the company? Check out our
open roles or join our talent community to get our latest recruitment updates, career tips and more.
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