Microsoft Employees Partner with Treehouse to Create App

By Kiera Thomasson, Treehouse Systems Analyst

Treehouse entered a project into the Microsoft One Week Hackathon in July 2016, seeking an app that would help us support youth in foster care. We came prepared with a list of challenges and limitations in the way we work with our Graduation Success youth, and we wanted a solution that would provide them ownership over their goals and future aspirations, regardless of their proximity to their education specialist.

On pitch night, we asked for help to understand the process of creating a new solution and had the goal of ending the Hackathon with a project plan and skills needed to develop the application. Thanks to the passion and creativity that Microsoft brought to the project, they produced a prototype far beyond our expectations. 

Since the Hackathon concluded, Microsoft employees on the project decided they wanted to make a long-term commitment to Treehouse and the app. They continued working on the project, volunteering over 500 hours and leading the work to cultivate new ideas and innovative features for the application. They recruited a larger team to continue the project through the 2017 Hackathon. Thanks to their efforts, the team has grown to include a larger group of developers, UX designers, Treehouse staff and a Graduation Success alumna.

Today, we have a functioning application that provides a way for youth to create goals and action plans, and connect with their education specialist. The project team continues to work on new features like self-assessments and gamification to reward achievements. We are striving for user testing by the end of the year.

A few of the people involved with the project since the beginning reflect below on creating the application for Treehouse. 

Susan Sims: 

Every year, Microsoft hosts the annual One Week Hackathon, where employees are encouraged to come together for a week to experiment and create, build new skills and come up with creative new ideas. In my mind, this was always targeting software developers, so as a program manager, I never gave it much thought. 

In early 2016, I was working in a new organization here in Microsoft IT, and the VP of my group was really promoting this event. She asked that everyone cancel their daily work/meetings for that one week to join a Hackathon projectregardless of what role they are in here at Microsoft.

When I saw the Treehouse project, I immediately became excited because I have had a number of friends who have done foster care, so I was familiar with some of the challenges for those students. I was especially encouraged when I saw that this project team did not have a project manager, so I thought that my skills could be put to use. 

This has been a great experience for me in so many ways. It has been so rewarding working with Treehouse since I totally support their mission. In addition, it has been so fun to work with software developers and designers from across Microsoft as well as from outside Microsoft, and to work on a project that is so different from my day-to-day job.  Because of this, I have continued to work on this project for the past year, and I plan to continue to work on it to see it through delivery. 

Vijaya Manohararaj: 

I learned about Treehouse and the work they are doing during the Hackathon pitch night last year. I was drawn to it mainly because of the impact it would have on the lives of youth in foster care, helping them with education. I strongly believe good education is the most sustained way to help kids in the foster system realize their full potential and their dreams.  

Working on the project has been extremely rewarding, especially when I think about how this could help Treehouse make their current processes/efforts more efficient. The project also has helped me grow my skills to a large extent by working on new technologies. Last but not least, this has been an excellent opportunity to meet and work with great folks as part of the project. 

Kristijan Risteski: 

I got a call from my wife, who used to work at Treehouse, asking me if I was interested in a pro-bono UX project. She saw a post on Facebook from one of her former co-workers and thought I might want to work on it. Having worked at a nonprofit and knowing what Treehouse does got me interested, and I reached out to them.  

Working on this has been a great experience in building something from the ground up with people from different companies, and all for a good cause. I look forward to seeing the product live and students using it. 

Alok Kumbhare: 

I have considered myself very fortunate for getting access to high-quality education and attribute my success to early education, including secondary and high school. I strongly believe good education at an early age is important for overall growth of the children and for setting them up for success in future. 

I came to know about Treehouse as part of Hackathon events last year. I was very impressed by the work Treehouse was doing in helping the youth in foster care with their education and social life, and I wanted to help in any way I could. So I signed up for the project to work with Treehouse to enhance their current processes with the goal of making students more independent and accountable for their success. 

Working with Treehouse has been a delight, and in the process, we have learned a lot, not only about new technologies, but also about the difficulties faced by the youth in foster care and the amazing work the education specialists at Treehouse are doing. 

This has brought together an amazing team of people with different experiences and backgrounds and is a very rewarding experience. We hope to continue working on the project and see the solution deployed and be of value to both the students and the education specialists.

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About the Author

As a Systems Analyst at Treehouse, Kiera Thomasson manages technical projects and data quality to ensure data completeness and accuracy for reporting. She is excited to work on projects where innovative technology is used to transform the way we achieve our mission.

Comment (1)

K. Manohara Raj

August 16, 2017

Very heartening to read the messages from the development participants at Treehouse. Good education to youth at right time is the best way to create community of heaven. Hope this will contribute towards that


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