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Below is an article originally written by PowerToFly Partner 33Across, and published on January 18, 2019. Go to 33Across' page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
2019 33Across Hackathon
Feelings of pride, triumph, excitement, awe, and maybe a touch of disappointment are running through the 33Across offices as our 6th hackathon just wrapped. In just 24 hours, 10 teams across the US and India worked together to create hacks based on 3 different themes: Attention Platform, Technology & Innovation, and Process & Efficiency.
Unlike more traditional hackathons, our hacks have cross-departmental participation with team members spanning from operations, sales, product, and engineering. Typically, this inclusiveness gives the hacks a better chance for becoming viable products and solutions.
And the actual hacks? The amount of enthusiasm to lead our business forward became clear through not just the technical ingenuity but how every team's presentation tied back to business outcomes specific to 33Across. Our judges certainly did not have an easy job deciding who the winners were in each category.
The winners are:
Voltron (Alex M, Drew, Lifei, Gil, Ujwal): Ad Quality Image Classifier
Coconut Tart (Ashley, Blair, Derek, Maayan, Mike, Pallavi): Privacy Compliance Automation
Alama (Alex R, Aparna, Arthur, Lauren D, Mark): Partner Integration Metrics Querying & Alerting
Popular Choice Award
1337h4x0r5 (Adam, Kush, Patrick, Saajan, Sasha): Dynamic and Configurable Alerting System
Hackathon teams present to the entire company
While the US teams were sleeping, the teams in India were in full swing of the 33Across Hackathon
On the other side of the World, our India participants had to record their presentations in advance.
Even our remote colleagues felt the Hackathon vibe
Teams composed of members from our Sunnyvale and NYC offices managed the time difference to brainstorm ideas
Team 1337h4x0r5 in mid-hack
Below is an article originally written by Alex Siegman, AI Technical Program Manager at PowerToFly Partner Dow Jones, and published on April 6, 2018. Go to Dow Jones' page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Last week Dow Jones hosted an internal, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) Hackathon.
110 employees, representing more than fifty unique departments, gathered in New York City to address how we might leverage A.I. to augment our products and services.
And while the hackathon itself is certainly worthy of reflection, I prefer to resound my experience as a member of the hackathon planning committee in this inaugural Dow Jones blog post.
Now, odds are you're interested in one of two things: The literal process of planning a hackathon or the more vague process of implementing A.I. at scale in a corporate setting.
Lucky for you, many of the insights gleaned during the actual hackathon organization process echo a host of universal truths about implementing A.I. at a company as expansive as Dow Jones, and I'm honored to share those insights and truths with you now.
Alas, let us begin!
Dow Jones is comprised of more than 6,000 employees in more than 40 locations across six continents, so the first challenge we faced was a divergent knowledge base regarding all things A.I.
For instance, some employees had already designed propensity models to inform the Wall Street Journal's dynamic paywall, while others had only noted the term 'A.I.' in the context of the film Blade Runner.
To help educate employees, we partnered with multiple leading A.I. companies to host a series of lectures and workshops that addressed everything from the overarching business applications of A.I., to the technical details of designing an actual neural network.
In conjunction with our lectures and workshops, we created a designated A.I. Slack channel as well as a weekly internal newsletter about all things A.I., which allowed for company-wide sharing of resources and information.
Unfortunately, parallel to the aforementioned divergence in understanding, there emerged a general weariness on the part of those less familiar with A.I. to participate in the hackathon, born of a misunderstanding that A.I. is best left in the hands of those with development experience.
Dow Jones employees hard at work during last week's A.I./ML hackathon.
To dispel the myth that A.I. is uniquely an engineering endeavor, it was important to communicate to employees that no A.I. evolves in a vacuum. Engineers must work alongside customer support, project management, the newsroom and even standards and legal, to implement any A.I. project.
In other words, no one area of expertise is more valuable than another when it comes to implementing A.I. at scale.
This realization that A.I. is an all-hands-on-deck undertaking exposed a second challenge, namely that A.I. is so nascent and broad a field it is often difficult to know where to begin.
Some projects may require image recognition, others natural language processing. Some may require convolutional neural networks, others simple logistic regression. Et. cetera., et. cetera.
To address this deluge of potential launch points, we decided to simply let employees pursue their personal interests. To reiterate, no area of expertise is more valuable than another when implementing A.I. at scale, so why limit employees to a particular field of A.I.? (Not to mention, hackathons are meant to promote creativity and collaboration, and we didn't want to limit any team's potential).
Finally, and mirroring the above challenges stemming from a plethora A.I. subfields, was our third and perhaps greatest challenge: Which hackathon projects do we pursue further?
This particular challenge is, of course, still ongoing, and will be for some time. At a company as large and diverse as Dow Jones, it is easy to fall victim to a fear of the unfamiliar and to become overwhelmed amidst a plethora of potential projects and programs. So how are we meant to decide what direction to travel as we begin in earnest our A.I. journey?
(4/5ths of) our judges and (5/6ths of) our winning team! Pictured from L to R: Karen Pensiero, Paul Kaiser, Michael Doss, Pritish Mehra, Mark Riley, Dhinesh Dhanapal, Luke Sawatsky, Bharath Malapati, Glenn Hall.
The answer to this final challenge, I believe, is simple.
Embrace the unknown with curiosity and healthy skepticism. Acknowledge both the strength and the danger inherent in A.I. and work to augment your business when appropriate while learning to say 'no' when it is not. Experiment within reason, and, above all else, be sure to leverage each and every one of your employees.
And what better way to embrace, acknowledge and experiment than a hackathon!
Below is an article originally written by Alexandra Phillips, an Engineering Manager at PowerToFly Partner Yelp, and published on November 7, 2018. Go to Yelp's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
It's time for our fall Hackathon! At Yelp, Hackathons are two-day events that provide unstructured time for our engineering and product teams to work on whatever may scratch their creative itch! Hackathon truly embodies our company values of "Playing Well with Others" and "Being Unboring," as it invites us to participate in so many different ways.
Engineers have the liberty to work on projects related to or completely outside the box of the Yelp product. We've seen many types of projects over the years from music videos and new photo classification algorithms to baking workshops, custom video games, and so much more! It's a great outlet for collaboration and innovation that really helps foster teamwork and creativity.
Ready, set, hack!
For the past several weeks, we've been hard at work preparing for the final Hackathon of the year: number 27! This year will be our ninth year running, with each year traditionally hosting three hackathons. This pace enables the engineering team to have reliable and regular outlets for their creativity and to take advantage of several opportunities throughout their career to work on a variety of different project types.
We're particularly focused on the celebration of building something together, and in an effort to recognize that, have come up with six different awards: Useful, Funny, Cool, Hardcore, Unhack, and Spotlight. The Spotlight award in particular rotates its theme every Hackathon; Hackathon 27 we'll be spotlighting "Inclusion" which is an important facet of Yelp culture. We're hoping to this inspires a broad range of projects and activities bringing awareness to how important inclusion is in workplace culture.
Hackathon planning is a collaboration between our awesome Engineering, Engineering Event Planning, and Engineering Recruiting teams. There's a lot of orchestration involved in selecting the theme, arranging the catering, helping engineers find or evangelize their ideal projects, designing the swag, and of course, planning the Ridiculousness!
Plenty of hacking fuel!
In the true spirit of being unboring, Ridiculousness is the center of fun and games during Hackathon. Need a break from hacking? Come on by to paint, build, draw, or play interactive games with your fellow engineers! Team connectedness is something that transcends both our SF and Hamburg Engineering teams and is celebrated by sharing a Hackathon kickoff toast and awards ceremony.
I've had the amazing opportunity of seeing so many unique, creative projects that have been the product of hard work and collaboration of our engineering and product teams. I'd like to share just a few with you!
One of my favorite projects coming out of Hackathon is "AWE the Book." AWE is our Awesome Women in Engineering employee group at Yelp, who champions and facilitates initiatives to improve inclusion and diversity within Yelp Engineering. "AWE the Book" is a collection of interviews from over 60 women in Engineering and Product, with each page speaking to their childhood aspirations, what they love about Yelp, and their pathway into the tech industry. It was an amazing demonstration of people coming together to work on a project they're passionate about. Read more about it in this blog post!
One useful Hackathon project that's now embedded into Yelp culture is Yelp Love, an app that allows any employee to send kudos to one or several colleagues at a time. Yelp Love has become the defacto way to say "thank you" to a coworker that really went above and beyond, and it helps us all live by our "play well with others" value.
Hackathon Science Fair - Winner of the Hardcore award, Neon Incident Pager
One of the most hardcore projects was the "Neon Incident Pager project." This was a physical neon light and LED display that integrated with our incident paging system to create a bright and eye-catching display when an incident is triggered! This project took on a creative, fun, and yet hardcore challenge to produce something really remarkable!
Hackathon Science Fair
I grow more and more excited as we head into Hackathon 27 as I'm reminded of some of my favorite aspects of Hackathon at Yelp: meeting new people, learning new things, and building! Hack on!
Below is an article originally written by Sam Bail and Ovadia Harary at PowerToFly Partner Flatiron Health. Go to Flatiron Health's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Hackathons have been a part of Flatiron Health since the company was founded in 2012. Our Chief Technology Officer (back then, Flatiron's second engineer) Gil Shklarski brought the concept with him from his previous stint at Facebook. For Flatiron, our quarterly hackathons are meant to be two days free of meetings or sprint commitments for the whole company, where employees form teams to work or "hack" on something that they are passionate about, but just haven't had the opportunity to work on. This could be exciting new product features, radical code cleanup ("dev happz" or, as Gil refers to it, "fixing s**t liberally"), cutting-edge data analyses or the occasional "gotcha" experiment from our security team. Each hackathon culminates in a live-demo session where participants have three minutes to present their projects in varying states ranging from "duct-taped together" to polished and ready to go into production, and then everyone at the company has the opportunity to vote on their favorite hacks in different categories.
Over the past few years, as Flatiron has grown, our hackathons have grown with it — from a handful of small hacks to a large, company-wide event spanning almost three days with over 40+ hacks presented at each final demo event. We have found these hackathons to be an important part of our company culture that have significantly shaped how we innovate and collaborate.
As we host our 16th hackathon this week, we wanted to share our top five reasons why we love running hackathons:
Hackathons encourage cross-functional collaboration
One of our favorite aspects of running and participating in hackathons is the ability to collaborate with people you usually don't get the chance to work with. Flatiron's hackathons may be different from those run by traditional tech companies, as we very much encourage non-engineers to participate — we firmly believe that bringing in different areas of expertise can be hugely beneficial. While teams at Flatiron already make up a number of different functions, including engineers, designers, quantitative scientists, and often oncologists and clinical staff, joining a hackathon team with an entirely different focus than your day-to-day is often eye opening, allowing you to see the work you do in a broader context. For example, we brought our informatics, clinical, data engineering, front-end development and marketing teams together to build a new trial finder for Fight CRC (read about it here). We love cross-functional collaboration so much that we introduced the "Best non-coding hack" as well as the "Best collaboration" award categories.
Hackathons allow anyone to innovate in anything
As customer commitments increase and the breadth of the company has grown to many different business lines, it's only natural to become focused solely on one's own responsibilities and near-term customer commitments. We encourage our employees to use the hackathon as way to step outside of their day-to-day role and use their creative juices to work on whatever problem they believe is worth solving. Most importantly, a hackathon provides an outlet for people to quickly spin up a minimum viable product or a demo to spur conversation without needing to talk in the abstract or request resources. We've seen amazing new products ship from our hackathon, and time and time again it is stimulated from a diverse group of functions and initiatives.
Hackathons help develop those "soft" skills
As has been written about by many successful engineers (most recently, here), we know that being a good software engineer doesn't just require good technical skills, but also what many usually call "soft skills" — the ability to collaborate, empathize, present and even sell an idea. Within a hackathon team, engineers often take on the role of product manager as well as project manager, where they have the chance to learn to radically prioritize different parts of the project (two days go by pretty quickly!), navigate disagreements on the team and give a compelling three-minute pitch. Especially for engineers who might often be heads down in code, hackathons are an amazing opportunity to step up and get themselves out there in a low-risk environment where everyone is in the same position of learning and possibly failing — see the next point!
Hackathons celebrate failures that can lead to even bigger successes
Some projects fail hard by the end of the hackathon, but these failures should be celebrated just as much as successes. Since our first hackathon, Gil has encouraged teams to keep Facebook's motto in mind: "What would you work on if you weren't afraid?" Celebrating failures also creates a culture in which teams are encouraged to stretch boundaries of what was thought possible, and in turn, successful projects often then yield larger rewards. However, creating this culture of intense innovation and experimentation requires an acceptance that some projects will fizzle out after two days for many different reasons. While these projects may not make it out to our customers, they still provide learnings. Spending two days learning that a product idea is not feasible, a new technology doesn't meet its promise, or that current infrastructure won't support a new use case, are all highly valuable and important learnings that will ultimately drive your engineering organization forward. At Flatiron, we encourage teams who have worked on failed projects to still present their demo at the end of a hackathon.
Hackathons improve upon the "20% time" concept
We love the concept of dedicating 20% of each person's time to working on side projects that spawn exciting new product lines — but let's be honest, especially in a growing company like ours, it's usually all hands on deck to push a new feature, fix a bug or carefully orchestrate changes that affect several teams. Dropping all these responsibilities one day a week to work on a passion project is simply not always possible. Hackathons give us two or three days of undisturbed time where we de-prioritize sprint work and staff engineers to keep the lights on, but otherwise really try to give everyone the opportunity to experiment, explore and collaborate. This focused burst of activity once per quarter is easier to schedule for the entire company; and since everyone participates, it's also easier to find people to collaborate with. There is also the added benefit of getting your idea immediately in front of the entire company and leadership team during the demo sessions. And just as with 20% time (which famously gave us Gmail), we have had several amazing hacks developed. One of our most successful product features — Document Search — was actually conceptualized and prototyped during a hackathon. Read more about it in this Fast Company article.
While hackathons may not be the answer for every company, Flatiron has found them to be incredibly valuable both to our culture and to our business. They have helped encourage cross-functional collaboration, allowed people to stretch themselves professionally, helped with soft skills development and much more.