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From the inside

Hackathon 2020: Dare to Inspire — Our first virtual Hackathon!

Posted by Criteo |

Innovation has always been an important part of Criteo. Every year, for 48h, we “run” a marathon exploring ideas, challenging assumptions and bringing new concepts to life. With the concept of Hackathons, we have made an Impact to our business in many ways: From designing new products, through improving business efficiency to making research progress.

This year, we took our yearly Hackathon virtual and “we had over 300 Criteos, in over 50 teams, across three hubs and 19 different offices. We were geographically apart but very much Together. From chatting with the juries, the hardest thing of all was to find any daylight between the entries as the standard really was that good. Everyone to let their creativity loose, to play with their crazy ideas and construct something new, all in the spirit of Openness. From APAC, through EMEA to AMERICAS, we had amazing projects with a lot of potential.” (Diarmuid Gill, our CTO)

What did our participants expect and what did they discover? We are pleased to meet members of the winning teams: Lai in APAC, Olivier in EMEA and Maya & Sebastian in the US!

What did you expect from joining our Hackathon remotely this year?

Lai (APAC): Having seen the Hackathon last year where teams spent hours together talking and whiteboarding in designated rooms, I wasn’t sure if a remote Hackathon could work. Apparently, I’ve underestimated how we adapted, evolved and developed over the past months. Complicated brainstorming and coordination worked as well with proper planning, ideas and presentation were equally impressive if not more. I’m so proud of my team as well as all participants and organizers for having the spirit of challenge!

Olivier (EMEA): A lot of fun, and many cool projects. And boy did it happen! I loved discovering that Megan, our CEO, was sponsoring the event. It sent a strong signal 😊!

Maya & Sebastian (US): We were begging for this to happen for a while! Months of working from home meant we definitely missed our co-workers… Besides having excitement and fun we were curious if there would be any new feeling of intensity; since we are all working together but cannot see or feel the moment in the same space as we used to in the previous Hackathons.

Can anyone join the Hackathon at Criteo?

Lai (APAC): Yes! Criteo’s Hackathon is not just about being techie, it’s more about the spirit of sharing ideas, regardless of your role and position.

Olivier (EMEA): Absolutely. In fact, building mixed teams helps covering all ingredients of winning projects (tech, product, analytics, business, presentation skills, etc.) The biggest mistake you could do is to not participate because you think “you’re not technical enough”.

Maya & Sebastian (US): Oh, for sure! Anyone is welcome, which is one of the great things about the Criteo Hackathon. Diverse teams are critical & having a designated “Devil’s advocate” in team conversations makes the Q&A session with the judges a breeze. Remote work makes this a bit tricky, but it’s also a great opportunity to re-connect with other Criteos. Additionally, as long as we register our team in one regional hub, members from different regions can all join the same team.

How did the remote Hackathon look like?

Lai (APAC): First up: Finding the team — We had a virtual team matching session with everyone with ideas or interested in Hackathon. Each person with ideas would make a brief intro to attract members.

As for working on the project remotely — while team interaction was hindered to a certain extent, working remotely did help to focus and inspire productivity on a personal level. Setting a clear vision, expectations and deliverables for each member worked well for us.

Olivier (EMEA): The whole process was very lean and simple. The org team focused on what really mattered: putting great teams together and letting the magic happen. A major difference with the real-world version is that participants get to work using their (ideal) work setup at home, as opposed to a bunch of laptops in a meeting room. In that sense, it made the experience nicer and more productive.

Maya & Sebastian (US): It was a tad awkward; but it worked out just fine 😊! The process was smoother and more efficient than we thought it would be. Since we are working remotely and have to set a time to re-connect, we set a clear agenda for the next discussion and share our progress in the next re-connect. We had to really focus on defining deliverables for each member every few hours and just kind of trust each other to get it done. That kind of trust was rare in college but pretty easy to find among our Criteo peeps.

You were on the winning side this year, what would you say, makes a good Hackathon team?

Lai (APAC): For me, a good team is where everyone is aligned, so that was how we started — spending the first hours to clarify doubts and confusion. Brainstorming and building sound like the fun part of Hackathon but constantly finding the right balance between details and presentation of the ideas was very important for us in making a strong presentation.

Olivier (EMEA): The judging criteria are pretty clear each year; so, I’d advise thinking a lot about whether your project checks them all. But really, what made the difference for us was the ability to pivot quickly. We started off from an initial idea and after an hour of discussion, went for a completely different one. Also, making sure to build a strong presentation is paramount. This is often an under-estimated aspect of the Hackathon. We dedicated a full-time member to it throughout the two days.

Maya & Sebastian (US): Besides building a strong proof of concept, I think great teamwork was the key. I felt so lucky to work with my teammates. We discussed and explored a lot about the topic we were going to pitch; from MVP to additional features for later development, benefits and risks, and of course, thinking about our consumers. You need to get a realistic roadmap together and make a plan that makes sense…. but you’re only allotted at most 7 minutes of the judge’s attention span & that’s what you need to absolutely nail.

Tell us about your favourite moments of the Hackathon!

Lai (APAC): Definitely when I was working with my team members. All of us are in different roles, and each offered different insights and approaches to the initial idea that I couldn’t have thought of.

Olivier (EMEA): Watching other teams’ presentations during the final was the highlight of the Hackathon. It was incredible to see so many ideas back-to-back!

Maya & Sebastian (US): Probably the part where we tried to figure out how to turn a 15 minute monologue into a 3 minute pitch.

What challenges did you run into this year and how did you respond to them?

Lai (APAC): Interaction between team members. With time spent together limited to pre-defined hours and being remote, we did all we could to set a clear agenda and task allocation to each member. Individual contribution was one of the key to our success this time but it was indeed challenging to coordinate such a project up against a short timeline remotely.

Olivier (EMEA): Being remote meant no real-time interactions unless we specifically decided to (through zoom). So, we had to be extra rigorous about the workshare, and find the right balance between “work time” and “sync time”.

Maya & Sebastian (US): It’s hard to assign tasks out on meetings and just hope you got everything done. Not being in the same room meant we had to just absolutely nail the planning. That bit is pretty tricky. Especially when you’re up against a timeline. But we made it work.

Do you recommend joining a virtual Hackathon?

Lai (APAC): Yes, virtual or not, I do recommend joining a Hackathon, not just because of personal challenges or development, but also because it’s fun. It was refreshing to spend days working on something other than day-to-day work, and still contribute to the company, while having fun doing so. For me, this experience created bond and trust between the team members. Especially what we need in this time.

Olivier (EMEA): First, virtual Hackathons are awesome. You should participate! Second, make sure to brainstorm your idea significantly at the beginning, because the ability to pivot during the Hackathon is harder than in the real-world. I also believe that remote Hackathons call for simpler ideas than in the real-world because the communication within the team is not as easy as it would be otherwise.

Maya & Sebastian (US): Well… we’d recommend you join whatever Hackathon you get the chance to. Leading a team that was split by continents and time-zones was a fun challenge. Definitely a blast to just break free from some of the day-do-day problem solving and trying to pitch a project you think could have a bigger impact. Winning and not being able to celebrate together was probably the worst part 😉

What will happen to your ideas after the Hackathon?

Lai (APAC): Our ideas involve building into our product front end. Currently, we’re in conversation with the related product team if the ideas (even partially) can be included in the roadmap, and how we can help in the process.

Olivier (EMEA): We’re making it happen! Our Hackathon project is already at the MVP stage. Our plan is to roll it out for a first set of customers in Q4 and then grow it from there.

Maya & Sebastian (US): Regardless of winning or not, a good project or proposal will elevate people to the next level; in terms of personal and professional growth and opportunity. The team Maya is currently a part of was formed as a result of a Hackathon project she participated in a few years ago. The Hackathon idea influenced her career path and goals, and it has been an incredible journey. As for this year’s project, we are definitely going to try and make it happen but it might take a while.


Thank you Lai, Olivier, Maya & Sebastian for your insight! We are curious to see what this years Hackathon brings to life!


Articles by Criteo team

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