After two years of virtual competition, Criteo teams from around the world competed this year in a hybrid version of the annual Hackathon. Two team members and a competition organizer talk about the intense 48-hour race and some of the factors that make for a winning team.
Why was “Unstoppable” the right theme for this year’s Hackathon?
Victor: It reflects the spirit of our teams, that when we start something, there’s no stopping us. Our leaders encourage us to try new initiatives and there are no boundaries to our creativity. During Hackathon, we do whatever it takes, working around the clock to deliver our project on time.
Nancy: I agree. Criteo is constantly evolving. We’re always looking to learn and progress as a team, and we want to be the very best at what we do. So, “Unstoppable” is the perfect theme.
Tatiana: It also mirrors our tagline that the future is wide open, that we’re a force to reckon with and that together we can do anything. We’re building our future together.
What were your projects?
Victor: NewzooM is a search engine that accesses all of Criteo’s videos, which are indexed using transcript readers and AI so that they can be searched by words.
Nancy: My team was competing in the “Criteo for Good” category, and we focused on helping Criteos to avoid language bias when writing job descriptions. Our idea was to design a digital tool that uses AI to analyze a text and then highlights any gender bias and suggests alternative wording.
What does it feel like when you’re inside the Hackathon?
Nancy: It’s intense and challenging, but also a great learning experience. I got to understand how people from different backgrounds think and come together to work as one team. That was extremely valuable.
Tatiana: I’d say the prevailing feeling is one of excitement and it starts well beforehand. There’s the anticipation of knowing that it’s coming, then that we’re actually in it and doing it, then that we’re presenting it to our VPs and finally there’s the celebration that we came together and did it!
Victor: There’s a lot of team building, sharing experiences and getting help from each other. Then, during the actual Hackathon, it’s incredibly intense. We barely slept the second night when we were working on trying to fix a bug that was causing our search results to take 20 minutes instead of 1 second. This continued up until 10 minutes before our presentation.
What felt different this year?
Victor: The fact that we were on site.
Tatiana: A lot of people came to the office, so we saw a lot more of each other than we had in some time. The Hackathon is a big phenomenon in Criteo which requires months of planning beforehand, but it’s truly amazing! There were also social events this year that we haven’t been able to do in the previous years, like going to a bar/restaurant together.
Nancy: This was my first Hackathon. I’d always thought it was for tech people but decided to give it a go this year – and I’m so glad I did! It made me realize that hackathons work best when you have a real mix of people from different parts of the company.
What makes a great team?
Victor: You can’t do everything in two days so you need to prepare and organize ahead of time. This starts with brainstorming and getting feedback on your project idea but it also means making sure that everyone knows what they need to work on when the gun goes off. The other important factor is diversity: everyone on the team contributes something and sees different things that make the project complete.
Nancy: I agree that it’s so important to involve everyone and get different perspectives. I would say that communication is key. Everyone in the team needs to listen to each other, and work as one to achieve the same objective.
Tatiana: It’s also more than just having a good idea. You also have to be able to show it’s useful. Planning is important, you can’t start brainstorming on the D-day. You also need to think about making sure your presentation is cool and being able to deliver all of the info on why, how and when in 3 minutes. Winning teams also think about the questions that may come up in the Q&A and plan their responses
Victor: That’s what we did. We listed 15 questions and assigned responses. As a result, we were ready for all of them. OK, all but one!
Nancy: At the moment, engineers are working on our concept to improve the AI and perfect the tool. After that, we need to work out practical questions, like where our solution will be hosted and how people can access it. In the long term, we’d like to extend Features to cover all sorts of language bias in different situations.
Victor: We’re working on implementing our project. After the competition, we listed all the tasks we need to do and split up the work between us.
Tatiana: I’m still working on this one, not just getting the prizes delivered to the winners but also getting feedback and mentoring help to the teams and getting some of them additional resources to implement their projects. And, of course, starting already to prepare for the next one.
Victor: I can’t wait for the next one. I’ve got more ideas and might not even wait for the next hackathon to start implementing some of them!