We caught up with the winners of the ASOS AI x Retail HackComp. Read on for how they came up with their idea, their tips on taking part in hackathons, and how they innovate day-to-day at ASOS.
At ASOS Tech we run regular hackathons (we like to call them HackComps), where our teams get the space and time to innovate and build on ideas they don’t normally get to work on. Our most recent one was a collaboration between our AI and Retail teams. Both were challenged to come up with a creative way to solve Retail’s burning questions and problems using artificial intelligence. In the coming weeks, the winning team will be looking at how to bring this into production.
What made you want to take part in the hackathon?
Nathan: Mainly because I wanted to meet and work with people from other teams and liked the challenge of seeing what could be produced in only two days, against the clock. Also, applications for cool AI tech are starting to emerge and I was curious to see this up close, for real.
Charlotte: A few people on my team had taken part in (and won 😉 ) some of the previous hackathons and they were very vocal about how much fun it was. So I decided to give it a go myself!
So can you tell us how you came up with the idea…
Devin: Full credit goes to Miriam for coming up with the idea of identifying hero products! We also had a brainstorming session where we tried to evaluate how we could extend an understanding of hero products to address a relevant retail problem.
Fabio: Ahead of the HackComp, we set up a Slack channel and we met once to brainstorm ideas. Then, on the day, we used mind maps and sticky notes.
Nathan: We talked through some ideas face-to-face the day before, voted using Slack and reviewed again on the first morning. Once it was written down, that became our goal. We identified what was core and what was a ‘stretch’.
Charlotte: I was actually sick the day before the HackComp so they already had a pretty good idea of what we were going to do. I helped make mind maps on the day.
How would you describe the HackComp in three words?
Nathan: Focus, build, adapt.
Charlotte: Code, beer, joy
Devin: Fast-paced, creative, fun
Do you have any tips for people looking to take part in hackathons?
Fabio: Prepare in advance if you can, and bring a ‘yes, and’ attitude.
Devin: I was unsure about doing the HackComp, being relatively new to ASOS, but everyone was super welcoming and I learned a lot. If you’re interested just go for it! It’s a fairly full-on two days so come with lots of energy and be prepared to take on tasks that aren’t usually part of your day job.
Charlotte: I was pretty nervous joining my first hackathon because I’m a graduate engineer and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the people I worked with were amazing and the whole atmosphere was pretty relaxed and inclusive. The Retail and Microsoft teams were great to have around for the business and engineering perspectives.
Nathan: Be flexible, prepared to take on any useful role in the team. Think about the problems behind the stated problems.
What helps you innovate in your day to day job in Tech?
Fabio: Keeping up with research and thinking things through, trying to approach problems from first principles and looking at what the state of the art is in related fields.
Nathan: For every tech problem, we have good tools and some great people, and the expectation that we’ll use them in new ways. Part of my role is to temper this with discipline, governance and best-practice to ensure we’re building in flexibility, efficiency and security.
Tim: Collaboration along with incremental building, testing and iteration is the only true road to innovation.
Devin: Collaboration: it’s hard to be creative or innovative without a great team.
Charlotte: My team is full of people who love to innovate and use new technology where they can, so I feel I’m surrounded by innovation everyday which helps with my personal growth.
Do you have any innovative idols you look up to?
Devin: Stella McCartney — I think the way she’s using technology to make fashion more sustainable is incredible.
Tim: Computer scientist Katie Bouman, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, product designer Julie Zhuo.
Nathan: The usual old guys — Berners-Lee, Musk and Gates.
Charlotte: Guido van Rossum (creator of Python — benevolent dictator for life until 2018).
An introduction to our winners…
Miriam — Analytics Graduate
Tim — Junior UX / UI Designer
Nathan — Technical Architect
Devin — Graduate Software Engineer
Charlotte — Graduate Software Engineer
Fabio — Senior Machine Learning Scientist