Hackathon at scale: 3 perspectives.

Criteo Engineering
Apr 15, 2019 · 5 min read

On March 2019, more than 600 Criteo employees joined our worldwide hackathon for 48 hours. From Palo Alto to Paris and Singapore, our offices were buzzing with creation and innovation. Discover the testimonies of 3 R&D participants who smashed it!

Nicolas is a Senior Software Engineer in the Mobile team busy detecting the unexpected in Web UI. He is often to be found writing articles, speaking at Meetups or exchanging ideas with students.

Pierre joined Criteo 6 years ago. He is now Staff Development Lead and participated in more than 5 Criteo hackathons, finishing among the nominees each year.

Majdi joined Criteo as an intern in the SRE team and never left since. This is his first participation in Criteo’s hackathon.

What did you expect from joining the hackathon?

Pierre: As this was my 5th hackathon at Criteo, I expected to have fun and produce quick and dirty POC of crazy idea.

Nicolas: Hackathon is a good and unique opportunity to gather people from different teams and departments around one project. From a technical point of view, it made us able to assess another technical stack that we will certainly use in our future projects.

Majdi: Have fun, be challenged and learn. I expected to work on a new fun project with people that I didn’t necessarily know before. I also expected to get my non-technical skills challenged and see how much I can produce on such a short timeframe. And just like every other step that we take, I expected to learn and unlock new skills. The hackathon was surprisingly as good as I expected on those level, and even more.

Your project in 3 words?

Pierre: User-friendly meeting booking interface.

Nicolas: Let’s preview your Criteo banners directly on your mobile as if you were browsing in-app.

Majdi: Creating a Slackbot that notifies you automatically when and how changes impacted the production.

What makes a good hackathon team?

Pierre: Motivated and creative people.

Nicolas: The most important thing is that the team members share similar objectives concerning the target project. It is also important to gather members with different capabilities: from product to R&D for instance.

Majdi: A good Hackathon team must have at least two types of skill sets: people who have a strong background related to the problem being solved, and people who have the ability to simplify things and who can show the value of a solution for any type of audience. Of course, having people who can deliver a demo really fast is a big bonus, but in two days, showing what can be achieved is much more important than showing what has been done.

A good hackathon player is someone who knows how to prioritize things, who thinks outside the box and who’s a good team player — Majdi

Tell us about your favourite moment of the hackathon!

Majdi: My favourite moment in the Hackathon was when I stood in front of everyone to present not only an idea but a vision that we held onto inside my team. Having 3 minutes to make people think about the problem we were solving, or at least trying to, was a wonderful moment.

Nicolas: The first moments of the hackathon were pretty intense as they structured the way we would be working for the next 48 hours. We had to be quick in discussing altogether what will be our plan. The last minutes were also quite good as we knew our project was ready for a live demo and presentation.

…and what about the worse one?

Nicolas: Definitely after 24 hours we went from a pretty well-working project to something totally broken in just a few commits. Somehow we started well, then went crazy and broke some features without noticing it.

R&D Senior Vice-President Diarmuid launches the Demo session

Any bits of advice to give before the demo?

Pierre: Our demo was live. That said, lots of things don’t work in a demo and we only show you the things that do. At least that’s the goal.

Majdi: Next time I’ll try to spend more time working on selecting data to showcase the project value. There are countless issues that need to be tackled, and the solutions that show exactly what value will be added right away are more taken seriously.

A special word you’d like to tell your team?

Majdi: I would like to thank my team for the fun and fruitful time that we spent together during these days. I’m never disappointed by Criteos’ spirit!

Pierre: Great job. We had lots of fun, and we produced an amazing amount of work. This is how it should be done.

What would be the next step for your project?

Nicolas: going live!

Pierre: harden the product and put it on prod so that everyone can use it.

In conclusion: did you smash it?

Pierre: We won the special prize this year, meaning we were not in the top 3. But still they couldn’t let the project go, so they saw value in it. It is a great feeling, being rewarded for the idea and the hard work.

Pierre and his team receiving the Special Prize

Majdi: We all did! It’s amazing to see so many crazy and creative ideas flowing around in the auditorium on the D-Day. It’s indeed a pleasure to see how the Hackathon is pushing everyone to produce things you’ve never thought of.

Many thanks to Nicolas, Pierre and Majdi for sharing their experience, and to the organizers on creating such a great hackathon!

Criteo R&D Blog

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