Hacking the Hackathon

A hackathon brings engineers together to look for out-of-the box solutions to big issues. Nativo is no stranger to the hackathon, having executed one in January 2017 and one in August 2017. The hackathons gave rise to new, innovative capabilities like Smart Help, an interactive glossary built into the platform, and ContentQ, a revolutionary product that enables advertisers to index all of their content in a single place, while tracking its ROI in real time.

While these hackathons were undoubtedly a success, Nativo CTO Oded Cohen decided to reinvent the process for our most recent in-house competition. He framed it as more of a race: who could build the most value into the software in a short period of time, with the goal of addressing things that were tough to prioritize through normal channels?

“A hackathon is quick and dirty: it gives you a small amount of time to do something big and impactful, but not usually ready for market,” he explained. “We wanted to challenge our engineers to accomplish projects of high quality and high code standards, projects that were ready for QA. In other words, we said no to hacks this time around.”

New Rules, New Focus

The new competition was called Code Smash. In addition to the “No Hacks” rule, Cohen encouraged his engineers to say yes to innovation and choice. “I wanted our team to use creative and independent thinking, and give them the freedom to make decisions as to what they wanted to work on and whom they wanted to work with.”

This guidance allowed participants to team up with coworkers with whom they might not normally collaborate, fostering a space where ideas that might not otherwise be conceived were instead brought to the forefront. The scope of the ideas had no limitation — small- to mid-sized concepts were encouraged — and everyone in the company was invited to contribute ideas. The competition was scored by project value and complexity, with higher scores awarded for “OMG factor.” The winners were determined not per project, but per team, with each team bringing multiple projects to fruition.

Quick Start and Strong Finish

Over the course of four days, 26 Code Smash participants amassed more than 130 ideas. Engineers set aside their usual work and dedicated themselves full-time to Code Smash, transcending barriers and soliciting ideas from other departments. Software engineers, UX designers, DevOps, and QA joined forces to deliver projects that promoted product enhancement, cost savings, and improved efficiency.

“Code Smash was designed as a break in the normal process, a way to think differently about how to develop things,” remarked Min Choi, Director, Software Engineering. The result? Five teams of devoted engineers focusing on exciting, leading-edge features for the Nativo platform. Finished projects were presented at Nativo’s annual summit, greeted with applause and often-audible “wow”s. It was a moment for the behind-the-scenes heroes of Nativo to shine, and it reminded everyone that even though the company is growing rapidly, we can still be just as nimble and innovative as a startup.

Together, the Code Smash participants delivered over 47 individual features and infrastructure improvements – an especially remarkable achievement given the short time frame. Forty of those items have since launched. Marcelo Muniz, Senior Director, Software Engineering, Eric Perez, Lead Software Engineer, Michele Lee, Lead QA Engineer, Mangesh Pimpalkar, Senior Software Engineer, Filipe Gomes Leme, Senior QA Engineer, and Carlo Ballesteros, Software Engineer made up the winning team. Their projects included report visualizations, an ISI unit for pharma campaigns, and an exciting new product now presently in Beta. Stay tuned for more details!