Engineering Perspectives

(Remote) Hackathon 2020: Upwards and Onwards

This year marked Index Exchange’s fifth annual Hackathon. Needless to say, Hackathon 2020 was notably different from the first four. 

Hackathons create an environment where creative ideas and company culture can really flourish. My favourite part has always been the raw and uncapped energy that everyone participating undoubtedly feels. Sitting around boxes of pizza at the end of the day with colleagues, being in awe at incredibly inspiring projects and presentations, and networking with teams and individuals you would not normally work with are just some of the things that make hackathons such amazing experiences. In all honesty, I questioned how this year’s remote Hackathon (a first for Index Exchange) could possibly recreate those experiences; but after participating in this year’s event, any reservations I previously had all but vanished.

In fact, my entire experience at Index Exchange thus far has been remote. I joined the team in May of this year, meaning that I was onboarded completely remotely and have yet to meet any of my colleagues in person. That’s why I was eager to build rapport with my teammates and engage with the broader community at this year’s Hackathon–my first at the company–much like one would at an in-person event via social events. Fortunately, the organizers did not disappoint in preserving that sense of social connection with daily kick-off calls and social gatherings that included games and a chance to mingle with fellow participants. The opportunity to meet new faces and socialize in a more informal atmosphere was extremely important, especially for relatively new members of the team such as myself.

Working remotely meant some challenges, such as clear communication and delegation of tasks. With the limited time allotted, we had to work quickly to ensure we had a working prototype that we could present to the judges. Not wanting to be slowed down by these challenges, we used Discord. The app allowed us to keep our voice channels open and seamlessly share our screens, ensuring we were always on the same page.

This year’s theme was “Upward and Onward,” an opportunity to celebrate the #LittleBigWins that drive innovation and propel each one of us forward. Tasked with exploring innovative ways to improve and enhance the work we do at Index Exchange, our team decided to take a stab at how we interact with Prebid, an open-source header bidding solution used by many Publishers. We wanted to track how Publishers configured their solution and detect missing inventory for our Prebid integration. This would allow Index Exchange to reach out to those Publishers, communicate the missing opportunities, and ultimately increase their revenue. Our team referred to open-source documentation, dabbled around with trial and error, and repeatedly said to each other, “But it’s working on my computer.” After many hours (and many failures), we managed to create an amazing dashboard displaying insights that previously hadn’t been visible. Following a presentation with our findings in a video submission, and two rounds of judging later, we were awarded second place–we could not be happier with our solution and were thrilled about the prospect of building on it in the future.  

Speaking with my teammates following this year’s Hackathon, we reminisced on the moments of joy and frustration we shared (like recording our video submission which we successfully completed after many failed attempts). While it was a fast and furious experience from beginning to end, I thought about how exhilarating and rewarding this all was and how fortunate I was to create these memories with my teammates. While this year’s Hackathon was remote, having the opportunity to really demonstrate our creative chops and work closely with other Indexers has made a positive impact on our team dynamics, forging an even stronger sense of engineering culture here at Index Exchange.