Hackathon Experiences at Outbrain – Where Great Ideas are Born

Outbrain Hackathon 2018

For us engineers, Hackathons at Outbrain are like a festive holiday that you don’t have to wait for all year.

This year in June, all the creative techies at Outbrain gathered together for a two-day “Hackathon Experiences”, where we worked hard towards the same goal – to create the next Big Idea. From switching workspaces, to working alongside new colleagues you don’t get normally get to work with, and (of course!) the food, it all came together to create a special vibe that is not always part of the standard work day. Hackathons at Outbrain provide the perfect mode and platform for engineers to bring out their very best. It’s called “Think/ Create/ Review/ Present”.

But even though Hackathons are a time to open minds and get the creative juices flowing, there are still some rules to stick to (just a few, I promise!). Here they are:

Hack it – Don’t break it

The Hackathon was all about “experiences” – and by that, we mean how we can improve our workflow and make the technologies we use more effective in reaching Outbrain’s business goals. When you develop back-end projects, the temptation to deploy for real is very high. This is only one of the urges people naturally have during a Hackathon, so to make sure we don’t succumb, we’ve created the bible of Hackathon Dos and Don’ts:

  1. Don’t risk the production environment. Hack it. Don’t break it.
  2. Don’t work on road-map items during the Hackathon.
  3. Don’t go home early.
  4. When you feel tired, do check your team’s refreshments kit. We equipped teams in every room with energy drinks and snacks to keep them feeling alert and fresh.
  5. If you need to take a break, don’t interrupt your team or others. This is a really important one. The Hackathon is a total team effort, and the social influences on team members is very strong. If someone is going down, they risk taking the whole team down too.

Hackathon 2018

Pitch, Vote, Win

So, at the end of the first day, exhausted at 11pm, we all left our half-finished projects and went home. We arrived on the second day eager to finish what we started and to begin preparing our (hopefully) winning presentation. At any Hackathon, it’s important to provide a completely level playing field, so we thought the best way for all teams to present their project was at a “Pitch Market”. The 5th floor at Outbrain’s office became a temporary hotspot for entrepreneurs, as the teams displayed their ideas to passersby who wandered the room. The atmosphere was electric – you could feel the excitement in the air! The range of “outside the box” ideas was incredibly varied- from mobile applications to internal use services, and core technology developments on our products. For example, one group built an app called “Pick a Pack” that photographs incoming packages to our office, and automatically notifies the recipient about the delivery(!).

Hackathon 2018

The Value of the Hackathon

At Outbrain, there are many guidelines that take top priority, however, there is one that we need to consider everywhere and at all times – the value we generate, as individuals, as a team, and as a company.

Hackathons are one of the best things an organization can do to encourage the sense of generating value. The first value to promote is innovation. Outbrain devotes many resources in order to give the teams the tools to succeed in their mission. This also enhances the character of Outbrain as a cutting-edge technology company.

The second value is creating a culture of taking initiative. The Hackathon itself was the initiative of one of our managers, Roy Bass.

The third and last value is, of course, ideas and innovation. Ideas for new products don’t always come from product managers. Outbrain’s Hackathon was a great way to boost new ideas, from thought to implementation, in a few hectic (and fun!) days.

Want to be our next hackathon rockstar? See our open positions

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