Ready, set, type! Hackathon 2020
Behind the scenes

Ready, set, type! Hackathon 2020

Tobias Quelle
Zurich, on 23.07.2020
Packed workplaces, newly assembled teams, frustration, pizza parties and a brilliant closing event. That was the 2019 digitec Hackathon, which we wanted to carry out on an even larger scale in 2020. Then Corona came and messed everything up. Instead of cancelling the event completely, we created the Remote Coding Challenge 2020.

Eleven teams took part in the first digitec Hackathon last October. For two days (and one night) the teams worked on their projects – highs, lows, Red Bull, beer, pizza, gaming, a demanding audience and a strict jury were all included. This year, such scenes are hardly imaginable. Battered by Corona, we still won't surrender. Without further ado, we created the Remote Coding Challenge. Within a month, the organizing committee spared no effort, worked hard and put the event on its feet in accordance with Covid-19 restrictions.

The Remote Coding Challenge is all about hacking, too: which feature is missing in the online shop? What has long been annoying about our own ERP? How can the goals be better achieved or processes be made more efficient? Twelve teams take up the challenge and work on one idea each for two days. Accessibility optimisation, Shopping Assistant or Single Page Application in ERP – twelve ideas made it into the final selection. Originally, 42 challenge projects were submitted.

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A surprising kick-off

It's a sunny Wednesday morning in July. The teams don't notice the nice weather: at 9 am sharp, the Remote Coding Challenge starts. Some teams have gathered in their offices. But most of the employees have taken their place in front of their home PC. At the virtual kick-off, all hackers gather and get in the mood for two days of coding. In addition to the obligatory news about the schedule, there are also some surprises waiting for the teams, such as a snack package and a joint dinner in the form of beer roulette (a virtual dinner in different drinking groups).

As a surprise, we sent a food parcel to all participants.
As a surprise, we sent a food parcel to all participants.

30 decisive hours

As soon as they get the go-ahead, the teams form up and start working. All teams first enter the Discovery Phase. This involves weighing out all their options, trying to figure out how to best impress the judges the following day. We noticed that the teams quickly became engrossed in their work when the joint browser games event in the early afternoon attracted only a few participants. On the other hand, the conversation ran wild during the evening's dinner, as most groups where randomly thrown together. During a virtual tour the next morning, it quickly became clear that some teams had worked hard and were already proud of what they had to show. The OC was also satisfied, regularly commenting via the DGonair channel on Twitter and continuing to prepare the pitch ceremony.

The pitch has to be perfect

Thursday afternoon, it's 16:30 and time is up: many participants in the Remote Coding Challenge have already logged in to the pitch call. Some join a little later - did they only finish at the last minute? Then the actual pitches begin. One speaker per team presents the idea - from the problem, to the impact, to the live demonstration. Each team gets 5 minutes - no more, no less. The Shopping Assistant team is the first to introduce their personal assistant. This tool is meant to help customers, especially those with unknown delivery dates, and suggest alternative products.

Time's up and the pitches are fire.
Time's up and the pitches are fire.

Then everything happens really quickly: among other things, the teams show how they want to correctly record adapters in the incoming goods department or improve the accessibility of the online shop. But there are also some technical pitches involved: for example, one team asked itself how to accelerate isomorphisation - that's what we internally call the migration of pages to our new front-end stack (React, TypeScript, Next.js). After almost one and a half hours, the pitches are done and voting commences. Which team was the most convincing? Voting is not only open to the Challenge participants, but to all those who followed the pitches live. But first, time for everyone to catch their breath.

Our community has final say

Break's over. The organizing committee announces that almost 100 votes have been received. And there's quite a struggle for first place. Then it's all over in no time: the virtual curtain rises and the Shopping Assistant team takes third place. The team rep was pleased and thanked everyone for voting and their cooperation. The Accessibility Team comes in second place. And in the end, Team James takes the cake. The crowd roars, the speaker is thankful. And in usual Oscars fashion, he also thanks his and his colleague's mother. During the challenge, the team consisting of two software engineers and a UX Designer worked on the automatic translation of community contributions to the online shop. Be it product reviews or answers to other user questions - the community contributions on digitec and Galaxus are displayed in their original language. You have to be a polyglot so that you don't miss an interesting opinion or helpful evaluation. To fix this, the team uses automatic translations so that the user can see all posts in their own language. A worthy first place.

Finally, the founders get their turn

Finally, there's the «Founders’ Prize». digitec founders Florian Teuteberg and Oliver Herren also have a say in the matter, awarding the historic challenge cup - a 500-page book on Access databases, which contributed to the early success of the company. The prize, which went to Team Magic Like at the first digitec Hackathon, is now changing hands. Florian speaks up, impressed by the many ideas that will bring immediate benefits. While Florian and Oliver present their shortlist, the tension rises. Who will win the Founders' Prize? The winner is revealed: Better PowerAdapter. The team consisting of two software engineers created a tool that ensures customers receive the right adapter for their device. For some products, plugs don't fit the Swiss system. The solution provides guidance for employees in the incoming goods department so that the appropriate adapters for Swiss customers can be identified better and faster in the in-house ERP system. The prize proves that coding deep into the night was worth it.

The victorious teams.
The victorious teams.

Update on Magic Like: winners of the 2019 Hackathon

Last year, Team Magic Like not only won the Hackathon, but also the Founder's Prize. But the feature is still missing from our shop: customers cannot yet swipe in a Tinder-fashion. We're still working on implementing the idea - we're approaching the problem of finding visually similar products. After the hackathon, a corresponding initiative was drawn up by the Darwin engineering team. They're now gradually approaching the subject. Magic Like is part of this initiative. Due to the high complexity of both the UX and the calculation of qualitatively good recommendations, the team first focuses on the latter. Customers already receive suggestions for visually similar products on the product detail page, consisting of over 400 categories (mainly in the Home & Living area). Want to observe the development of the matching features? Just press «Haven't found anything suitable?» under the pendant lights category. Further categories will follow. Next, the development team is looking at the category pages and considering the next step towards Magic Like.

Are you good at hacking? Want to join the Digitec Galaxus crew? Then check our current job offers. We currently have many exciting roles and positions to fill.

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Tobias Quelle
Tobias Quelle

Head of Product & UX, Zurich

E-Commerce enthusiast and passionate developer of digital products in cross-functional teams. Wears the customer glasses and combines the user experience with agile software development and an entrepreneurial view.

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