Marcio Martino, Senior Product Manager at Wildlife, writes about our first Hackathon during social distancing, and why this is such an important event for the company.
“Everything starts at Hackathon.” This is something you frequently hear at Wildlife, and it indicates the importance of this particular event in our culture. I can explain a little further: we currently hold three Hackathons each year at the company, and they’ve been essential for the development of prototypes and new games’ releases.
The first edition took place in 2013. Since then, we’ve held more than 20 events like this, and their schedule always focuses on making Wilders engaged in the agile development of prototypes, that can become whole products at some point. Zooba, Colorfy, and many other games were created in the course of the four-day marathon, thanks to the hard work of a considerable part of the company – and some fun surprises.
This is our biggest event, and we need to have a full dedication of the participants, so the teams involved in game development and art freeze their daily projects to focus 100% on this journey.
Some people have automatic enrollment into the marathon – that would be the case for Engineering, Art, Product, and Data Science professionals –, but QA, RH, Ops, Tech Services, Player Support, and Finance teams can also join. The office usually gets a unique display, snacks, and drinks within teams’ reach, and a separate space for our “Late Night Surprises” (this is one of our Hackathon’s trademarks, but I’ll talk about it soon).
I think it’s pretty clear how much Wildlife invests in Hackathons as a tool to enhance the work and the potential of Wilders, right? But in 2020, we had to rethink this dynamic, and invent a new way to hold our traditional (and beloved) marathon.
A BREAK FROM THE DAILY ROUTINE TO GET MORE CREATIVE
We’ve been working from home – and practicing social distancing – for more than 100 days. And the pandemic has affected all of our lives. Those who were used to going to an office every day had to adopt remote work, and even companies with sizable digital experience hurried to create Work From Home policies.
It was no different for Wildlife: although we already have a robust digital essence (we’re a tech company, after all) and all of our Wilders has some experience with remote work, we really appreciate face-to-face conversations. That could mean talking about a prototype or planning an event with other teams.
Therefore, the question lingered in our minds for a few weeks was: “How do we turn an essentially live event into a digital experience, with no consequences for the time and development of the projects?”. That was a vital issue not only for the Product team, regarding the progress of the work, and also for the Events team – formed by Priscila Caixeta, Tais Stofelli, Samara Santos, and Paula Barrios.
Priscila Caixeta is our Events Manager, and the Hackathon holds a special place in her heart. I’m sure she gets plenty of messages in the course of the marathon because she’s known, throughout the company, by the careful work she does in every edition.
When I asked her how she feels about the challenge we face every year, she told me: “We know how hard Wilders work during these four days – they have few sleep hours, but so much dedication –, so we think about every single detail to make this an exciting moment for them. We’re always trying to figure out how they feel when they get our gifts at home. It’s a huge responsibility, and there’s a lot of care in everything we do in the event.”
So, it should be no surprise that the Events team would make the most of this situation and take to our virtual Hackathon everything that made the live editions fun and efficient, handling every detail.
The first mission was breaking the perception that every day is the same while social distancing. So we began our plan by arranging what Wilders would receive at their homes. Every morning, we decided that since day one, they would get supplies to start the marathon and realize that something special was coming. In the following days, the Events team would send others gifts to participants, including food vouchers, so they could have their favorite meal at home.
Once those goodies were guaranteed, we started the other adaptation processes, and we had technical and organizational issues to tackle so the teams could begin working.
HOW TO MAKE REMOTE TEAMS WORK IN SYNC?
Communication is part of the Hackathon’s foundation. Teams are composed of four people, at most, and they have to deliver an original game project (filling our Game Design Document, also known as “GDD”), and work very hard throughout the event to set the main features of the project. In a nutshell, what they show at the end is not the entire game, but its backbone. With all the projects presented, we take them to the top management and decide whether we’ll pursue the winner and make it a real product.
It’s a huge collaboration experience, and that’s why communicating effectively is so important – and we couldn’t lose that in our remote version. Our best allies in this mission were our Slack channels, and they’ve never been so active in this social distancing moment. They really foster people’s interaction, making them share their project’s progress and also the fun aspect of working from home, like pictures of nice meals, pets, and a good amount of memes, of course.
This is all very important to show participants that, even working remotely, they’re not alone.
THE STRUCTURE IS PRACTICALLY THE SAME, BUT THE SURPRISES ARE OFF-BEAT
It was important to keep the same structure as the live Hackathon. Not only to make this remote one familiar for recurring teams but also to prepare the first-time participants – and there are lots of them. To give some idea about that, Wildlife hired more than 290 people since January – 190 of them already working from home.
In our current edition (that’s happening as you read this article), we also broke the record of entries, with 170 participants. So, it’s easy to see how our challenge gets bigger every year. And that’s the perfect time to talk about our “Late Night Surprise,” as promised.
In the previous editions of our in-office Hackathons, we usually invited artists and special guests to cheer our Wilders up. And our Events team wouldn’t dare to make a remote Hackathon without this particular moment. So, in our 20th edition (the first remote one), the Brazilian comedian Fábio Porchat performed a stand-up comedy routine for our groups on Zoom. It was quite an experience to witness 300 people laughing and enjoying the unexpected guest.
For the 21st edition, we chose a different path, with a hands-on activity. Yesterday, participants had to solve a puzzle with reasoning and logic and work in groups (which were different from their Hackathon project groups), in exchange for appealing prizes. It was pretty fun and intense – as is everything that happens during the Hackathons.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED SO FAR
The story of our first fully remote Hackathon is a story of success, but it also taught us a lot, and we want to put everything we learned into action going forward. We encourage people to send their feedback and suggestions and collect their opinion, especially about the delivery process.
One of the most important things we learned was regarding our “grand finale.” In the last Hackathon, we decided that, in the final step of the competition, the groups should make a quick presentation with videos that they would record at home. The result was quite successful, but it was a last-minute decision, and it felt improvised. This is officially part of the projects’ process, and the groups can plan ahead.
Another decision was keeping a “Hackathon Radio” as part of the event. This is a meeting we schedule to happen every day of the competition on Zoom, where everyone can join and listen to some music, find out about the news, keep up with the projects, and even win some prizes.
While a record quantity of Wilders bend over backward to get things done in our 21st edition, I write this article (amid all the fuss and alongside the Events, Tech Services, Communication, and Product teams), to make everything run smoothly so this can be our best Hackathon ever – hoping we get to know Wildlife’s new game in a couple of days.
Those who code also listen to music! Here’s the playlist created by all participants in the 21st edition of the Hackathon.