Company-Wide Hack Week Encourages Innovation
By: Sergio Gonzales and Robinson Piramuthu
Last month, eBay Chief Product Officer, RJ Pittman, and eBay Chief Technology Officer, Steve Fisher, piloted a new program, Hack Week, that gave everyone in their organization an entire week to design, develop, and deliver a new innovation concept.
In a bold move, we adjusted our roadmap commitments to give our innovators a dedicated week to focus on the ideas that inspire them and create innovative concepts that deliver value for our customers. From our interns, to new hires fresh out of college, to design experts, to data researchers, to our most seasoned programmers, everyone came together in the spirit of innovation.
More than 400 concepts were submitted and involved 7 major eBay offices around the world. Concepts included wearables, on-demand manufacturing, digital goods, computer vision, cryptocurrencies, security, natural language processing, machine learning, voice recognition, search science, and more. Innovations spanned product marketing, policy, business process, data insights, and technology infrastructure. Add in exciting activities like dueling drones, battling robots, and virtual reality gaming, and the energy on the campus was buzzing with excitement.
An event like Hack Week is like a marathon and tests our perseverance and rapid coding. We were allowed to choose the topics that inspired us, to be entrepreneurs driving the ideas that will transform eBay.
Our project involves computer vision, which is an emerging topic at eBay with still-developing resources and infrastructure. The challenge is how to put a complex system together in one week, from the UI to the back-end servers. Prior to hack week, a lot of planning happened mentally – picturing how the product will look like, what features it will support, which features exist (in some other form), and which needed to be developed in short time.
During Hack Week there were some organic unexpected developments that involved code optimization, UI simplification, and believe it or not, algorithm development. The most difficult day was the day before the final day. We encountered some problems with the back-end server that we postponed since we were focusing a lot on the front end. But it was a treat when we fixed the problem.
It was great to have full support from our eBay leaders during Hack Week. The continued focus without interruptions made it very productive.
Each location recognized its innovators with local awards, and several concepts are already underway having picked up executive sponsors during Hack Week demos. The best from each location will now move on to be reviewed by the executive leadership team to get their sponsorship in pursuing some of the larger, cross-domain innovation concepts.
Events like Hack Week, which are part of eBay’s larger Innovation Programs, are critical drivers for our continuing cultural transformation at eBay. It inspires our talent, helps them develop new skills, and gives them a channel for their voices to be heard. Driven by our purpose of delivering connected commerce and creating economic opportunity, our mandate to innovate to help our customers be successful is stronger than it has ever been.