[INTERVIEW] Opower's Internal Hackathon

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Last September, we had a wonderful time working in an internal hackathon for Opower with Tyler Savage, their Business Operations Associate. The goal was to help their international tech team to meet and have fun together through a programming game.

Thanks a lot to him for this great Interview!

1. Hello Tyler, can you introduce to us Opower and its R&D team?

Opower combines a cloud-based platform, big data, and behavioral science to help utilities around the world reduce energy consumption and improve their relationship with their customers. This helps consumers lower their energy use and costs, and significantly reduces carbon emissions. Opower is transforming the way the world approaches household energy conservation.

We partnered with our first utility client in 2007 from a rented desk in San Francisco. Since then, we’ve grown into a well-capitalized business with more than 560 employees, and offices in Arlington, Virginia, San Francisco, London, Singapore and Tokyo. We work with more than 95
utility partners, including 28 of the 50 largest U.S. electric utilities, and reach more than 50 million
households and businesses across nine countries. Together with our clients and their customers, we’re saving energy, saving money, and helping reduce carbon emissions. Opower’s R&D team is in three location, Arlington, VA - San Francisco, CA - Odessa, Ukraine.

Our engineering and product teams develop Opower’s product line of Home Energy Reports (HERs), Peak Time Rebates, web and mobile frameworks, along with other customer facing tools that focus on analytics and automation.

2. How was the idea at Opower to organize a coding challenge born?

Each year Opower’s engineering organization holds a three day offsite. During the offsite a four-hour hackathon is held to encourage healthy competition and team building. The last few years the focus of the hackathon was on internal technology, so this year we wanted to include a unique coding challenge that had nothing to do with Opower.

3. What were your goals and prerequisites for the event?

The primary goal was to have fun and encourage team building.  Also, we were looking for something very unique and customizable for our group.  We needed all of that to be executed in just four hours, which was likely the most challenging requirement of all!

4. What were the determining criteria in the choice of CodinGame as a partner?

CodinGame met all of our requirements and supported our goals! CodinGame was also incredibly supportive of our tight turn-around timeline leading up to the event.  Over the last month before the hackathon, the CodiGame staff was more than willing to conduct late night meetings to accommodate the international time change. All of their outstanding efforts led to making the event a success.

5. Tell us how the challenge played out and what were the highlights!

The overall highlight was the healthy competition!  Every team was engaged in the game and you could see the folks pair program with all the wheels spinning to overcome the competition.

6. In the end, did the result meet your expectations?

Overwhelmingly, YES! From start to finish, the CodinGame hackathon was a highlight for our engineering team during our annual conference.  Of course, it was the CodinGame staff that made it work so well as the helped get everything set up and even were available for support during the event.

7. In your opinion, what is the real advantage of a CodinGame online challenge compared to traditional team building events?

The CodinGame experience really brought the team building activity to life. Teams were able to participate in healthy competition and bring their own style of coding strategy to the TRON arena.

8. What were, for you, the most positive points in this collaboration with CodinGame? Would you have any suggestions for areas of improvement?

I would suggest trying to find a way for larger team interaction. We had six people on each team, which made it hard for everyone to participate in the CodinGame event. The reason for six people on a team was because we took the approach of having multiple challenges during the hackathon, some technical and others more hands with physical objects. All that to say, finding a way for four to six people to actively code would be awesome! Pair programming is always an option, which I think we tried to do well.

9. And for the future, do you foresee other events of this type?

Yes! A vast majority of the engineers have requested that Opower host other CodinGame events.  So we’ll be setting something up in the near future!


What Opower's Tech team thought:

"I really enjoyed the TRON competition on CodingGame. The platform provided an exciting and creative way to allow developers from all backgrounds and languages to compete on an even playing field. The ability to run your code as you developed it against competing teams' AIs was particularly fun, as you were able to analyze how your logic reacted to unique strategies. You were also able to try to tease apart what "brains" other teams has imbued into their systems, and try to create a resilient solution to adapt to those strategies.

I think it is a great forum for not only fun competition, but also a healthy learning/collaborative environment used in such a way as to have teams share their code and experiences as we compete."

Nowell Strite, Opower Software Engineer

"I really enjoyed the TRON challenge! I especially liked that no hints or algorithm ideas were given. It forced everyone to go through the thought process of, "How do I move. How do not go off the edge. How do I not kill myself. Good, that's in place, now how do I kill someone else". It was particularly interesting to be able to pull in other people's algorithms and play against them, trying to deconstruct their algorithm and then think of ways to beat it."

Caleb Astey, Opower Software Engineer

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