It was Katrina Yu’s 1st day at Irdeto. She was excited to participate in her first remote, global digital Hackathon. Katrina works out of Irdeto’s Chinese office, and the Hackathon track she signed up for would take place from 10-11:30 pm her time. Katrina was ready to join and eagerly logged on to the session from her parent’s home.
Welcome to Irdeto! Go find a remote control
Katrina logged on to the Hackathon and immediately was introduced to several colleagues from around the world, who in this track happened to all be native English speakers. The session leader came on and announced that the team was going to participate in a scavenger hunt! Immediately! All participants should get up and race off to find a remote control!
Unfortunately, as Katrina stood up, she realized she could not move anywhere, because her room was pitch black (it was late at night) and her dog immediately started barking loudly. That’s the moment she realized that everyone would be able to see inside her room. And it was less than organized! This Hackathon was going to be a unique experience…
Actually, this was the kind of experience Katrina was looking for. In China, she was fortunate to have a great education that prepared young professionals for dynamic, interactive digital environments, like Irdeto. Katrina has a rich background in finance, calligraphy, media, and education, and had worked for the Beijing TV station and Denuvo before joining Irdeto as our newest Facilities Coordinator. Katrina enjoys performing exciting tasks for work, so staying up late to push an innovative idea was actually one of the reasons she was excited to work at Irdeto. She had invested some time researching her track in anticipation of the Hackathon. But now, it was 10 pm her time, and she just wanted to focus on speaking very slowly so that her new colleagues could understand her and the thoughts she was going to make. And to make sure no one could see her messy room!
One track? Igor joins two at the same time
Over the past 12 years working at Irdeto out of the Moscow office as a Pre-Sales Engineer, Igor Petrenko has seen it all. But today was special because he was going to participate in his first Global Virtual Hackathon at Irdeto. And to push himself even further, he was going to join two separate Hackathon tracks at the same time.
Passionate about technology and solutions, Igor enjoys working at Irdeto because of the multitude of technologies that he gets to work on. As the company’s technologies evolved, Igor got to work on watermarking, keys and credentials, and more.
“I was excited about Irdeto’s Hackathon because it is about ideas. It’s nice to work on a problem together with people from different backgrounds. It’s exciting… like visiting different cultures of restaurants that gives you a lot of new experiences.” Igor recounted. “When people from different areas from different departments work on a new idea and bring different experiences there are great chances to do interesting things.”
Igor joined Irdeto’s Hackathon from Moscow, where they usually start and finish work later in the day. Igor always enjoys visiting Irdeto’s main office in the Netherlands because he has many former Russian colleagues who moved there for work, so whenever he sees them it’s like a family reunion.
And Igor was excited to test new ideas and believes that having to use remote solutions had a positive effect on his collaborations. He thinks the virtual Hackathon allowed Irdeto to be more flexible with how they tackled the Hackathon tracks.
To prove this point to himself, and despite being on a lockdown in Moscow and working remotely, Igor managed to not only work on a key Hackathon track, but also joined in a separate Hackathon track and a seminar in Russia at the same time!
A chance to do something cool
Scott Seligman had been waiting for this. For the past 13 years, Scott’s been performing innovative work and participating in legendary Hackathons. As one of Irdeto’s Principal Software Developers on the Online Piracy Detection team, Scott has been a technical pioneer, working remotely over the past eight years out of the Seattle area.
Scott was determined to do something different at this year’s Hackathon. To do so, he knew he had to employ non-traditional methods, but didn’t have a choice: In addition to having COVID-19 related challenges for the event, Scott’s track also featured several participants from all over the globe. Time zones were a challenge, as he had to accommodate attendees from Beijing, Moscow, Ottawa, and even North Hollywood! These challenges inspired Scott.
“In my opinion, the best Hackathons are those where people come together and clobber each other in a conference room. “Scott stated. “I wanted to virtually recreate that but in different International time zones. And to make sure everyone had something they could work on and push to the limit.”
Scott took steps to enhance collaboration for his global team. As most of the people in his track were in Ottawa, he had a long-running Zoom session open and left the feed open so people from other regions could come on and interact as needed. He also tried to find a window where things overlap and to give participants the chance to be productive on their own. For instance, Scott had a developer in Beijing who was able to do his own thing and be productive with the team, even though there’s a 15 hour-time difference between Seattle and Beijing.
When innovation pays off
The big challenge that Scott’s team tried to solve was to get machine learning to match the proficiency from manual filters that are already in place help find titles. Sounds easy right? The idea was advertised as “Movie titles in torrent filenames are difficult to extract: Let’s find an intelligent way to extract the title and match it against a list of titles we’re looking for. “
So, Scott tried to see how machine learning could, with no previous experience or knowledge of titles, be able to match tools that already have years of knowledge and experience.
Scott had personally always found machine learning to be very promising, because it can find some trends and some other work that we may not have previously found. Scott hoped that at the end of the Hackathon he could have some work he could use to advance a theory.
Pushing the concept
Two things helped Scott thrive at the 2020 Hackathon:
- Having an outside set of fresh eyes
One of Scott’s main goals when he set up the Hackathon was to not show people what he had done, because he wanted people to be as unbiased as possible.
- Getting people who could push ideas to their max.
Irdeto’s Will Hickie performed some impressive work to push Scott’s concept forward. Will found that machine learning could find machine titles on their own. This idea was something that Scott had always wanted to pursue but had never had the chance to push himself. Will ran with the idea and created a prototype at the Hackathon. This work was invaluable in pushing the project toward the next level.
Even Scott was surprised and impressed by the advancements Will made toward proving the use case of machine learning. Scott had collected a small amount of data that suggested that it was not an automatic fit, but always believed that it could be and wanted a chance to prove it. Will’s work proved that there is a good fit here for machine learning. It found matches. We understand that, under the covers, it does not understand language, but somehow it was able to figure it out and find the title matches, which was very impressive!
Experienced, just not with Hackathons
Rich Cashdan was nervous about his first Irdeto Hackathon. Although he possessed extensive marketing experience and was hired as Irdeto’s Global Content Marketing Manager, he had been working at Irdeto for just two months and Irdeto’s Hackathon was scary, because he did not want his new colleagues to know that he may not be the most technical person in the world!
When dazed met confused
As they experienced their first Hackathon, Rich Cashdan and Katrina Yu were placed together in the same breakout room for their individual track, with three other Irdeto employees to push the group’s idea further.
During the first breakout session, Rich did not follow what they were discussing, because his expertise laid in Irdeto’s other businesses, and not this particular track, which was a technical discussion for another business.
Throughout their group discussion, Rich saw that his new Chinese colleague Katrina was also a bit nervous and struggling to follow the group. As Rich was having the same struggles, he reached out to Katrina via instant message and asked her if she could follow what they were saying. No, she answered! Rich told Katrina he couldn’t either even if English was his first language. They laughed about the madness.
Fortunately, Rich had another colleague in the breakout group who he worked closely with and reached out to her for feedback on the session as it went on. She explained what they were talking about to Rich, who passed on the info to Katrina, who was grateful to get some clarity on the discussions.
Throughout the rest of the Hackathon, Rich and Katrina exchanged texts, jokes and information about their Hackathon track. They eventually managed to understand what the group was discussing, and even contributed and pushed some of the ideas forward.
Since the Hackathon, Rich and Katrina have remained work friends. They Zoom each other to talk about the COVID outbreak and Katrina has sent Rich her impressive graphic design samples to see if she can get more involved in some Marketing projects.
“Katrina Yu is hilarious!” Rich stated. “I am a married middle-aged American man working in the Netherlands with two young kids. I would have never spoken to Katrina if not for the Hackathon. And now I know she’s the best person ever to have a morning Zoom chat with!”
“I have discovered that older people from other countries are interested in my hobbies.” joked Katrina. “The Hackathon was a great experience for me. I think products are the soul of our company, and now I know a lot more about our products than I did before the Hackathon and I met my colleagues.”
Irdeto loves innovative attitudes
As Irdeto’s Global Head of Innovation, I loved seeing the amazing attitudes that all our people brought to the Hackathon. For instance, Igor sets a great example of an interactive employee who makes Irdeto and the products we work on better. He is really good at pushing technologies to new heights with people with different backgrounds. That’s what the 2020 Hackathon is about.
And Scott’s Hackathon experience was a cool example of how specific ideas can inspire people. Scott picked an idea for a Hackathon that ended up attracting interest from five other people around the world to work on. Not only did they all have fun working on it, but this group of people can join together and consult when other problems in this subject matter area pop up in the future.
Rich and Katrina’s experience showed that we brought people together who otherwise would have never known each other and discovered that they had so much in common.
We had to overcome three key obstacles this year: Participants could not physically be together to brainstorm, we had to accommodate people from more than 10 different countries with different home office set ups, and there were employees across multiple different world time zones. I hoped for the best, but wasn’t sure what to expect.
Having gone through this experience, one thing is clear: Innovation is best when done together. The fact that so many teams came together remotely to drive ideas forward from across the globe was amazing.To properly brainstorm an idea you need lots of different perspectives. That can only come from our amazing employees.
COVID-19 may have made it impossible to be together in-person this year, but being able to technically innovate no matter the circumstances just proved that you can’t stop the Irdeto innovation machine! Even better: with the reduced costs of hosting a global remote Hackathon, we could have them more frequently and solve even more of Irdeto’s most pressing problems quickly. I am already looking forward to the next one.