An event with a history of over 10 years, ZiHack or Zitec's hackathon reunites talented people with all kinds of expertise from our organization. Project managers, graphic designers, data analysts and developers come together for 24 uninterrupted hours to merge their know-how into innovative prototypes that shake the current beliefs of "what we know and what is possible".
Curious by nature, I wanted to understand what this “ZiHack'' tradition was about, since I’ve only been around for the past year and almost a half. I didn’t know what to expect - colleagues’ commitment to hours of coding, designing, planning, brainstorming sessions that start on a Friday and linger into the weekend? A rather formal teamwork exercise; but it felt I was missing something. Why are all my colleagues so hyped when it comes to this event?
So I boarded a flight and set off to our headquarters in Bucharest, ready to be right in the middle of it and discover by myself where the excitement was coming from. And it took me only 2 days to learn that ZiHack is so much more than that. All the learnings, experiences and the overall feeling are wrapped up in the story of the 12th edition of our very own hackathon.
The 2023 Zitec hackathon: “(Zi)Hacking for good”
Although hackathons have their roots in the tech industry, Zitec seems to have gone beyond the perception that these events focus mostly on coders, bracing a sense of competition. Instead, right from the first edition, ZiHack focused on bringing closer all the bright and creative minds no matter their role. The single requirement was for every participant to be willing to connect through innovation, creativity and fun in order to explore open-ended tech possibilities.
Simple as that. For the 12th edition, I found 14 teams and ~120 colleagues joining from different cities all over the country. The office was more crowded than ever, buzzing with laughter, “nice to finally see yous” and an overall feeling that something was cooking. And it was! This year’s theme of the hackathon was Hacking for good, pointing out that every idea needs the right switch.
The organizing team prepared the perfect environment for the participants to go out of their comfort zone and do something new and exciting. 3 weeks in advance of the competition, the participants were invited to join call meetings to discuss their project ideas together with 6 assigned mentors.
At the same time, the teams had plenty of opportunities to find the perfect idea, as they were provided with various project categories to inspire and fuel morale:
The setup: the teams, competition, mentors, judges and the awards
14 teams of a maximum of 8 members were formed and prepared for the live 24h creativity marathon. Under the vigilant eye of their mentors, all teams had 5 hacking sessions (of 3 or 4 hours each) at disposal to give free rein to innovation. 7 awards were ready to be claimed by the end of the hackathon.
And this is how ZiHack started: with thorough planning, razor-sharp focus and subtle thrills. This hackathon seemed promising.
Yet, no competition can exist without the judges - a total of 8, this year. Here, the stress element enters into discussion in our story because judges are those who evaluate all the submissions. The jury criteria was not random: to be rewarded for the most innovative, useful and dynamic concept, the teams must’ve checked high scores for:
There was also a disqualifying criterion: apps were supposed to be functional and submitted on the dedicated DevPost page ZiHack #12 by the time of the presentation.
Wanting to know more and gather the vibe, I circled around my colleagues to get all the insights.
I noticed a lot of inclusion throughout the hacking sessions: many new colleagues, some at their first or second participation fitting perfectly among the more experienced ones. Also, it was interesting for me to see groups formed of new and old colleagues from cross-departments (e.g. Regista and Zitec), showing that people were really open and curious to work alongside those they hadn’t had the pleasure to interact with yet.
One of the coaches’ roles in the hackathon was to bring to earth those teams with project ideas too big to be done in 24 hours. This year, the teams seem to have split into two categories: some teams explored innovation using well known technologies and functionalities, while others got hyped by all the new AI possibilities and created never-done-before projects. Either way, all were well prepared and the sysadmin support team was very organized.
Data Analytics & Operations Director at Zitec & ZiHack mentor and hackathon veteran
This year we had a spectacular hack. The projects focus on AI and they have the potential to be used in real life.
Cloud Services Business Line Director at Zitec & ZiHack mentor
The projects this year were excellent - a combination of innovative ideas with real problems and practical solutions. The teams made an effort to venture outside of their comfort zones, which made it challenging for the judges to determine who would win. All the teams were hyped, with a cool energy and motivation that lasted right up until the last minute. It was really enjoyable to guide and mentor them.
Agile Delivery Director & ZiHack mentor
ZiHack is first and foremost an incubator of bright ideas and solutions, some of which manage to really shine. But it is also a playground, testing and development ground for our colleagues from Zitec. I was sincerely impressed by the amount of energy and dedication with which the teams worked, as well as by the amazing results. It's truly incredible what can be accomplished overnight.
Digital Products Portfolio Analyst & ZiHack mentor
Day 1 - Friday, 21st April
The opening day. 8:30 in the morning. Although it was early, I found my colleagues’ hackathon-like spirit intact, a ton of energy and enthusiasm. After a few words from our own CEO, encouraging everyone to connect with their creativity, the competition started.
They say that when people get together and brainstorm an idea, it may inspire a chain of brilliance. And while some teams had had one clear concept on their project right from the beginning, others had come up with several to choose from. But, whether the participants were on track with their projects or not, this year’s event was filled with a list of captivating activities to create an environment of social glue.
The teams enjoyed flavored ice-cream from an in-house visiting gelato station, fat branded donuts, specialty coffee prepared by a visiting barista, relaxing massage sessions offered by 3 chiropractors and trivia sessions. The adventurous ones went wild on a Fifa championship and a F1 simulator.
The first day had no official ending. Well, at least not for those young and restless who wanted to stay up all night. In the previous years, it was mandatory to code 24h without stopping. This ZiHack, however, allowed teams to rest starting with 10 pm. Yet, this break meant less time for finishing the project, on the one hand, but on the other, a clearer mind for those well rested. Lots of decisions.
Day 2 - Saturday, 22nd April
The second day equals the last mile of the competition. A quick breakfast and then other rounds of hack sessions.
In between, the teams enjoyed plenty of moments of battery-charging fun. There were talented artists who drew beautiful portraits and henna tattoos and a photo booth to make memories. For those curious, there was an escape room built especially for this occasion. There was no such thing as healthy snacks involved. Instead, we had a candy bar full of sugary goodies and energy drinks.
A little bit of stress and a strong mobilization capacity, unpredicted surprises and blockers that were treated in an instance, some amount of child-like joy and contagious laughter that cut down the tension - everything was experienced by the contestants.
14 hacking good projects and 120 winners
When the clock struck 5:30 pm, we witnessed the climax of the hackathon: the project presentations. Each team made their entrance on the notes of a song, representative for their work. From “The Final Countdown” by Europe, to “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy featuring Bruno Mars, or even the theme song from “The Young Pope”, everything started with a dance beat.
Some were nervous, some used humor to entertain the audience, while others approached the presentation on a more theatrical note, as they came prepared with costumes and masks. One of the teams approached the presentation similar to a television advertisement and filmed their video story on the outskirts of Bucharest, in the village they named their project after. Without doubt, every team member gave their all.
Here are the participants, their projects and their representative mascot:
A website that can be used as a practice test for QA candidates. 500, 404, visual, security and validation bugs were added on purpose.
A platform for corporate events (Teambuilding, ZiHack, Xmas Party etc.) where colleagues can complete various challenges & receive points
An AI tool adviser that makes recommendations regarding employee’s career goals
A platform where Zitec’s members can have access & check the online transactions & balance of the Zoni, our internal coin
A tool that processes feedback requests & given feedbacks, evaluating them in terms of specificity
The next Access Rights that integrates with Google, uses new tech & offers extra security
A web app that measures the breathing alcohol percentage of the tester & offers suggestions based on the result
An OpenAI that integrates ChatGPT in Google Chat (with Varutu TopGPT) & summarizes and transcripts our audio meetings
A chatbot that answers questions related to Zitec’s processes & gives information on where to access different resources
An AI that offers financial advice & delivers custom strategies and resources for smarter financial decisions
An app that shows what is required to reach a certain level of seniority in Zitec & transition to another department
A tool that standardizes, reduces errors and increases setup speed for WordPress projects using boilerplates and CLI
An internal app that connects Zitec’s members through different events & experiences outside of work
A platform that helps software companies to better understand & collaborate with their customers
The winner takes it all
As the last team finished their presentations, the judges entered into play to evaluate contestants’ efforts. The pressure shifted from the teams who were now bonding over beverages to the busy panel of judges. One hour and a half later - so it seemed quite a tough decision - and there were 7 official winners, but a total of 14 teams applauded for their epicness and shared accomplishments.
Excited, yet anxious, we all gathered in Zitec’s cafeteria area for the award ceremony. Competitive people willing to win, a round of applause, pretty diplomas and smiles all over followed.
Then a rush to the so-called “Treasure room”. Tradition says that Zitec provides the teams with a room full of prizes - from tech objects for the savvy, to toys for those feeling more child-like, to stationery items, even a Bible (rumor has it). Each contestant has 2 minutes to get into the room and choose their desired object. So, the stakes are high for the winners… or for the lucky ones.
Until next time!
What I’ve learned so far? For me, ZiHack was surprisingly eye-opening. It brought people together, encouraging their creative thinking, communication, spontaneity and excitement. The energy was high and it was interesting to see colleagues working and supporting each other, brainstorming and overcoming issues, sharing the rush of adrenaline and finally, celebrating their accomplishments. All the 14 teams brought a sense of unity, teamwork, trust, communication and collaboration. Nothing was left out.
It was a weekend with little sleep, but an engaging, educational and inclusive treat. Obviously, a final party with music and dance and booze could not be missed. After all, when there are winners, there is a celebration.
Did you know?
In the past years, some of the projects presented during our hackathons were massively publicized in the press. Here are some examples:
- Zecretary - a project that includes facial recognition. What it does is to recognize the team members of a company. It also notifies the responsible in case of a scheduled meeting, interview with a candidate or a courier coming with a parcel.
- Donate for a smile - a portal where NGOs in Romania can register their needs. Donors can send any item to those foundations that really need them.
- ShopAlyzer - a tool dedicated to online shops, which allows a technical and SEO analysis of the site.
- Unde sunt banii tăi? - a portal that explains, based on the average salary, how much money a person gives to the state.
Which project will be announced in the press this year, I wonder?