The Human Factor: Building Leadership with a Digital Hackday

People. That’s our number one asset.

Our neighbours are people. Our customers are people. Our employees are people.Yet it’s remarkable how often technology and business strategy can be prioritized above people. Innovation and transformation are nothing but words without considering the human factor. 

So a while ago, ATB asked itself an honest question: are we creating an environment for our own team members to see their talents thrive, and to see themselves as true Transformers - team members that constantly push the boundaries of what is possible while also executing against our transformation strategy.

What was uncovered was that providing wider sandboxes for our own employees to identify and co-create creative solutions on their own, based on their own perspectives and passions at ATB. Internally, teams and guilds have a handful of agile experiments already happening, but we thought it was high time we went bigger, flashier - and more cross-disciplinary - with a healthy dose of competition.

In the early hours of the morning on May 23rd, ATB’s first ever internal Digital Hackday challenge was launched. For 48 hours, members of Transformation’s Digital Guild, Customer Experience, and LEAP self-assembled into teams to identify and tackle a project of their choosing in any area of interest or that they felt posed a challenge to Digital’s strategy.

140 people formed into 27 teams (across the ATB campuses in Calgary and Edmonton, as well as remote workers as far away as New Brunswick). Countless cans of Red Bull later…all 27 teams presented their projects.

Why Hacking Builds Leadership:
Internal Hackdays and Hackathons aren’t new. There are plenty of examples dating over the past decade as to how these internal, high-energy, sleep-depriving, CPU-exhausting events have been the catalyst for major product advancements and releases (Randi Zuckerberg has her own story of creating Facebook Live in the middle of the night as a crazy idea during a FB internal employee hackathon, for instance).

But upon reflection, ATB’s own Hackday provided an authentic stage to put our own team members in the driver’s seat. To let them bring forth pains, challenges, desires and have the opportunity to do something about them. Teams where then given the opportunity to show off their ideas and creations to peers and executives.

Put bluntly, we ask our people to transform our 80 year-old business. This event highlighted the wealth of vision and leadership across the organization, and gave everyone a chance to see how they themselves are a force that advances transformation. A culture of ingenuity inside our own institution shone bright. Why? Because people.

Teams focused on solving their self identified challenges, Google experts were on hand for the entire event, Red Bull was flowing and plenty of pizza kept folks at ATB campuses late into the night. The event had a multitude of amazing sponsors to support this grassroots movement including Google, Salesforce, Splunk, Red Bull, Violino Restaurant, Stagewest hospitality & Play Estate Winery.

The Digital Hackday challenge allowed our leadership teams to be intentional about investing in our own people, to create moments for listening, collaboration and skill development.

And (no surprise) the challenge launched some truly killer ideas:

Hack to the Future (1st Place Overall)
Team members: Denny Yang, Eric Klinger, Ryan Campbell, Scott Dowding, Shu Tay

Hack to the Future wanted to make pull requests easier for their fellow Digital team members. Pull requests are a way for developers to review and discuss potential changes to a project. This process has some manual validation steps required, so they created a new bot, Heimdall. The bot deploys the changes to a temporary environment so visual validation can be done quickly. This bot also opens up the possibilities of running automated tests against changes prior to being added to a project.

Fan Favourite Winner: Gesamtkunstwerk
Team members: Ben Schreiber, Glen Nelson, Gumpwa Luong, Travis Dilts, Trevor Bourget

Gesamtkunstwerk wanted to tackle the inefficiency and high costs in the way Digital is currently utilizing Google Services. They built a platform that checks the feasibility of moving any particular Kubernetes deployment to Google App Engine and Cloud Functions. This allowed the team to compare and analyze the costs between the three products. Ultimately, Gesamtkunstwerk found that Digital could achieve significant cost savings by transferring some deployments to other platforms within the Google ecosystem.

Honourable Mentions: Lost in Space
Team members: Gary Gao, Aaron Fernandes, Sree Hari, Kenneth Tam, Rebecca Liu

Lost in Space challenged themselves to better understand the user experience of our applications, and how could we better capture and understand user responses. Their hack, the FitBack tool, detects facial expressions of participants using AI and machine learning. The tool correlates application features/pages (URLs) with Count of Emotions for analytics. 

The application could revolutionize the way we, as an organization, gauge customer satisfaction and the insights we leverage when developing applications.

Of all the outcomes of our Digital Hackday, the leadership and teamwork that developed are the greatest drivers in our pursuit of meaningful, transformative disruption. Follow along with everything our Transformers are up to - subscribe to alphaBeta below.

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