Some of Wayfair’s most innovative ideas have been born out of our internal hackathon, WayfairHacks, which takes place every Summer at our Boston headquarters. This includes our mobile app feature View in Room 3D and Search with Photo, both of which have helped us win a Webby Award in 2018 and 2019 in the category for Best Shopping App. Last year’s hackathon winner, driveWay, has also made its way into production – an internal app for truck drivers for routing and delivery tracking as a part of our supply chain network, addressing the challenge in first-mile transportation.
Then there is Wayfair Next – a team that was born out of the 2015 hackathon, and the team I’ve been on for the last 18 months. We focus on far-future R&D and investigate emerging technologies, such as our work with Mixed Reality on the Magic Leap One headset and our contributions to the 3D Commerce Working Group. These ideas, and more, have all started with a simple idea and a statement that starts with: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could…”.
While the hackathon itself is only a weekend long, there are pre- and post-hackathon related events which extend the festivities to nearly a full week, including a workshop day, kickoff ceremony, project expo, preliminary judging sessions, and the final judging event.
We just wrapped up our 2019 WayfairHacks season, and I’ve had the honor of leading the planning committee for the past two years with a team of 40 amazing organizers and volunteers, to ensure we provide the best experience for our hackers, judges, and workshop attendees.
This has been our biggest hackathon to date with over 200 participants and about 700 workshop attendees, including non-hackathon participants, in topics such as Machine Learning, Predictive Analytics, React/Redux, Kubernetes, and Web 3D. More than 30 projects were submitted, each of which were reviewed by a panel of judges, then narrowed down to five finalists to live pitch at the final ceremony in front of senior leadership, including CEO and co-founder, Niraj Shah.
As an organization with over 10,000 employees, it’s quite amazing that even as a summer intern, you could be pitching your idea directly to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and in the past, we’ve had interns win the hackathon! Being a hackathon after all, there is free swag, tons of food, and a chance to score other prizes, such as React Conference tickets or unique products off of our site, like an inflatable hot tub. Of course, all participants have access to a copious amount of Red Bull, too!
This year’s winning project is called IQE – Image Quality Estimation, which uses a machine learning model that takes an image as input and outputs a single image quality metric between 0-1. It enables us to more consistently and efficiently verify the quality of supplier- and customer-submitted images on our site. The grand prize winning team receives a cash prize and lunch with Wayfair co-founders, Steve and Niraj.
Hacker culture is an integral part of Wayfair’s DNA, as we’ve always encouraged passion projects to be worked on, and since 2011, we’ve hosted hackathons at Wayfair for employees to bring these ideas to life. This is one way we promote cross-pollination of ideas across the company, and drive creativity and innovation, while creating an outlet for hackers to have fun and explore their curiosity. I’m excited to see the momentum grow and see what amazing ideas come out of future hackathons!