Many of you know, we’re a company that likes to do team events. Such as Workations, MJ University, or the Summer Camp. We always loved to spend time together, in person, getting to know each other, and having good times together. It’s part of our company culture and a strong one.
Since COVID-19, we didn’t want to take any risks, and in favor of everyone’s safety at Mobile Jazz, we decided to cancel any on-site events until it’s safe enough to do them again (hopefully soon!).
It’s been more than a year, with new people joining the team where we weren’t able to gather, and we missed those times and had the feeling we didn’t have any event for team bonding (which would usually happen naturally on our regular team gatherings) in a long time. So, how could we fill that gap?
Keeping up the Team-Bonding
When doing our regular events, we often travel to different places, so no one is at their home, and hence, nobody has errands to run or responsibilities after work. This leads to people joining naturally and seeking activities such as exploring the city or area where we’re at or simply going for some beers.
Being a remote-based team, spread around the world, makes it harder to create or find these spaces, obviously because of the physical location of each but also because of everyone’s duties. We were missing these moments, and we wanted to somehow bring those back in while we can’t plan for our regular events.
We were missing these moments and we wanted to somehow bring those back in while we can’t plan for our regular events.
We envisioned the Fun Fest to be a free-form event where anyone could propose ideas and people could join in groups based on their interests/mood every day. There were many proposals and activities being hold during the event such as:
- Playing online chess tournaments (we have some Kasparov’s in the team!)
- Discovering and playing with new technologies
- Doing round-tables of various topics we’re interested in
- Unleashing our creativity playing some rounds of Gartic Phone
- Becoming hackers in a capture-the-flag game finding flaws on a web app
Asides from these activities we held and had fun with, we also played something special, a custom Tron game a couple of our engineers created from scratch to bring a bit of innovation to the event.
Mobile Jazz’s Tron – A Code Challenge
We were thinking about the event activities when one of our engineers recalled an activity they used to do back in university, a coding challenge. This is essentially an exercise where developers create their best algorithms to solve a problem, sparkling up the challenge with some competitiveness.
Tron is a 1982 sci-fi movie where riders had to compete against each other in a delimited area. Each of their bikes would leave a trace behind resulting in a solid wall where other bikers could crash into. Riders had to move along the area while avoiding hitting the playground walls or other rider’s traces and only one person could win each game.
As good nerds we are, most of us knew and watched Tron and destroyed our fingers beating the snake game of the good old indestructible Nokia 3110 phones. So we went ahead and created our own version of the game, where 4 teams had to compete against each other and try to be the last-standing team.
Initially, our bikes were just dumb pieces of code that we had to improve and turn into smart algorithms capable of executing strategies to keep them alive. In other words, we had to create a code deciding what each bike should do in each movement (essentially moving up, down, left, or right). The concept sounds simple, but each team has to account for the other 12 bikes moving around making their own decisions based on their own code and strategies.
Here’s where each engineer had to prove their skills, using cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence or genetic engineering. Yes, genetic engineering, you’ve read well. Beyond deciding in which direction each bike should go the code had to be smart enough to predict what others would do, or find the best possible path avoiding any obstacle in between.
To make it even more interesting, one of our highly creative front-end engineers built a retro-looking UI interface where we were able to test our codes, and ultimately join together to watch the championship finale.
It was a ton of fun and every one of us took different approaches, from crazy algorithms taking more than 2000 lines of written code to very efficient ones using only 41 lines and still, ending up in the top 5 teams.
The Outcome of the Event
Some people might put their hands on their heads when we explain we stopped working all afternoons during a week and, instead, paid our team to enjoy, have fun and do anything they like non-work-related.
Truth is, we discovered early events have a great outcome in terms of team bonding and preserving a strong team culture. Having a motivated team requires a healthy workspace and by focusing only on work you leave aside an important fact, each one’s personality and interests.
While the Fun Fest won’t be our best-remembered event (we all agree we prefer to spend time together in person), it helped us forget about the pandemic horizon for a while, which held us locked down in our homes without a window to do some social interactions. We keep good memories about it, and we’ll for sure remember those fun moments that happened during the MJ Fun Fest.