Zühlke – Empowering Ideas

Climate Hackathon Logo

A better tomorrow, powered by Zühlkes culture of growth and development

Jonas Alder

An international team of six Zühlke colleagues has triumphed in a developers’ hackathon—and they’ve credited Zühlke’s approach to Learning and Development for helping them achieve their success.

The Climate Hackathon invites teams of developers to come up with innovative technical solutions to environmental challenges set by NGOs and start-ups. The most recent event took place on 22-26 March 2021, and a Zühlke team—called the Purple Penguins—won the Ecosystem prize (there are two other prizes for Waste and Carbon).

Insight in brief

  • Read all about how a six-strong team of analysts and developers won the Ecosystem prize in the Climate Hackathon.
  • Learn how they were able to benefit from Zühlke’s learning and development (L&D) approach to encourage group-wide participation and assemble their team.
  • Discover how they used advanced technologies to build an intelligent Data Exploration Platform to help inform the environmental policies of tomorrow.

Growing a team with the right mindset

Jonas Alder, one of the Zühlke team, said: ‘We would not have known how to organize such group-wide participation without the possibilities offered within our L&D strategy. It offers an extremely wide range of opportunities, including some that you might not see at first glance.’ Working at Zühlke means constant learning, personal growth, knowledge exchange and helping others to develop. Yet, while there is strong company support for that, those activities are self-organized.

The team recognized the fantastic learning potential of the hackathon—applying their technical and collaboration skills to a sustainability challenge, and potentially inspiring clients with their commitment. They pitched the idea to Zühlke’s senior leadership and received strong support, both time and budget. Jonas continued: ‘We placed the idea online internally, had it challenged, and promptly found our first team members. We then contacted all Zühlke countries and received many more suggestions.’ 

The final team comprised four engineers—with expertise in frontend, backend, cloud, and data engineering—and two business analysts from across Austria, Switzerland and the UK. Their different backgrounds and roles were essential to the team’s success.

The team in one of their endless videocalls designing their solutions' architecture

Climate Hackathon Call

Innovative climate policy radar solution

Together, they built an intelligent Data Exploration Platform to identify the most effective laws and policies on the environment. The aim was to come up with an intuitive tool to help people make better-informed decisions about how to design legislation. Jonas said: ‘If we know what works and what doesn't, we can potentially have an impact on everything—from food and agriculture to carbon emissions, energy, waste, natural disasters, and so on.’ 

Almost every country has put laws and policies on climate in place. The Purple Penguins solution uses state-of-the-art topic extraction and similarity-matching techniques to identify legislation from all over the world that’s relevant to a user's search request. The platform uses artificial intelligence to automatically rank search results by relevance, and then presents them in context as a visual policy tangle. Users—in one view—can identify the most important laws and policies for their task, plus similar policies that may be worth thinking about, and also less relevant ones that might still provide inspiration.

There are also additional tools like:

  • Quick-and-easy information access via tooltips and screen design
  • Marketplace-like features based on similarity matching (i.e. people looking at this policy were also interested in that law)
  • Smart A-B-comparison by clicking on tangle connections (i.e. policies A and B have X in common but differ in Y)
Climate Hackathon Policy Radar

High-stakes working environment

The team met for the first time just three days before the event. They discussed each other’s strengths, matched their skills to the various different challenges available, and eventually settled on the climate policy radar project. They started working on the challenge first thing on the Monday morning and handed their solution in just ten minutes before the deadline on Friday. Their initial approach was focused on data ingestion but—following a chat with the CEO of the start-up that had set the challenge—they shifted their attention to information querying.

Jonas said: ‘It was like hitting a bump in the road and becoming enlightened at the same time. We changed our solution and lost one day of work, but found our path to the right way.’ The Purple Penguins worked well together as a team, thinking creatively and trying out new technologies (such as Blazor) to come up with an innovative solution. The Climate Hackathon organizers announced them as the winners on the Sunday.

Jonas said: ‘It was a pretty good feeling to have won our track! And it even opened up a potential sales opportunity, as we’re now in contact with the start-up.’

What you can gain from the Zühlke culture of growth and development

Our approach strives to create intentional learning opportunities in your everyday life.

You can benefit from a cycle of continuous personal development through:

  • Frequent coaching and ‘check-ins’ with your line manager or career coach
  • Increased opportunities to help you learn ‘on the project’ and advance your career
  • Hands-on, relevant training courses spread out across several sessions
  • Being able to work on innovation topics that impact directly on Zühlke’s business
  • Cross-location and international learning—which may be especially important if you’re in a smaller office
  • The option to take part in individual development programs to boost your strengths and create a bigger impact at Zühlke.

As Jonas said, on winning the Climate Hackathon: ‘If an opportunity comes along, don't think about it too much. Just go for it, especially if it takes you out of your comfort zone.’

Also, find out how the Zühlke culture of growth and development supports modern cloud skills and how being a coach or a coachee is energizing and rewarding below:

Jonas Alder

Jonas Alder

Lead DevOps Engineer
Contact person for Switzerland

Jonas Alder joined Zühlke in June 2017 and has almost 15 years of IT experience. Thanks to his basic training as a systems engineer and his work in various IT roles, he has a very broad range of expertise from application development to databases and systems engineering. His current focus is on cloud, automation and code quality.

Ioana Grigoriu

Ioana Grigoriu

Software Engineer
Contact person for United Kingdom

Ioana has been a Software Engineer for 7 years and since January 2020 at Zuhlke. After finishing her MEng in Computer Systems Engineering with Business Management, she started programming with C#, continued with Java and got well acquainted with Agile through Scrum Master training and taking on the role on a few projects. She loves learning and improving things and feels passionately about trying to help solve the world’s problems. 

Christian Abegg

Christian Abegg

Lead Software Architect
Contact person for Switzerland

Christian is a software architect and has been working at Zühlke since 2007. In his project work, his passion goes into continuously improving quality, providing a rock-solid architecture, writing the right tests and setting up reliable build pipelines. He never ceases to be amazed by what people can achieve together when they collaborate and work to each other’s strengths.

Sebastian Dvorak-Novak

Expert Business Analyst
Contact person for Austria

Sebastian Dvorak-Novak joined Zühlke in March 2021. After earning his degree in theoretical evolutionary biology, he gained experience as a business consultant and agile project manager in the automotive industry and in the area of urban, multimodal transportation. As a business analyst, he enjoys working closely with clients/users to understand their needs and to design products with genuine added value.