Babbel is a learning company, both inside and out. We have challenged ourselves in this topic in many ways, but one of our favorite learning exercises is our annual Hack Day that we hold for our Product and Engineering departments. Over the course of 8 hours, over 100 Software Developers, Designers, Language Experts, and Product Managers team up to build a new feature or product for Babbel’s users.
With drinks and snacks fueling the teams at our off-site location, the dedication to each project was felt in the room throughout the day. Once the countdown ended and the hacking came to a stop, each team had to demonstrate their project to our CPO, CTO and fellow colleagues, who then proceeded to vote for their favorite one.
We caught up with Mo Mourad, a Senior Product Manager who was on the winning Hack Day team, to get an inside look on the 9th edition of Hack Day.
Congratulations on being the winners of Hack Day! Can you tell us about your Hackday project?
At Babbel, we always thrive to help our learners to have real-life conversations and to be courageous enough to actually use the language they are learning. This is what inspired us to build an Alexa skill as a companion native speaker to talk and practice the language they are learning with Babbel. We completed an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) that allows learners to review the vocabulary they have learned. We focused on review as it is a crucial part of learning a new language as it helps the learners retain the knowledge and keep it fresh in their minds.
What did you enjoy most about Hack Day?
What was most amazing about Hack Day was the innovation that came out of it; shooting for the moon, thinking big and breaking all the boundaries while still aligning with the product objectives and company values. I also enjoyed working with some of the smartest and most brilliant minds at Babbel. Plus the whole day had an amazing vibe driven by the passion of everyone to have a great product for our users!
What was the biggest challenge for you and your team while doing this project?
The biggest challenge for us was building a new way of learning a language just by using voice. To achieve this, we needed to build a VUI (Voice User Interface) that is responsive, empathetic, and has a positive personality, which encourages users to keep on going even when they have bumps on the road.
In the evening part of Hack Day everyone presents their projects which they have been working on all day. When we walked on stage to present our demo, the room was very full and everyone was anticipating to hear a response from a boring robotic voice. My colleague Fred from Engineering started talking to Alexa in Spanish.
First, he gave her some right answers and then he gave her a wrong answer. At that moment, she replied with a funny “oops” and then he tried again and answered correctly. This time he got praise from her for getting it right! Everyone in the room laughed and every time Fred made a mistake the people cracked up at her comments. That was the moment that I knew the audience loved our demo because it just felt like a real language learning buddy!
What have you learned from completing this project?
That it’s all about execution. We wanted to end Hack Day with a working product and we did! We planned it thoroughly, anticipated all the potential risks, set a goal and had a diverse set of skills and knowledge, and, thankfully, managed to achieve it. Even though we used few technologies and different programming languages, it was never a barrier for us.
Were there any other projects that inspired you or stood out to you?
I loved all the learner-centric ideas that were based on actual user requests such as Babbel Notebook, a personal notebook for curating vocabulary, phrases, and other learning resources from within Babbel as well as the wider web; learner-curated learning resources using a Babbel-designed Chrome browser extension. Another great idea was Babbel Snap, just snap a picture with your phone and Babbel will recognize the items in the image, translate and add them to your vocab list!