Engineering Blog

Ooyala's Culture of Innovation

by Ooyalan ‎12-06-2012 09:38 AM - edited ‎02-08-2017 09:53 AM (2,034 Views)

Written by Evan Chan

The innovative culture here in Silicon Valley has received extensive press, especially amongst startups. In particular, hackathons are popping up everywhere. Award-winning software company Atlassian has a "FedEx" day where, once a year, teams cobble together innovative projects for 24 hours.

Yes, Ooyala has a Hackathon too. It goes for 30 hours, has great prizes, and it is a huge amount of fun for everyone involved. Themed hackathons can even be used to generate ideas about saving COGs, for example; but what happens when it is over?

What is innovation anyways? Has it become an annual event? I'd like to take you on a tour of innovation at Ooyala.


Innovating Through Structure


Engineers have a chance here to work on a "Newyala project" once a quarter. For two weeks, one or more engineers get to collaborate and work on a cool new project or idea. Last year I did my Newyala project on a real time analytics prototype, which could bring immense business value to Ooyala. I was able to focus 100% of my efforts on three new technologies -- Kafka, Scala, and Akka -- and produce a working prototype which ran on two laptops. I can't say enough about the benefits of this format -- if I didn't have two full weeks, if instead I only got 10-20% of of time to work on something, it's doubtful I could have taken a deep dive into three new technologies. Uninterrupted time to try something new is golden. At the end of the two weeks, I gave a demo and an architecture talk. That summer there was a contest amongst Newyala Projects, and I was able to win the grand prize of an iPad.


An iPad is nice, but far more rewarding was the chance to see the prototype blossom into one of our most exciting new products -- Ooyala Now, an award winning product. Newyala projects have also blossomed into new teams, an awesome new code review system (Barkeep), and been instrumental in turning Hackathon ideas into actually productionizable software.


Having an agile development environment gives a structure to the innovation. Part of the reason we were able to easily devote two weeks to a Newyala project is that we have bi-weekly sprint cycles. It makes it easy for multiple people to break away from their regular work, do a project, then go back to their teams right when the teams are gearing up for the next sprint. We also have "mixer sprints" where engineers go to another team to learn something new, or possibly make a more permanent move. Teams get new blood, and you have cross-pollination innovation.


Innovating Through People


Having the people for innovation is also key. I've never been anywhere where people are so interested in cool new technologies or ideas. We are constantly having hallway conversations on different and fun new ways of doing things, and people here believe they can make their ideas happen. We inspire each other. Even if someone came here without that culture, they quickly grow into it. Of course, it is fitting that we participate actively in open source, both our own projects and external ones. Community breeds innovation.

Since coming to Ooyala, I have become a totally different developer. I've learned 2-3 new languages, more technologies than I can count, and itch to try new ideas and open source stuff. If my old me from my old company could see where I am now, he would be stunned. Much of that change is due to the culture of innovation here at Ooyala.