I never thought I’d work with as many nerds as I do. Graduating college with a degree in English Literature, it always felt unrealistic I’d get the chance to work for a tech startup like Videology. Now, at my one year work anniversary, I find myself surrounded by critical-thinking, problem-solving, efficiency-seeking, 80-for-the-20-analyzing nerds. Everyone’s nerdy during normal work hours, but what I really love is how equally nerdy folks are on lunch breaks, nights, and weekends. We (I’m lumping myself into this group) perpetually strive to create slick solutions to interesting problems.
bout 9 months ago, HR used the money we crowdfunded to buy a ping pong table for our game room. It’s quickly become the preferred way to regroup at lunch, brainstorm with colleagues, or get to know people you’d rarely work with otherwise. Most of us began as casual novices, but competition has naturally quickly escalated. Some of us have even invested in higher-quality paddles off Amazon. This September, in an effort to bring together folks from many departments, I organized a tournament. It included players from all corners of the company, including Product, Engineering, Systems, Research & Development, and Finance. I used a random number generator to determine doubles teams and the bracket, but it was quickly obvious a few pairings were stacked. The methodology could be improved. I knew if players were ranked we could pair players together more evenly for tournaments.
ver the course of a few lunch hours, I built an algorithm in Excel that borrowed from a formula commonly used to calculate chess rankings — the Elo rating system (you might also recognize it from The Social Network). I then added a variation to the formula which would allow it to perform equally for either singles or doubles matches. Then one of our engineers pitched an update to the algorithm which added responsibility to the higher rated teammate in doubles. Finally, I created a macro that would log match results in a separate sheet and automatically update a player’s rating value. I shared it with a few aspiring pong pros (coworkers), and had a minimum viable product. It worked, but it certainly wasn’t elegant, sexy, or very easy to use.
Over the weekend, I began mocking up a more robust system using Ruby on Rails. First thing Monday morning, I IM’d one of our Front-End Developers about my project.
“That’s cool, but do you know Luke already created something in Node.js over the weekend? He’s got it hosted on our dev box.”
I didn’t even know it, but a fellow nerd had my back in simultaneously building this mini-app. We’ve since “released” a few updates with new features and improvements. It’s now projected on the “jumbotron” in our media room using the web browser on our PlayStation 3, so players can immediately log games and update their ranking. That’s the thing I’ve learned about Videology in my first year — we’re always working on solving cool problems, whether it’s creating clean, powerful, intuitive platforms for digital advertising, or just creating an app for ranking our company’s ping pong players.