From first time at SOSU to Hackathon Winner!

One of the great pleasures of running sourcing trainings is that we meet super talented people in every Sourcing Masterclass we deliver. Some students come to us at the start of their journeys, some just want to learn the final touches to become true masters of the art. 

As chance would have it, this September, right before the fall conference season we started working together with a French e-commerce company called Mirakl. Among the bright participants of the class was Laura Chérubin – a name to remember.

After the classes I had the pleasure to meet her in person at the Sourcing Summit Europe, where she not only attended, but took on the challenge to showcase her skills. Laura not only decided to try herself out at the SOSU Hackathon, but she ended up winning the whole contest!

But instead of me telling her story, read it in Laura’s words how this has happened.

What an achievement! If you had told me I would win the 2022 SOSU Hackathon, I would have either laughed at you or thought you were mad. Seriously. How wrong was I! I wanted to take you through this journey with me so you would have a “behind the scenes” overview of my experience there – enjoy!

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m very excited! It’s my first time in Amsterdam, it’s my first time attending the Sourcing Summit, and little did I know I would also be participating in the SOSU Hackathon. How come? Well, I am still unsure whether I should participate or not. First, I am very interested in attending presentations that are happening at the same time, and since I can’t split myself in two (not yet at least!), I am still undecided. Second, imposter syndrome alert, I don’t think it would be very relevant to participate as I don’t consider myself an expert in sourcing: I know the best sourcers in Europe will be participating, I feel kind of intimidated by this.

In the end, I summon the courage to do it and decide to participate! Why this turnaround? I know I can still have access to the conference’s content afterwards, I can still count on my colleagues to debrief me on what they learn (and cheer me on!), when participating in the hackathon is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Deep down, I know I will regret it if I don’t participate, so I do! 

Fast forward to 4pm, I’m waiting outside the Blue Room, the “Hackathon Room”, where I will roughly spend an hour and a half. I’m excited yet nervous, there’s nothing at stake yet I feel challenged. I am curious, I want to be up to the challenge, I want to push myself and give my best.

Although the Hackathon slide speaks for itself (“The Odds are Never in your Favor”), I’m ready, let’s go!

Here are the rules:

1h30. 13 questions. You can’t move to the next question until you’ve answered the current one. Only one answer is correct.

It would be an understatement to say I am having a rough start: the first question is about Reddit moderators. I don’t have a Reddit account, I usually don’t need it. Let’s create one then!

But there’s a catch here: I’m not the only one who doesn’t have a Reddit account. It seems that dozens of other sourcers around me don’t have one either. Which means that we are all trying to create an account, at the same time, on the same platform, sharing the same wifi network… See where I’m going? 

The Reddit network considers this as an action undertaken by a bot, and obviously blocks us. We have to wait 10 minutes to try again.

Alright, we’re up to a good start then! Luckily, we have great Hackathon leaders who come to our rescue! All we have to do is set up a personal hotspot through our phone, so our internet connection comes from a different source and will not be seen as a bot.

Everything is back on track, let’s go! I am making progress, but that’s not enough, the clock is ticking. Some people have already completed the 13 questions. I feel a bit behind, I feel a little bit disappointed, even though I am not expecting anything in particular. What do we have here?

  • the venue’s director’s date of birth? Let’s find his name on LinkedIn, investigate the “Contact info” part where I can find the exact date, but not the year. Let’s do an X-Ray and find an article that talks about his background > Check!
  • the last song that was played at a music festival in 2019? Let’s find the archives of this music festival, someone shared the playlist > Check!
  • the salary a developer shared on Reddit? Let’s find the right Subreddit, X-ray the page with the right keywords > Check!
  • the female organizer of a specific Meetup? Let’s find this Meetup, based on the monument that appears on its banner, investigate who the organizers are and find this female engineer > Check!

It’s the end of Hackathon Day One, and a couple of questions remain unanswered. I feel a bit hopeless, discouraged. “I knew it would be difficult, but THAT difficult?”, “I don’t want to source anymore, like ever, I am traumatized!”. I am being dramatic, obviously, but you know what I mean.

But the good news is that the platform remains open, so we can keep on practicing until reaching question 13! I enjoy the rest of the day attending conferences and walking a bit around Amsterdam City Center, without thinking about the Hackathon. Sometimes, doing something else, letting your mind wander, does wonders! After a (not so) good night of sleep, I wake up more determined than ever: I log in and keep on answering the remaining questions. 2 more to go, 1 more to go.  The last one is about finding a document that was published on WordPress a few years ago, what a challenge! I have to write an X-Ray that will scan the WordPress URL, using “inurl:wp-content/uploads”. I am mind blown, this is new to me!

But here I am, ready to face Day 2 of the Sourcing Summit Hackathon, having caught up with all of the questions, willing to hit the ground running!

Same room, same rules, except this time we have 1h40 ahead of us. That’s going to be tricky as I have to leave early (train to catch). But I’m up for the challenge! 

And I go for it! I enter a flow state and go from question to question without really noticing. What’s expected? How can I go from this answer to the next? Is there a pattern I can detect? How can I wire my brain so that it’s in the best possible conditions? 

Here I am, in a safe bubble, completely secluded from the outside world, only focusing on the questions I have to answer: 

  • email address from a  Devoxx member who loves tango? Let’s find him on Twitter, his personal blog, then on Github, investigate one of his repositories, click on a commit, add “.patch” to the URL > Check!
  • going from a picture of a woman to the name of a popular 80s song that includes the name of one of the world’s highest mountains? Let’s check the name of the picture, it contains the name of this lady, search her history and find that she’s famous for having climbed a specific mountain in Africa, run an X-Ray to find the song that contains this mountain > Check!
  • finding what Emmanuel Macron, Khloé Kardashian and Snoop Dogg have in common on Twitter? Let’s go to FollowerWonk and look at the person they all follow > Check!

Everything is going well so far, but at some point, I get stuck. I have to find the last 4 digits of a professor’s phone number. And it is soon time to leave for me. I try to keep my cool and think of all the methods I know to find this phone number: social media, X-rays… But it’s not working. I get a bit disappointed because now is the time to leave.

I pack my bag and head towards the exit. I say goodbye to some of the Hackathon leaders while explaining why I have to leave now. Guillaume Alexandre comes to me and asks me if I really have to leave now. Unfortunately, I do. That’s the moment when I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders: he tells me I reached the last question. And not only that, but I am the first one to have reached the last question.

I feel overwhelmed, excited, disappointed, proud, helpless… I truly want to continue, but I really have to go! 

“There’s nothing at stake”, remember? I try to convince myself that it’s ok, that I went much further than I would have hoped for, that I’m already glad and proud to have reached this point. Guillaume goes on to grab a SOSU t-shirt and gifts it to me. At that moment, it meant the world to me, this simple gesture was about celebration, recognition and kindness. Thank you!

I leave SOSU with a heavy heart but also lots of great memories and learnings! I still feel preoccupied, so I take out my laptop in public transport and keep on looking for the answer, but I quickly realize how funny it looks: am I really going to find the last answer while riding public transport? I don’t think so.

I get to the train station, meet with my colleague who was kind enough to wait for me and get Dutch waffles for me in the meantime (I’ll be forever grateful for this Clémence). I quickly tell her the whole story! How good I was doing, how I got stuck, how I was told I was actually in first position etc. She comforts me and actually celebrates with me, because there IS something to celebrate: after all, I’m the first one to reach the last question, that’s already an achievement in and of itself!

She’s right, I feel proud, happy and grateful for this great experience! 

I get on the train, find my seat, and start catching up on work emails. Among the various LinkedIn notifications and connection requests, I notice a message. It’s from Guillaume: I WON!

Other sourcers have reached the last question, but no one was able to find the answer. Since I’m the first one to have gotten there, I won!

For a few seconds, my brain just goes off. Literally. What? What happened? I can’t believe it. This is not really happening, is it?  OMG! It is! Guillaume says it, he even sends me a picture!

At that point, I just want to burst into (happy) tears! The pressure finally goes down, I feel overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, pride. I have to remain self-composed as I am surrounded by strangers in a train, which I struggle to do as I am SUPER happy! I regret not being able to celebrate this victory at SOSU with everyone. It feels incomplete. Guillaume then suggests that Pierre-André Fortin bring me the prizes a few days later. Once again, I feel grateful for them, that they go out of their way to celebrate with me! I reach out to Pierre-André to see if there’s a way to meet that would be suitable for us both. And that’s how he comes to meet me at the Mirakl office, gives me the prizes and stays to grab a cup of coffee!

Apart from SOSU being a goldmine of insightful content, inspirational speakers and dedicated sourcers and recruiters, this Hackathon was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will remain engraved in my memory.

It was a rollercoaster ride in terms of emotions and plot twists. It was a true challenge in terms of sourcing techniques, methods to use, patterns to detect. It was amazing to see dozens of sourcers gathered in a room to compete against each other, but most of all to compete against themselves and push their limits!

I truly believe that this experience have helped me grow as a person: I overcame this “I’m not up to it” fear, I applied the sourcing techniques I already know while learning new ones (I’m all up for continuous learning and improvement!).
I’m so glad I changed my mind and decided to enter the Hackathon after all!

This event was a true celebration of what sourcing is all about: curiosity, mindset, skills, resilience, resourcefulness.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this hackathon, who attended the event, who cheered me on and helped me learn (thank you Vince and The Source Code Academy), your dedication is a true inspiration!

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