After putting its summer hackathon on ice last year, Levi Strauss & Co. brought its latest installment to the web this August, with the one-day coding event opening up to nearly three dozen teams from around the world, the company announced Monday.
Of course, the denim business was far from alone in canceling events during earlier cycles of the coronavirus pandemic. A multitude of tech conferences and fashion shows either canceled or transformed into virtual versions in 2020 and early 2021.
Levi’s latest hackathon, its fourth since the event launched in 2017, followed suit, coming back as an online competition. The company hosted the event after holding its first artificial intelligence bootcamp virtually this spring.
As a programming challenge, the event gave Levi’s employees — typically from e-commerce, I.T., Product and Business divisions — the opportunity to hatch creative, new tech solutions that improve the shopping experience or other aspects of the business.
“Although we missed the energy and excitement of bringing teams together under one roof, the advantage of hosting the event virtually was that we were able to take it truly global and open it up beyond the technology team, making it our most expansive hackathon yet,” Harmit Singh, Levi’s chief financial officer, wrote in a blog post.
“A record 35 teams from 11 countries collaborated internationally and cross-functionally to share their technology-led ideas to help propel our business, brand and profitability.”
The level of interest even spurred a structural change in the event itself: For the first time, Singh said, the competition was broken into two rounds, with a qualifier and a final round, before senior leaders awarded medals and selected the winners.
The company didn’t disclose specific projects from this month’s coding competition, but previous events have birthed chatbots, convenience features and more.
“In fact, thanks to a past winning hackathon team, we’re piloting self-checkout in our Palo Alto, Calif., store right now. Consumers can enjoy a seamless shopping experience using self-checkout in the Levi’s mobile app — allowing them to skip the checkout lines,” Singh added. “Other past winning projects have led to the online cancellation option for consumers and Levi’s customization on levi.com.
“That all amounts to a tangible enhancement to the consumer shopping experience,” he said.
Making a real-world impact is the ultimate goal of any hackathon, and that’s led such events to become a mainstay for large tech companies thirsty for new ideas.
“The hackathon is traditionally a culture that has come up from I.T. companies like Yahoo, Google and Microsoft,” Mansi Fadnavis, Levi’s global product manager and event organizer, noted after the inaugural 2017 edition. As both a retail business and a technology company, he said, Levi’s “wanted to bring that spirit here and motivate people to come together and innovate.”