Burda Bootcamp

In September/October 2014, the first generation of Burda Bootcamp took place in Munich. I was one of the lucky eight participants being able to take part in this experiment.

An article in Burda intranet about the bootcamp

An article about the bootcamp in the Burda intranet

Wait… Burda what???

If you haven’t heard of the Burda Bootcamp so far, don’t worry, you’ll not be the only one. It is a project organized and hosted by Hubert Burda Media, one of the biggest publishing companies in Germany. It basically is a rapid prototyping lab, where a team of designers, developers and data scientists work together to develop and implement innovative ideas for the Burda brands (such as Huffington Post Germany, CHIP, BUNTE.de, FOCUS Online, ELLE and a lot more…).

It was initiated as a follow-up to the first Open Data Hackday, a hackathon where the teams are composed of developers, journalists and designers and the projects are required to have some sort of journalistic relevance. The hackday took place in Offenburg, June 2014, and was also hosted by Burda. The idea behind the Burda Bootcamp now was to extend the hackathon concept to a broader scale and see what becomes possible after a period of two months compared to the hackday distance of one weekend.

Who were the participants? And how did they get there?

Most of the participants this year have been directly recruited from the Open Data Hackday in Offenburg. Actually, I was the only one who did not come into the team that way, I rather was in the lucky position of knowing the winning team very well. Three of my fellow students and good friends, Alex, Michael and Jascha won the first price at the hackathon in June with their promising project Wiki Wars, a tool which visualizes how and from which place in the world Wikipedia articles are edited… boring? Not at all, at the time the article about the Crimean Crisis demonstrated the immense value of the idea, indicating which parts in the article were highly controversial between Russian and American editors. Following their great performance at the hackday, Alex, Jascha and Michi were offered the participation at the bootcamp including the possibility to suggest another team member. That’s when I received a phone call from Jascha asking if I was interested – and I sure was!

Jascha currently works as Business Process Improvement Specialist at SAP. During the bootcamp, he mainly took the role of a designer (the description that fits him most is „Developer in the mind, designer by heart“). Alex and Michael are former SAP students in the area of consulting and software engineering. Right now, they are both fellow students of mine in the Master program at the University of Mannheim. They specialize in the area of data & web science but still being highly skilled in almost any other technological area and both having a lot of engineering experience. There were four more participants which I got to know only after the bootcamp had started. Tim S. is doing his Bachelor in Computer Science at the KIT, Karlsruhe, and enlighted the whole team with his great knowledge and experience in the area of web development. Daniel also studies in Karlsruhe, he majors in Communication Design, and thus was our second designer in the team. It was amazing to see how fast he was able to turn an idea into a clickable UI prototype using tools like Adobe Illustrator. The last two participants were our data specialists. Janek was the only team member who lives and studies directly in Munich. He is doing his Master at the Technical University specializing in Mathematics and Statistics. Tim D. on the other hand lives in Hamburg and has his main interest in the area of Deep Learning, a sub-discipline of Machine Learning. Check out his blog if you’re curios what exactly it is.

I think this is the right time to put the spotlight on Natalia, the main organizer of the bootcamp. Being the personal assistant of Hubert Burda himself in the area of digital strategy, it was thanks to her great efforts that the team was put together like this and that we were able to work in such a great atmosphere. Natalia was also the lead of our mentoring team, which further consisted of Maximilian Gaub, Barbara Förth and Jean-Paul Schmetz and gave us great guidance during the whole time.

What was it like working at the Burda Bootcamp?

Being part of the Burda Bootcamp was definitely one of the greatest experiences I’ve had so far. Our goal from the beginning was to realize at least one idea for each of the participating Burda brands which gave a total of 12 projects to work on. The ideas were created during our first two days where we did a huge brainstorming session and discussed the ideas with the brands. Each brand then decided on one idea that they’d like to see realized. It is important to note that we were not working in the mode of a software agency, where requirements are specified in the beginning moving towards a regular software product lifecycle with development, testing, deployment and maintenance of the product. Our ideas should rather serve as an inspiration to the brands where they could decide in the end whether it would be worth to follow up on it and actually build a product. Experimenting, trying and failing was part of the job!

For each project, we split up in small teams, usually having a core of two members. However, we were completely free in allocating our resources and deciding who was part of which project. Thus, we often supported each other by taking smaller tasks in different projects without being part of the core.

As with the staffing, the time that it took to realize the ideas was also to be estimated by ourselves. We usually sat together at the beginning of each project for a short kickoff session, where we discussed what functionality should be included in the MVP and how much time we would need for it.

The atmosphere in the bootcamp in general has been fantastic. We had a spacious office for ourselves, a desk for everyone, a beamer, whiteboards and pinboards, a lounge corner and tabletop soccer. Just like you’d imagine your perfect work place.

Networking, networking and networking.

I don’t think I have met that many important people in such a short period ever before in my life. Natalia, being the great organizer that she was, constantly hooked us up with executives from the company who came and visited us in our office, among them Philipp Welte, Stefan Winners, Hans Fink and Holger Eckstein. Not to forget the visit of Dr. Burda himself. We were invited for a classic German Weißwurstfrühstück at DLD headquarters, and once we even got a (very) short visit from Zach Sims, founder of codeacademy.

Summing up

I want to thank our mentors and all the other team members for this great experience. I’m really curios to see what the future generations of the Burda Bootcamp will look like. If you have the feeling that this could be something for you, you can apply for the next bootcamp now!

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