Rocking Fridays: Building cool stuff together to build multidisciplinary expertise

Sasha Gribko

September 2, 2020

At Sparkmate, we are building our own rockstar atmosphere, where everyone can constantly meet new challenges, learn and have fun. From Monday to Thursday, we focus 100% on projects for our clients, but on Friday, we focus on ourselves, our team, our projects and our skills. ⚡

This article introduces what we’ve named “Rocking Friday”, with the “why” and “how” underlying the idea. It will be the first in a 4-part series where we will present the side projects we’ve been working on in detail.

The good thing about passionate tech people with a startup spirit

One of the best ways to keep a “startup atmosphere” is to stay fairly small, be flexible and give infinite opportunities for professional development. But how can you combine a small team and flexibility when the company’s mission is as huge as the sphere of hardware and software product prototyping, going from mechatronics to web platforms to IoT smart devices? At Sparkmate, our team consists of 10 engineers, all coming from different backgrounds and bringing forward a wide variety of skills. But even for a small team like ours, there’s a challenge: maintaining close communication between all members and groups, who have to apply their barely connected fields, sometimes to various aspects of the same project and sometimes to completely different projects.

So we wanted to find a unique idea to foster what we value at Sparkmate: interdisciplinarity, broad technical knowledge, strong tech skills, and a bootstrapping spirit that lets us craft cool solutions very quickly.

We like to think of it as “a hobby that you can do at work”.

We want to rely on people’s curiosity and thirst for knowledge and development (that’s another cool thing with smaller teams and startups, you only have passionate people). We decided that every Friday we’d work together, in groups of 2 or 3 people, on a side project with a cool goal that uses a specific promising technology. We like to think of this activity as “a hobby that you can do at work”

There are a few conditions: 

  • the project has to be applicable in our office life, namely, to be part of our smart office, 
  • we listen to rock 🎸while working (the cause or the consequence, I don’t know, but come on, it’s Rocking Fridays!). 
  • And yes, we are allowed to do whatever we want with the office, as long as we don’t make it explode.
A 3D scan of the chill zone of our office, made by Rémi

So after our last team trip in Lisbon, we made a list of recent and promising technologies that we already have in the company but would like to expand. The list was made after an internal survey and one or two “lunch brainstorming” sessions. It showed that the most interesting spheres are:

  • Machine Learning: objects and distance recognition,
  • IoT: office communication solutions and automations, remote controls,
  • VR/AR: virtual projects showroom, virtual prototyping improvement.

Building cool products is about a mindset, not narrow expertise

At first we thought that experts in given fields would pick something related to their current work, which would keep them working separately from other experts. But the reality is that people truly want to use this opportunity to experiment, to feed their curiosity and, most important, they want a change of scenery sometimes, they like working with people who have different areas of expertise. This experience emphasizes the power of interdisciplinarity and it allows each of these groups’ members to see how each and every task can be solved in a variety of ways. We are combining our dissimilar thinking and abilities to plan and tackle new tech challenges.

The outcomes and benefits of such collaborations are:

  • each of us is building up new skills on a personal level, it’s stimulating for everyone,
  • the company is expanding its scope of skills,
  • we have more possibilities to substitute expertise within the team – giving more flexibility for different projects,
  • we love our Fridays (TGIF 🥳),
  • we are improving our office, tools and company with each project (we’ll come back to this very soon)

Right now, we are still in the process of finishing our first projects. Nevertheless, each of us is already much more familiar with the core competencies of the rest of the team, and can be more independent in continuously building this new expertise. Before lockdown (check our article on how we adapted to Covid-19 crisis), we had time to explore each subject in groups of 2 or 3, and now everyone can continue to develop their projects while staying home.

It has to become part of the company culture to not split “the way we do things with mechanics and electronics” and “the way we do things with software”.

Breaking the gap between hardware and software is not easy. It has to become part of the company culture to not split “the way we do things with mechanics and electronics” and “the way we do things with software”. Rocking Fridays is our strongest initiative for doing that right now, but we hope we’ll have more in the future.

I am a software engineer, mostly working with the front-end. For my “Rocking Fridays” I decided to gain knowledge on VR. I’m working with Sarah, a hardware engineer and designer, so we both started from nearly zero (even though I’ve had my own VR headset for a while). Our idea was basically to build a virtual showroom for Sparkmate, using C#, Unity engine, Blender and an Oculus VR headset implementation. But we’ll have a dedicated article on that project soon. 

Quick overview of a VR game we built to start

This article is the first of a series where we’ll talk about each team’s project :

  • Creating a digital showroom with VR
  • Building a smart office with IoT
  • Detecting objects with Computer Vision


Stay tuned, keep the spark.

Un projet ? contactez-nousA project ? contact us

Sasha Gribko