Innovation by an AI Xploration Day

Staying up-to-date is crucial to remain relevant in today's rapidly evolving IT industry. However, the work environment must be able to stimulate that. Within Rabobank, we try to encourage innovation by having communities that focus on a specific area. The Ignite Community — a place for knowledge sharing powered by developers for developers — organizes the Xploration Days, where developers can experiment with new techniques. Read on for practical tips on how to organize successful Xploration Days and empower your co-workers in the process of continuous innovation and learning.

Simone de Gijt
Simone de Gijt
Software Engineer
5 minutes
March 16, 2023

Get motivated for innovation

How can you get engineers into an open and innovative mindset? One way is to start by inspiring them. There are several methods, such as sharing a personal story that showcases both mistakes and successes. Another way could be to provide tools and examples. The Ignite Community chose to combine these two into an opening keynote. Additionally, the participants were also offered some tools that could be used in the hands-on part. The message of his talk was clear: make AI accessible for all.

Oleksandr Syntik hosting the first Xploration Day of Rabobank.
Image 1. Oleksandr Syntik hosting the first Xploration Day of Rabobank.

Where to start?

So, the engineers are excited and inspired about innovation, and ready to get their hands dirty. But that’s easier said than done… Because where do you start when you know nothing about AI? You may have given the developers some tips and tricks during the opening, but now it’s time for them to incorporate those into their own ideas.

To get the train of thought started, you can challenge your engineers to grab some stickies and pens and start writing down ideas where innovation and AI could offer beneficial value. Seeing other suggestions displayed on the board can help to spark ideas of their own.

After everyone has added their sticky notes, the ideas can be pitched so that everyone has a shared understanding of the opportunities of innovation. This is important because the attendees are asked to sign up for the idea they want to work on. No more than three people should be working on any one solution. If more than three people want to work on an idea, they should split into sub teams to ensure that everyone has an active chance to experiment with AI.

DIY (do it yourself)

People may end up in a group or working alone, but the important thing is that everyone has equal opportunities to learn what they want to learn. In our lives, we often struggle to find spare time, especially for learning about things that don’t immediately impact our deadlines or daily tasks. During this day, it is important that the engineers have the freedom to learn and experiment. So, if multiple people want to read the documentation or experiment, allow them to do so. Agree on a set time to reconvene and share what has been learned.

After giving everybody some personal time to gather knowledge about the topic, it’s time to start work on the project. Starting to work on the idea might lead to new challenges. For example: to implement the solution, the engineer needs to have knowledge that is not related to the topic of the Xploration Day. Now, remember, this day is all about community. You probably have several engineers, with varying levels of experience, in one place. Encourage people to meet their colleagues and ask for help if needed. Another thing to keep in mind is that the goal of this day is to empower people in the process of continuous learning. Of course, the topic of the Xploration Day gives some direction and offers a starting point. But the topic is not a goal in itself; learning and innovating are. If someone stumbles upon a new issue they want to learn about, that’s fine. The engineers should feel empowered and free to decide on their own learning journey.

Share experiences

Although the Xploration Day is not meant to deliver results, it’s a fun and inspiring chance to share experiences about innovation. Again, give your developers freedom of choice. They can decide if and how they want to present the outcome of their day. A live demo, a fancy PowerPoint presentation, or just a story about the experience - everything is fine. This part of the program is entirely there for encouragement, inspiration, and positive affirmation from engineer to engineer.

Attendees gathering around the white board
Image 2. Attendees gathering around the white board to brainstorm on innovation projects they can work on.

Take-aways

Innovation comes from inspiration, sharing experiences and trying out new stuff. Innovation cannot be done in isolation; it’s about working together and inspiring each other. However, success is achieved when you find yourself in a safe environment. Failure is not a negative, but something to be appreciated —a learning experience. Give your engineers dedicated time to get to know each other, to learn and experiment. Provide them with the feeling that you want them to grow. Those are ingredients for making your co-workers thrive. Putting them in their strength and making them grow will make your business grow!

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About the author

Simone de Gijt
Simone de Gijt
Software Engineer
Simone started recently as a Software Engineer at Team Smile within Tribe Digital Platform. Her personal passion is to create customer-first driven applications and code, by understanding the customer's needs from backend perspective.