Transloadit Team Meetup 2017: Berlin Bonanza
Transloadit is a company without an office. Our team is spread all across the globe and while we have a dedicated
#watercooler channel in Slack, it can’t always beat the real thing: catching up with your co-workers in person and finding out what is going on in their lives. For that reason, Transloadit places a high value on our yearly team meetups, where we fly everyone in to a central location, in part to have the opportunity to do some work while being in the same room for a change, but perhaps even more importantly to make sure everyone can become more than just an avatar and a name in a digital chat environment.
This year’s meetup took place last month in Berlin, Germany, where our founders had planned a week filled to the brim with fun activities and great food – and we even found the time to make some solid progress on a cool Uppy-related project. In this post, we’d like to give you the highlights of an awesome week of team building set in the beautiful city of Berlin. It is quite a lengthy - and hopefully entertaining - read, but we didn't want to spare you any of the details. Without further ado, let’s jump into it!
Monday: traveling and settling in
With the schedule for the week officially starting on Tuesday, the days leading up to it were to be used for everyone to make their way to Berlin and settle into the hotel. Artur and Lena, who had decided to make this company retreat part of a much longer trip through Europe, had already arrived from France a day earlier. Artur, who was determined to use his time back on the old continent to try and feel young again, convinced Lena that hitchhiking across France and Germany was the way to go. This went smoothly for a while, but after getting stranded at some remote gas station by the highway in the middle of the night, they reached the conclusion that Artur had been sufficiently rejuvenated and opted to traverse the final stretch by bus.
Alex, Marina and their daughter Aurora, too, were to make the week in Berlin part of a greater journey through various countries in Europe. They arrived by plane from Kaunas on Monday and quickly made their way to the place where we would all be staying, the Estrel Hotel, Europe’s largest convention, entertainment and hotel complex. Their trip went by without a hitch, in no small part because Aurora, especially considering her young age, is already an accomplished flyer – but only under the strict promise that free lollipops are involved. Renée’s journey by train, on the other hand, would turn out to be full of hitches and other obstacles – including but not limited to an 80-minute layover – but after a very long day, he, too, could finally enjoy the comfort of his hotel bed.
Kevin, A.J. and Marius, meanwhile, arrived in Berlin just before noon, by plane from Amsterdam and train from Munich respectively. After dropping of their luggage upstairs, they met up in the hotel restaurant to kick off the week by enjoying a not-so-healthy lunch of beer, burgers and salt-laden curry sausage, the city’s local cuisine. Bellies full, the three made their way by taxi to the outskirts of Berlin to visit the beautiful house of Tim, his wife Cindy and big little baby Max. There, Kevin, Tim and Marius sat down and talked business for a few hours, after which everyone had a relaxing dip in the solar-powered pool.
The first day already ended on a high note, as Tim, Cindy and her mother Martina had prepared a huge feast on the grill, with way too much meat and about a thousand different smoky barbecue sauces. A few hours later, the time came to call it a night. Another taxi brought the house guests back to their hotel, where they still had some time for a relaxing bath and some entertainment from over forty channels of German post-synchronized television, before turning in for the night. With everyone safely within Berlin’s city limits, we were poised to get the company trip going the following morning.
Tuesday: fun and activities
At 8:45 am, the whole team convened at the hotel’s vast and extremely well-stocked breakfast buffet – in many cases meeting each other for the first time ever in person. After everyone was filled up to their necks with scrambled eggs, croissants, cerealiki, coffee and bees, the Transloadians made their way to a room that had been prepared by Cindy and where the first event of the day awaited us: a Nintendo 64 Mario Kart tournament for all the marbles. We soon found out that most of the guys had either never played the game before, or at least never on this specific system.
After a lightning round of instructions by A.J., it was time for the chaos to begin, spread over three different rounds. Luigi Raceway would be the virtual venue where the race was held, by all accounts the easiest course in the game. This turned out to be more than enough of a challenge and virtually every inch of the track and the surrounding terrain was explored, as lightning relentlessly struck the banana-ridden asphalt. When the dust settled after three rounds of three laps, a clear winner – and more importantly – a clear loser emerged.
For A.J., the hundreds upon hundreds of hours wasted on this game over the past 21 years finally paid off as he claimed first place after three straight victories. Artur, on the other hand – even though he was actually one of the few who had some experience with both the game and the system – ate everyone’s dust in all three races, netting him last place on the leaderboard and a special surprise that would soon become very relevant.
With the virtual part of the program behind us, it was now time to get the adrenalin really flowing by doing some laps of actual real-life Mario Kart. But of course, Mario Kart isn’t Mario Kart without the iconic characters, so the everyone now go the chance to choose and don their costume. That is to say, everyone except Artur. Sadly for him, losing the tournament also meant having the last pick of a costume. And after the more fortunate contenders were done making their choice, all that was left was a fabulous Princess Peach outfit.
Beside Princess Peachy Paikin, the line-up was as follows:
- Tim the Toad
- The brothers-in-plumbing Super Marius and Aluigi
- Renée ‘Donkey’ Kooi
- Koopa Kevin the browser Bowser
Everyone now fully in character, we hit the town and made our way to Berlin’s largest go-kart track for more than an hour of high-speed competition. While for many of the team, it was the first time ever behind the wheel of a go-kart, everyone quickly got the hang of it and lap times were swiftly improving. The starting line-up was decided through a 30-minute qualifying session and after a short break, all drivers got back in their karts for the actual race.
For 35 minutes, everyone gave it their absolute best. With an almost complete disregard for their own safety and that of others, corners were cut ever sharper and engines revved even further into the red – all to shave off those valuable tenths of a second. In the end, a few really set themselves apart from the rest and it was mostly the two founders who showed everyone why they are still the boss.
Tim the Toad raced to a pretty easy and comfortable victory, with Koopa Kevin – looking as fearsome as ever with his mohawk and fluttering koopa shell cape – securing second place. Super Marius was the third driver who managed to put the rest of the field more than a lap behind as he snatched up the last spot on the podium. A special mention has to go to Peachy Paikin for his consistency, since he again managed to come in last. D’oh!
Mario Kart being a children’s game, everyone had to content themselves with the exact same prize: a plushy slash screen wiper themed after the game – and, of course, any newly acquired blistered hands and injured backs.
After all this adrenalin-filled excitement, it was time for a well-deserved lunch on a boat on the river Spree. A healthy dose of breakfast burgers and syrup-infused beer meant that we all truly had the most German-est of times! Stomachs filled, we took off towards our next destination, something that was sure to please this bunch of nerds on tour: The Museum of Computer Games.
The exhibition presented a comprehensive overview of all the highlights and – one might argue – low points of nearly half a century of gaming history. From Pong to the Oculus Rift, which, incidentally, was unavailable due an apparently insurmountable series of bugs and errors. That wasn’t allowed to spoil our fun, though, and after a VR-presentation containing the nearly as impressive Nintendo Virtual Boy from 1995, the team dispersed to enjoy the extensive line-up of consoles and arcade machines.
The highlight of this excursion was when Artur challenged Kevin to a few rounds on The PainStation, a somewhat sinister looking device in a dimly lit corner of the museum that apparently required assistance from the staff on duty. After acknowledging the risks involved, declaring to be free of heart disease and probably signing themselves away into a life of indentured servitude in case of a loss, the game could finally be afoot. The game in question was essentially a plain and simple version of Pong, with a few demented little twists: blocks a various colors would appear under the Pong pad, so that when you missed the ball and it hit one of these, one of three painful punishments would be dished out to the player’s left hand, which was to be held firmly in pace in order to remain in the game.
The red block turned on a sort of barbecue grill, while the blue block initiated a firm lashing by a short rubber strap and the yellow block would send a short jolt of electricity coursing through the body. By the time the game began, a fairly large crowd had gathered to see the contestants endure some excruciating suffering. While giving a valiant effort, Artur appeared somewhat out of his league, both on the actual pong front and when it came to his pain endurance capabilities. Tim then tried to rise to the challenge as well, but was also swiftly dealt with in this second clash of the co-founding titans – evening out the score after the kart race.
Our gaming thirst sufficiently quenched, it was now time to kick back and enjoy some decadent opulence in the form of a limousine ride through the city center. After a few minutes of waiting, several meters of bright white Chrysler appeared from around the corner and out came a slightly gigolo-esque looking man, grinning from ear to heavily pierced ear, to usher us inside. We then took off to experience a little taste of what the celebrity lifestyle must be like, if the stars of the world like to enjoy some sparkly water during their rides in extended cars, that is.
As became clear from looking outside through the tinted glass, most people don’t give a rodent’s behind about a limousine passing by, but for some of them, the mere sight of it truly seemed to be the highlight of their day. Providing this modest public service was quite nice, until our very own German Robbie Williams slash chauffeur stopped the vehicle in order to have us take a picture outside, thereby completely shattering the mystique. As it turns out, absolutely no one cares about a limo when they know it contains seven giddy geeks in cargo shorts.
We finished the remainder of our city tour without any further illusion-breaking stops until we ended up getting booted off a good 45-minute walk away from our next destination: a high-end rum and cigars bodega. The team decided a change of pace would be nice and set off for the lengthy stroll.
Upon arriving, the barman and his cigar-peddling sidekick seemed somewhat unpleasantly surprised by our presence, even though it had been announced well ahead of time, and our quite frankly more than reasonable requests. We decided to attempt to defuse the situation by purchasing a handful of beautifully rolled Cohiba cigars – the favorite brand of Fidel himself – and some glasses of smooth rum to go along with them, and made our way out onto the terrace. There, most of the team had their first-ever experience with properly preparing, lighting and smoking a cigar. We have to be honest, it probably was not a cedar match made in heaven – but everyone enjoyed their time nonetheless.
With the glasses emptied and most of the cigars having met a premature demise in the ashtray, we headed out by Uber to the final meeting spot of the day: Amar, one of the best Indian restaurants in town – as evidenced by the fact that there were many actual Indian people enjoying a meal there. Before long, the table was croaking under the weight of plates laden with all kinds of colorful dishes and bowls of curries and masalas giving off the most exquisite of aromas, setting the stomachs of many a ravenous developer a-rumblin’.
And so, a long day of fun and came to an end. While a few us amazingly had some steam left to enjoy a few rounds in one of Berlin’s many cocktail bars, most of the team decided to share a taxi back to the hotel to get some well-deserved rest. It can be safely concluded that this day of team building was a great success that far exceeded our expectations. Alex probably summed it up best, when he recalled later during the week that even though they had only met that morning for the first time ever, during the taxi ride, it felt as if the Transloadians had known each other in person for weeks at least.
Wednesday: Rest & Relaxation
Wednesday was to be a day of rest and a chance for everyone to discover the city for themselves, an opportunity which everyone seized with enthusiasm. A hot and sunny day was spent either visiting a few of Berlin’s many parks for multiple delicious picnics, or by taking a trip to one of the splendid museums, while another – fascinated by the city’s vast subway network – took his business underground. The day wasn’t entirely wasted on leisurely activities, though, as Tim and Kevin found a great New York style deli, smack dab in the center of the city, where could plug in their MacBooks while enjoying a cool glass of home-made ice tea.
At the end of the day, part of the team got together again at Lily’s, Berlin’s famous burger restaurant, where the creations vary from perfectly acceptable meat sandwiches to unspeakable monstrosities. When, at some point, the terrace was filled by the loud hissing of fireworks, which drew the attention of diners and passers-by alike, it could only mean that Tim’s order had arrived. Soon, all could gaze in awe upon the glory that was the Lord of the Rings Burger, a 30-centimeter-tall abomination comprised of around 6 patties, most of it deep fried in batter, garnished with a fried egg, sweet pancakes and a chocolate donut, proudly standing on top. While Tim attacked the beast bravely and with fierce effort, defeat was inevitable. That day, too, none would pass.
The final hours of the night were spent in one of the nearby parks, which truly come alive in Berlin during the summer. The place was buzzing with activity as people were having barbecues, playing beach volleyball, walking on tightropes or simply relaxing on the grass and enjoying the atmosphere. The Transloadians had a few cold beers as they watched a spectacular fiery acrobatics show, which just so happened to be performed by the troupe of Transloadit co-founder and alumnus Felix’ twin sister: Entourage Berlin. What a small world it is.
After a day like this, the team couldn’t have been more energized to spend a couple of days of working on a cool project. And luckily, that was exactly what was next on the menu.
Thursday and Friday: working on a breakthrough for Uppy
After another luxurious breakfast, everyone was excited to go to one of the conference rooms that had been prepared for us. The Transloadians don’t often get the chance to work alongside each other in the same room, so we were poised to make the most of it. Along the way, we were already greeted by the Transloadit logo prominently displayed on every television available. What a way to make a couple of developers feel important about themselves! The room was cool, spacious and fully stocked with cold drinks and other refreshments. The tables were neatly placed along the wall. All in all, you could have probably fit about four entire Transloadits in there. Time for a few adjustments to make the space a bit more work friendly. After pushing the tables to the middle of the room, linking various extension cords together and setting up a small data center worth of computing power, a nice little workspace was created and we were ready to get going.
Before we could do so, however, we had to tend to a matter that had been on everyone’s mind for the entire week. You see, not all Transloadians had been able to make it to this year’s meetup. Ife and Abdel both ran into insurmountable troubles concerning their visas and they were sadly forced to sit this one out. It was a pretty big bummer for the entire team, but, of course, most of all for the two guys who form Transloadit’s African department. While we kept up with our tradition from last year – as can be seen on some of the pictures above – and had again made cardboard cutouts of the absentees to make sure they could at least attend in spirit, Tim and Kevin decided this was not enough and they had another little surprise in store. Two engraved iPad Mini were brought in so we could connect with them, and when Abdel and Ife joined us through conference call to work remotely alongside us these two days, they were both notified that the iPads were theirs to keep and would be sent to their homes as soon as possible. We hope it was able to ease the pain a little and we’re going to do whatever it takes to make it possible for everyone to attend next year’s Transloadit meetup.
After a strategic "Flammkuchen" break it was now finally time to get down to business. Kevin and Tim had thought of a project to work on during the two following days: wouldn’t it be cool if Uppy, our next-gen open source file uploader, was able to survive a complete browser crash? No one could disagree with that, of course, but as would soon become clear, this was far easier said than done. Luckily, we had two full days ahead of us to make it work. So, without wasting any further time, everyone got started. Immediately, the enormous benefit of working in the same physical space became evident, as chairs were pulled up together so people could discuss and work together on the various obstacles that would have to be overcome in order to bring this challenging project to a good end.
Without going into too much detail here, we are very happy to say that our two days of working in Berlin were as much of a success as the earlier team-building part of the week had been! Thanks to our brand new Golden Retriever file recovery plugin, Uppy is now able to survive the most disastrous of events. Whatever happens to it, whether it’s an accidentally closed tab, a complete and total crash of the browser or even a good old blue screen of death, as soon as your start up again, Uppy will remember exactly what you were doing and pick up an upload right where you left it. How cool is that! As far as we know, this is an industry first and we are very proud of that, to say the least. Check out the Uppy blog post to read about all the nitty gritty that went down behind the scenes to make this latest functionality for Uppy work smoothly. We hope you’ll enjoy browser crash-resilient resumable uploads as much as we do!
Now that our breakthrough Uppy project had been brought to such a successful end, we were all invited to come celebrate this happy occasion at the home of Tim and Cindy. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to get there without suitable transportation. Luckily, Kevin and Tim had thought of just the right thing: the Uppy Mobile. Everyone could agree that nothing less than 9 glorious meters of bright pink Hummer would suffice to ferry us across town. And so we embarked for our penultimate commute of the week.
At our destination, the beautiful house of Tim and Cindy, preparations had already been made for a great final night of what had already turned out to be an awesome trip. Before long, the pool was at maximum capacity, small dents were being made in the contents of the well-stocked refrigerators and the first of many delicious treats found their way onto the table. In a final herculean effort, Tim took it upon himself to man the blisteringly hot grill area so that the appetites of carnivores and vegetarians alike might be fully satisfied. With plates filled with prime cuts of meat, delicious halloumi cheese, freshly-made salads and a myriad of condiments, it was a miracle that anyone still managed to keep anything resembling a conversation going.
At some point during the evening, we figured that it had to already be Saturday somewhere in Russia and that is was therefore a good a time as any to begin celebrating Artur’s birthday. The occasion was marked by song, a card filled with congratulations and witty remarks about the proper Russian pronunciation of the birthday boy’s name, a gift certificate for a dinner for two at one of Berlin’s fine vegan restaurants and a delicious layer cake prepared by Lena.
The remainder of the evening was spent discussing the better things in life, clearing up common misconceptions about Russian drinking toasts – not “na zdorovie” but “boodiem”! – and lamenting the fact that our trip would soon be at an end.
After a last night in our comfortable hotel beds and a final breakfast together, the time had finally come to say our goodbyes. While some would travel home immediately and others would continue their journey through other parts of Europe, the Transloadit part of the trip had come to its conclusion. And what a meetup it was. We came to Berlin as colleagues, but left as friends. To next year's edition!
A few special thanks have to go out to the people without whom this trip wouldn’t have been possible – or at least it wouldn’t have been this great. First of all to Cindy, who was nothing less than the backbone of this entire operation. Not only did she make the traveling arrangements for everyone, booked their accommodations and helped with figuring out visas, she also took care of the majority of preparations for the events of the week – whether it was finding and ordering outfits, booking venues, arranging a conference room, or whatever else, Cindy was on top of it.
We’d also like to thank Martina, Cindy’s mother, who made sure that Tim and Cindy had their hands free whenever they needed. And with little baby Max at home, that was certainly no small feat. In addition to that, she also helped to make sure that no one could want for anything when the Transloadians were guests at their home. A very special mention certainly has to go out to her delicious Kartoffel Salat, which she had remembered to prepare after a certain Transloadit writer had only once made a comment about it in passing!
Last but not least, we’d like to thank Rene von Gieltowsky, the professional photographer who tagged along on multiple occasions and ensured that our trip was not only documented visually, but also in a highly artistic manner. Many of the photos in this article are by his hand. It’s probably the case that whenever you think: “man, that is one nice looking picture”, you are looking at Rene’s work. We can do nothing other than heartily recommend his services and urge you to check out his website for his portfolio of beautiful photographs and to find out how to book him yourself.