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Digital processing 05 Jun 2020

BBVA’s ninjas team up for the bank’s first virtual global hackathon

In its third year, the BBVA global ninja hackathon took place virtually for the first time. Local teams representing the digital talent community from seven of the bank’s operating countries participated in the event. Despite the separation by distance, more than 1,000 BBVA ninjas joined the initiative, helping their teams solve technological challenges created by Amazon Web Services (AWS). At this year’s event, U.S. team SQL Injection emerged as the global winner.

More than 1,000 members of BBVA’s ninja community connected from seven countries via real time video conference in order to encourage their teams during the launch of this two-day technological competition organized in conjunction with AWS.

This year, the teams who competed were those who had qualified in the local rounds, previously held in the seven regions where the program is running. In total, there were 13 multi-disciplinary teams made up of 52 ninjas from Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, México, the U.S., and Spain.

In spite of the distance, team spirit infused the presentation of the global hackathon, the first time it was conducted purely over digital channels. Following the introduction of each team, with members dialing in from home, hundreds of ninjas applauded and encouraged their colleagues, leaving no doubt that the impersonal glow of computer screens would not detract from the passion of the event, keeping the sense of community that characterizes these kind of events very much alive.

During the introduction of the participating teams, Ricardo Forcano, global head of Engineering and Organization at BBVA said, “It is fantastic to see how technology makes it possible to hold a virtual event. It also clearly demonstrates how strong the global ninja community is.” Forcano stressed the Ninja Program's key role in integrating the best technology at the bank by serving as a catalyst to continuous learning. “The Ninja Program has played — and continues to play — a fundamental role, as a platform and as a community, setting us all on a path of continuous learning.”

The BBVA hackathon, organized together with the bank’s strategic partner, AWS, demonstrated the significant capacity of the bank’s teams to adapt to the new digital context. AWS’ managing director for Iberia & IT, Miguel Álava, also attended the hackathon kick-off and commented that “It is yet further proof that technology makes what seems impossible possible.” Álava also took advantage of the opportunity to emphasize how culturally complementary AWS is with BBVA and the Ninja Program in particular, due to shared values such as “the ambition to build, the desire to innovate, and the willingness to ‘democratize’ technology, making it accessible to everyone,” he maintained.


The hackathon consisted of two separate technological challenges created by AWS to be resolved over a total of 14 hours. Participants were tasked with solving the first problem on May 27th and the second on May 28th. A notable change to this year’s event was that competing teams were also able to earn extra points through the support of their local fans: Ninjas who were not on a competing team, but were able to collaborate with their compatriots, helping them earn points by completing AWS’ Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs).

During the 26 hour timeframe that this challenge was open, each Ninja was able to complete the MOOCs that she or he was interested in, and the more courses completed, the more points were earned for her country's competing teams. Thus, Ninjas were able to earn learning points while helping their colleagues qualify for a better position in the rankings.

Local fans played an essential role in this year’s hackathon, illustrating the program’s capacity for finding and promoting talent from anywhere within the organization, regardless of participants’ prior knowledge or corporate area.

Some of the participants during the opening of the third global hackathon of the 'Ninja' initiative.

A top-tier final

At the event’s closing ceremony, Ignacio Bernal, global head of Architecture in BBVA's Engineering unit, expressed his support for the participating teams and announced this year’s winner. This year, the honor went to SQL Injection, a team from the U.S., which earned the most points thanks to their performance in both challenges and the support from their local fans. Matt Zylstra, spokesman for the winning team, thanked the Ninja Program for all the resources that went into making their participation possible, “I really appreciate the value you place on learning and the opportunity you have given us.” Zylstra also took the opportunity to thank AWS for “coming up with the unique challenges that we had to tackle.”

The Spanish team, ‘Going for the Win,’ took second place and third-place winners were the Argentine team, ‘Code Store 4.’ The winners took to the champions podium with a show of emotion.

José Juan Berlanga, head of Talent and Culture in the Engineering unit, did not want to overlook the contribution of local fans and the enormous support they provided the competing teams, “It is amazing how everyone in the Ninja community got involved in the event. It is interesting how, faced with adversity, we are able to grow and give the best of ourselves, doing things differently to how we would under normal conditions, in a way we would never have considered otherwise. A philosophy that embraces innovation, the desire to learn and to change is what underpins the Ninja Program, and this hackathon has epitomized its ethos,” he explained.

In total, participating local fans — comprising 788 ninjas — managed to complete 4,410 MOOCs, which is equivalent to 2,044 hours of training and 20,449 ninja points. In recognition of this effort, medals were also awarded to the best fans: Uruguay earned the first prize for fans, with second place going to Mexico and third place to Colombia. These awards help the ninjas earn community and teamwork points, which are needed to qualify for ninja belts of greater difficulty.

Mattia Gamberoni, AWS head of Enterprise Iberia, who signed on for the final phase of hackathon, described the Ninja Program as an “absolute success story in the industry” and emphasized BBVA’s adeptness at creating and fostering teams of “unparalleled talent, encouraging the active use of our learning muscle.”