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Oct 10th 2014

AOL Breakout

This week, AOL hosted its first annual Breakout contest at our headquarters in NYC, with AOLers competing to pitch their most innovative product ideas to a panel of expert judges for the chance to have those ideas funded. With a format similar to NBC's popular show "Shark Tank," the contestants had just minutes to make an impression or go home. AOL is where Culture meets Code and it was in evidence this week through Breakout .

AOL's CTO, Bill Pence and Abigail Gray, Head of Design for Membership, joined forces to create the competition, which challenged AOLers to think outside of what already exists to create original products that embody our mission: to simplify the internet for consumers and creators by unleashing the world's best builders of culture and code. Breakout follows last year's AOL-wide hackathon, which led to the public release of Commute by MapQuest three weeks ago.

After receiving over 180 idea submissions from employees, spanning 11 offices across 5 countries, a panel of judges, including respected Jefferies analyst, Brian Pitz, whittled down the finalists to 10. Innovative ideas ranged from social media tools and video reminders, to content apps and energy savers.

The pitches were followed by staunch deliberation from the panel of judges who in the end selected four teams to send through to the next round. Congratulations to the four teams: ILLUME by Brook Montgomery in the San Francisco office, Kid's First Email by Slavko Eror in the Toronto office, Media Décor by Veronica Picciafuoco in the San Mateo office and My5 by Wii Yatani in the NYC office.

Now it's on to the "Product Guild" for these four hopefuls who will once again compete against for the funding to take their product from idea to reality!

Aug 27th 2012

AOLer Andreas Turanski Talks Moviefone and Social Engineering

Since joining the AOL Technology team over two and half years ago, Andreas Turanski has worked on a variety of different projects – both big and small. But one he's particularly passionate about is creating a tightly-knit engineering culture in New York City that reflects the startup/small company background he came from and embodies a similar experience that already exists in AOL's Dulles campus.

"I wanted to help AOL NYC Engineers from my teams and other teams to get to know each other as a social group and as resources," said Andreas. "I floated the idea to engineers and engineering leaders in a bunch of these teams and virtually everyone liked the idea so I made it one of my missions to kick-off a NYC AOL Engineering mixer. I also talked with the head of the Cultural Ambassador Program that I'm involved with about funding the events." How'd he do? We'll come back to that in a minute.

In his "day" job, Andreas is a Senior Tech Director who works on AOL's Entertainment verticals and sites like Moviefone, AOL Music, Winamp, and AOL HD / AOL ON. Collaborating with the General Managers, Product Managers, and designers of the sites, Andreas and his four engineering teams work to build the best experiences for our users that will make an impact. This includes rebuilding the backend of sites to deliver a more flexible structure to pull in the best, least expensive data providers, a recent win accomplished with the new backend for the AOL Music site and Winamp.

When working on a project, Andreas' main priorities are to create reusable systems with a great and consistent user experience. "We're always trying to make a systems that can be reused by other teams in ways that we don't even envision while making sure we get them delivered quickly. This is often done by having an API (application programming interface) that defines how to access the service that our other groups can use. This makes code more maintainable, so if one thing changes in the background, the front end doesn't have to change. For instance, we're going to re-use the backend that we just built for AOL Music and Winamp as the backend for Moviefone after some enhancements."

An avid cyclist and vegan, Andreas spends much of his time outside of AOL doing non-profit work around causes that promote civil rights and animal protection. Raised in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, Andreas continues to be surprised by the new things he discovers exploring his ever-changing hometown, but it's his son who brings him the most inspiration. "I am continually proud of my son, as I watch and help him grow and develop as an amazing person."

At one point in his AOL career, Andreas ran the AOL Social, Community, & Identity engineering team where they built the current commenting platform and AOL Share. Using his knowledge of the needs from the site side helped inform what was built on the platform side. Andreas continues to dabble in community engagement with his team as they test different programs on their sites like enhancing how we let Moviefone users make events to see specific movies to share with their social circles.

And the mixers? What started out as a gathering of 15 engineers and tech staff has now multiplied into a large community where sharing knowledge while socializing thrives, but Andreas does not plan to stop there. "We'll need to continue working on this and make it a steady part of the NYC AOL Engineering social fabric. Next is to get more teams involved, after which I promised I'd do a shot at the mixer!"

(AOLers, including Chief Technology Officer Curtis Brown (far right), attend a mixer.)

Jan 11th 2012

VivaKi and AOL "Tech-tails" at CES 2012


During this week's CES festivities, AOL was invited to participate in VivaKi's week of "Bright Lights, Big Ideas."

More than 200 VivaKi employees, clients and guests were treated to a packed content program. The evening was kicked off by Joshua Fruhlinger, editorial director for AOL Tech, who shared his perspectives on the first day of CES. From "LTE everything" to OLED to the age of superlatives: subtablets, superphones, and ultrabooks, Fruhlinger talked about the latest trends at the show. "Everything is mobile, everyone wants to show that what they have can run an app," he observed. "Angry Birds will be on everything from car dashboards to washing machines." Home networking will also be a big trend, as devices connect to the living room TV. For more of what's happening at the show, check out Engadget's complete CES coverage.

Next, Christian Kugel, AOL VP of Consumer Analytics and Research, took the stage. In anticipation of CES, Engadget identified ten trends – from inductive charging to electric motorcycles – that would impact 2012. Kugel's team then surveyed AOL Tech audiences to capture their interest and excitement of those trends. Readers ranked their top 3 game-changers as cloud computing, device convergence and the emergence of tablets as content creation devices. The audience roared at revelations that nearly half of AOL Tech readers would give up their pet rather than sacrifice their favorite gadget.

The evening concluded with lively conversation between Maurice Levy, Global CEO, Publicis Groupe, and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong. Praising Publicis Groupe as "the most game-changing holding company," Armstrong stated that no one else "took more of a risk" on digital media. Levy quipped: "Ah, we didn't know it was a risk." Levy agreed that convergence was one of the most important trends he was seeing at CES, and when Armstrong asked what advice he had for companies struggling with making the right decisions in a swiftly shifting business climate, Levy parried with a quick "Come see us!" They discussed how brands – not just products – need to be differentiators, and how the new digital landscape has the potential to be an "infinite world of possibility and creativity." Levy turned the tables on Armstrong and quizzed him on AOL's ultimate objectives – and where the company was in its journey. "AOL is about building content brands that matter, at scale," Armstrong responded. "I'd say we are in Inning Two on what we want to achieve."

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