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Representing the Product Team at CES 2013

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Photo by Guillermo Esteves

After a 10-hour trip from New York to California then to Las Vegas, I was looking forward to two things— a double-double from In-N-Out, and eating it disgustingly on my hotel bed. These wonderful dreams quickly dissipated as my cell phone service came on.

My name is Chao Li, and I’m the Support Manager for The Verge. I answer all the support emails, monitor the Verge support twitter account, and I’m responsible for communicating and helping with site feature additions, changes, and fixes. When something breaks, I’m in the first line of defense — except this time, I was in the sky with no WiFi. It turned out that Chorus, Vox Media’s modern media stack, was acting up and it was taking an extra long time to publish articles. This was not the way we wanted to start CES.

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Photo by Guillermo Esteves

I stepped into the double-wide Verge trailer that I’d spend at least 12 hours in every day for the next week at around 8pm. With hardly any time to say hello to the editorial team, I quickly ran into the product room — where I was greeted by a calm James Chae, one of the designers of The Verge features, and an exhausted-looking Guillermo Esteves, the magician that people refer to as The Verge’s front-end developer.

“It’s fine now, but I have so much to fill you in on,” Guillermo smirked as he looked up from his monitor.

CES, the Consumer Electronic Show, had started that day with some pre-CES meetings and events but the exciting stuff was still to come. Guillermo, James and I were chosen to represent the product team at CES. We were supported by an army of developers, designers, and operations friends from across the country.

For 7 days we woke up at 6:30am or 7am, got to the Verge press trailer by 8am and worked until midnight or 1 am. Coffee, bagel, 2nd coffee— I ate the same things as if it brought me luck.

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Photo by Nilay Patel

For CES, we rolled out a video player for the front page and the CES hub along with some other small changes. We were there to help the editorial and video staff navigate through all the new features. Guillermo Esteves built the features and fixed the problems behind the scenes. For example, when we first launched the CES hub, it had a scrolling carousel for new products. After a few days, there were so many new products coming out that the carousel became heavy and it took a toll on the load time of our site. Guillermo came up with a solution to take out the carousel and make the ‘more’ arrow into a link to that particular story stream’s landing page instead. Within an hour, we had a new and improved module on our site.

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Photo by Sam Byford

On the second day, our slow server problem returned. During CES, we were doubling and tripling the amount of posts that we normally do while handling a spike in traffic at the same time.

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During stressful times, people were depending on us to stay cool and to come up with speedy and reliable solutions.

Guillermo partnered with our DC friends to come up with a solution while I took care of communication and tried to come up with other work arounds. A solution finally came, we didn’t know if it’d work. At the last minute, there was an error in the code. “They’re gonna bury us in the desert.” Guillermo half-heartedly joked. Things were tense in the trailer. The issue was fixed an hour later but it was one of the worst hours to sit through. At moments like this, you really find out if you’re cut out for this job. We celebrate the victories and learn from the challenges.

After 3 straight days at the trailer, Guillermo and I stepped out onto the show floor as a treat for ourselves. This place was huge. Guillermo drooled over the tower of Nikon lenses. While I wanted to buy out the entire Hello Kitty booth. We failed to finish central hall in 1 hour.

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Photos by Chao Li and Guillermo Esteves

It had been a slow day, Guillermo — who still had serious insomnia, took off to work from the hotel. Around 10 P.M., about the time I started to look at cat pictures, our site stopped loading. Guillermo rushed back to the trailer and we were in emergency mode. The developers on call were woken up from coast to coast. After 30 min of our hearts pounding, we found a solution. Tired but feeling great, we closed the lids to our computers and called it a day while Ke$ha blasted in the newsroom of our trailer on repeat.

Around day 4, people began to get sick — real sick. TC Sottek, one our writers, was out of commission for 2 days. Late night on that second day, he ended up going to the hospital for a very bad flu. Others coughed, sneezed, and covered themselves in Purell.

That night, James Chae introduced me, Guillermo, Michael Shane, Ross Miller, Thomas Houston and Paul Miller to some amazing Hawaiian food. We all started off quiet at the table, most of us hadn’t slept for more than 5 hours a night for 3 or 4 days straight, and some were still sick. As we stuffed our faces with take out containers of meat, gravy, spam and rice, we became revitalized. As soon as things began to feel calm for the first time in a couple of days in the conference room of our hotel, our phones began to beep and shake. Paul and Michael had to go prep for the Vergecast, Thomas had to get back to work, James ran off to finish a layout, and Guillermo, who had the hardest time adjusting to Pacific Time, went to work from his room.

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Photo by Guillermo Esteves

The rest of the work week quietly passed us. We started to have more time to go out later at night. James got sick on the last day. We worked until the electricity and internet was cut off in our news trailer. For the first time in a long time, we left work while the sun was still up.

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Photo by Sam Byford

This was the first CES that Guillermo and I have ever attended. We had no idea what to expect. I’d been with the Verge for less than a month, and Guillermo had been a developer for Vox Media for less than a year. James Chae was the only CES veteran out of the 3 of us.

I think Guillermo put it the best when I asked him to wrap up his feelings about CES.

“It was a long, stressful, but ultimately fun week. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

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Photo by Guillermo Esteves

Song of CES: Warrior by Ke$ha

Best meal: Hamburger Steak (Hawaiian food)

Best end to CES: 90 Seconds on The Verge: the best of CES, Samsung’s RT choice, and skyfall

For more behind the scene pictures of the Verge at CES see our photo essay!

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