I had heard a great deal about ‘Hackathons.’ In fact, I’ve heard about it so often that it is an event a growing developer needs to go to or will benefit from. In fact, it’s so talked about because a Makers Academy alumni got her first job from a Hackathon. I swear, her name is carved on a hidden plaque in Makers Academy somewhere because the talk of “Hackathons” were a great deal.
Given that young developer Dania finally had some spare time and heard the big news, it was time for Dania to try a Hackathon. I had heard of this Hackathon I’m about to review from a good Maker @TomSpencer and it was an event I was rather excited for. This Hackathon was the “ASDA Microsoft Hackathon”
Although one would easily get excited from the fact that you get to visit Microsoft, I was also excited by the brief. So, the goal of this Hackathon was to come up with a solution to help the unemployment and skills opportunities in India. For a first Hackathon, I admit it sounded contextual and heavy. However, to know that my growing developer skills could tackle such a important problem in the world was pretty cool to visualise or imagine. Who knew what technological projects would flourish on such a day!
A warning to reading this blog-post, you are going to hear the word “Hackathon” a lot as it’s a word that gets easily stuck in one’s head.
The mysteries of the Hackathon experience might have been cloudy, but nevertheless I was brave and clicked “yes, I’m going.” Note: I was rather keen for a young developer who finished a bootcamp to spend a whole Saturday attending this event.
I have to commend Microsoft that even though this office was not the original “Microsoft office”, one of their branched out offices were still neatly done. It was so modern, with a ping-pong table, some arcade games, open wide spaces and comfortable chairs. I will also note that the service at Microsoft was not bad either. You could hang your coat up, you got your customed name-tag, you got free lunch and you got free functional merchandise.
The space I had entered was the Microsoft Accelerator Office where Microsoft ideates or sponsor start-ups. It was pleasant having a tea or coffee in their space, given it felt very modern as if you were visiting a building of the future.
The event started of as networking with the people who attended. For the many people who clicked that they were going, only 20 people showed up. However, it was also to my surprise that everyone there or most, were not developers! It was insightful how many were from different backgrounds ranging from teachers, business, economics, finance, development (I mean there were a few of us, say like 4 out of 20) to people who were actually from India, coming here to pitch their idea to Microsoft. I thought that was very insightful but I realised why the last category of people were there as the Hackathon progressed.
As the Microsoft team gathered us to announce the brief, it was brought to my attention how to an extent this was serious.
So the brief for this Hackathon was to form a solution which would help the unemployment and skill opportunities in rural India. It was a combination of using business, tech and experience to market a strategy that was not only backed up by data research but had success metrics to prove it would last.
From reading it, it sounded like a great experience. However, what was to my surprise was how serious the judging was and how amazing the price was. So, the judge panel were four important judges. They were the top people working at Microsoft Accelerator and the prize would be a large sum of cash to then put your product in the field to test if it works.
I felt when they discussed the brief, I felt the strongest element that could be produced in the span of six hours was the strategy and research. It disappointed me that although technology was included, the ideas behind it might not be even possible to make in a day to show.
In addition, having few developers and a majority pool of business, marketing or Oxford students proved that this project was not focused on development/code. Nonetheless, I kept an open mind to see what I was going to experience.
We introduced ourselves and then those who felt who had strong ideas introduced them to the group. We then had to negotiate and find which idea we wanted to work on for the rest of the day. The group could vary from 1 to how ever many. Although what mattered at the end, was that we had to present to the judges.
The idea I ended up choosing was Atok’s idea (shoutout to him) The idea was to have an Alexa that could teach kids English to have a general conversation.
What I liked about this idea was that it wasn’t focused on only schools. The idea was that a village could have access to this and learn outside of school. We focused on more ‘tourism’ and the idea that rural villages could have general conversations with the public and visa-versa. I thought it was a very different idea compared to many others who were focused on schools.
“Dania what is an Alexa?” An Alexa is similar to Google Home where it as a SIRI built inside this device that shows some details (in short)
The team consisted of Atok, who had come from India and learned development and Lesley, who was a physics teacher who wanted to learn code.
Researching and finding metrics was definitely difficult in six hours considering we also had to build our presentation. We definitely took the “idea-focused route” and placed an emphasis on that rather than the strategy of how the product was going to be solved.
Given we were targeting kids between 6–12, we wanted to portray this Alexa as a Tamagotchi for kids to interact with.
I was quite saddened that the idea (although it was a great idea conceptually) that we couldn’t show any tech skills to put forth to the table. After all, we did not have an Alexa with us, let alone know how to build one. Thank god, I had design skills up my alley and could create somewhat of a demo and could fancy up our presentation.
Presenting to the judges, I definitely felt embarrassed to given a lot of the projects that were being presented had focused business and marketing strategies. Our team was full of developers and experience teachers so that was definitely a disadvantage in our team.
It almost felt like that one time where I was designing an app with a team, where it was about protecting your identity when you were drunk where others did ideas about politics, community and finance, except we were not prepared at all. That’s a story for another time.
I felt most of us in the team was not expecting the experience we were going through. Most of us, developers came here to learn about coding and build from our coding skills which I believe most developers here didn’t.
In the end, the winners provided a strong business and marketing strategy, showing data and proof metrics of how their idea of ‘mentorship’ between people in the community would inspire the young generations in rural India. I think I got that idea along the lines, but they had a very solid plan and idea.
[Apologies if I have this wrong, do comment if I do]
Conceptually, I believe Hackathons are great.
You not only meet people from different backgrounds but also get to work with a team of them to solve a real-life problem. The problem was definitely interesting in my eyes for sure, which what attracted me to this Hackathon. Visiting the office was great, meeting the people was awesome and going through the experience of engaging with these people were amazing.
It was a good event to experience, and fun talking to people.
However, the only fault is that I suppose it depends the reasons why you want to attend a Hackathon. For a growing developer wanting to develop their coding skills after three months, this was not the right Hackathon to go to for me. Although it was good to test my coding skills out in the field, I felt not ready enough to execute every idea that could have be thrown at me.
Without my design skills, I felt I wouldn’t be able to contribute as strong of a part to my team, or not even contribute at all.
I was definitely 50–50 on this experience throughout.
Perhaps my mistake was expecting too much of Hackathons after being told by many others. I expected this Hackathon to have a large community of developers where we would be building projects together no matter what levels we were at, which is why…
I would give Hackathons another try.
For next time, as a starting out developer, it would be nicer to find a Hackathon where there was a more balance skillsets in the community and where the level of skillsets were not pressured on.
Although, I do have to point out that this event was on a Saturday. My expectations may been a bit too high for it. However, for a Saturday event, I didn’t expect it to feel so serious. You could argue because it is a real-life problem it has to be serious to some extent. I mean, the judging panel and the prize money sounded like a great opportunity for those who were more equip with their ideas, to execute their ideas in the field.
I definitely was not in this audience category.
In fact, I just wanted to learn some code.
I think it’s great to put yourself in unknown situations, especially in situations where it sounds interesting but you don’t fully know what to expect. It’s also always good to go to these events with someone you know sometimes, as they can review and tell you what you could have worked on or did better.
Appreciate and give yourself a pat on the back for going and giving it a shot. You may have failed or felt uncomfortable, but it’s step closer to overcoming those feelings and gaining some wisdom. Remember, you will always gain something from any event you go to or do: