Hackathon

MBAS H4CK4Good – Atlanta – June 2019 A First Timers Account….

MBAS H4CK4Good – Atlanta – June 2019

A First Timers Account….

Graham “show-me-the-code” Tomkins
Expectations:
(Adrenaline Level: Normal +10)

Upon signing up for my first PowerApps Hackathon, my brain ran off with dreams of sleep deprivation, Visual Studio compiler errors, night long lock-ins, pizza, tears, Coca-Cola, intravenous coffee, lengthy presentation and a serious atmosphere….

How wrong was I (in a good way it turns out)!

Prep!:
(Adrenaline Level: Increasing +20)

After being contacted by Geetha the awesome leader of TeamBlack (woo go team!) my thoughts raced on further – just how much code can we produce? What constraints will we have? Etc.  Across the week preceding the Hack, the team was stood up, got to know one another, lost members, gained members – most importantly (or so we thought) we had used the numerous evening calls to read and understand the scenarios, choose one and put a plan together to ram as much of the platform into a solution as humanly possible – by the time it came to travel – we had a plan!

An awesome Plan.

Arrival and Openings:
(Adrenaline Level: Static +20)

With the jet lag kicking in and the immense American breakfast sitting heavy, we arrived early (ish) with the like of Chris H, Will, Lucy M, Sarah A and Sarah C to find an ever growing room of helpers and equipment getting setup – also crucially, there was ample caffeine available.

Give me the Coffee and No-One Get’s Hurt

After the meet and greet with the team – plus newly assigned awesome team members – and muchos consumption of coffee and diet coke – the opening presentations occurred in all of their profanity riddled glory – whilst they were great, it dawned on us as a team that they had underlined something fundamental that was missing with our plan….. a solid and relatable problem statement!

Oh $%^&!

GO GO GO!:
(Adrenaline Level: Argh! +50)

Panic! Quick find a problem statement to fit our plan…. Or better yet – torch the original tech driven plan in favour of something with a relatable and real world problem statement (Thanks to Ghaith)!

Light fuse and stand well back

The team rallied around the real world experience in a medical disaster relief situation and we re-formed the plan into a solvable problem, the tasks were divvy’ed up and we began!

GO TEAM! YEAHH! (American Style Wooping)

 

Access Denied? Build Build!:
(Adrenaline Level: Argh^2 +60)

After the sorting of permissions and the usual environment fun and games, everyone was in and working – Josh on PowerBI, Geetha on the Canvas App, Ludovic and Ghaith on real world data and guidance of the in progress Model Driven App whilst keeping one eye on the presentation and demo.

Problem 1 occurred – Why won’t it accept the Accelerator package solution?! It turns out regional locale settings dramatically affect the result of demo data 😊 after that we were away with the usual fun.

TBH the trial environments responded pretty well throughout the barrage of changes being hurled there way by teams left right and centre.

Who the Hell Pressed Publish ALL?!

 

Is that Food I can smell?:
(Adrenaline Level: Floor +0)

People kept walking past my desk with plates of something that smelt divine – and being a professional and 110% focussed on my work – I resisted…. For about 15 minutes….

Omnomnomnomnom omnomnom

The Blackout – where did my hours go?:
(Adrenaline Level: Ceiling +70)

After the chicken, mashed potato and on-boarding of more caffeine, we hunkered down… the carnage continued and we felt on track…. That was until William (full name used for serious effect) put the count down clock upon the screen…. It’s ok…. It must be a joke!…. right?…. we must have 3 or more hours remaining….. nope…. 41 minutes 19 seconds….

 

What The Actual *&^% Happened!

.…. The time ticked away and with 9 minutes to go we had a great framework, some things were working – others were bodged or ditched completely – at this point we felt like we had left enough time for the team to focus on the presentation practise and planning….

Honest. Guv.

Stop! Demo Time:
(Adrenaline Level: Penthouse +200)

The adrenaline started to peak, did it work? Who was first? Holy Crap where did all of these people come from??

We were up 2nd, it went well – didn’t it? No-one threw food or booed too loudly, that’s a plus right?

And breathe…

As we watched and applauded some awesome teams and results – the strength of the community I was sat in became ever more apparent.

Judges Deliberation:
(Adrenaline Level: And Relax +10)

Their task was tough, the teams had produced some fantastic outputs…. And bribes…. They needed time to think…. And that left a void in the plans and presentations, which, in any other arena would have been awkward and left me feeling uneasy – not here though.  As we went around the room for introducing and applauding the team leads, individuals from all over the place starting chipping in with feedback and comments, we heard from Lucy and most of her family tree, the charities who have given up their time on a Sunday etc. it dawned on me that all of the other ‘communities’ I had been party to, in my technical career prior to this were very much forced, cold, meeting like experiences in comparison – what we had here, in all of it’s profanity riddled glory, was the complete opposite.

Woo Group Hug

 

Overall:

The winners deserved it, I loved it and will be will be doing more, everyone had a great day (or so I think 😊), next time I will focus in on a smaller problem rather than trying to solve a wide array (which we did get close to but is damned impossible to demo in 5 mins!).

I will now be doing my best to pour some of my 13 years technical CRM (!) development experience into the community – #GottaLoveTheCode

Thanks All – This was not a boring Sunday

 

Proper Beer:
(Adrenaline Level: Replaced with Endorphins and Fermented Hops -100)

Oh and not to forget the lengthy celebrations that occurred after the event with a superb turn out at the German Beer Bar

Hack4Good – My First Hackathon

Hack4Good Group Photo

TL;DR

I’ll warn you – this is a long read! To summarise though – this Community is beyond awesome and the Hack4Good event just proved that we can genuinely change the world.

The Hype

When TDG announced that there was to be a hackathon in London, with the focus of it being the Non-Profit/Charity sector, I was straight in there on the registration (after which Mrs H was then informed  that I was booked in – easier to ask forgiveness than seek permission)

This was to be my first ever hackathon, a year ago I hadn’t even HEARD of hackathons, and it ticked so many boxes for me. For those who don’t know, it’s not hacking in the sense of breaking into systems etc – this is all about using software and platforms that are at your disposal to hack together a solution to a scenario within a given time limit. The most innovative, practical, deliverable, and potential-filled solution would win the day.

When the emails started to come out Chris asked (in typical CAPS LOCK STYLE) if I would lead a team. Me being me, I jumped at the chance – in for a penny, in for a pound.

And so the excitement began. Weeks turned into days, and my poor family and friends got fed up of hearing how stoked I was. When I saw this list of other team leaders, and saw the people who were on my team, I started to question my credentials. There were so many legends of the community involved – people I look up to, and follow with eagerness and anticipation.

The Buildup

At 5:30am on Saturday 16th February, loaded with snacks and tech, I headed towards the railway station. Nerves meeting with excitement, doubts meeting determination.

Arriving just before 8am I was struck by just how, on first impressions, the Microsoft Reactor in London is a strange space. Fully stocked drinks area, with stereotypical caffeine overload available, games area, and then a large open space with tables and a large video screen. It almost seemed spartan in its simplicity.

As everyone started to arrive, and we set up our various laptops and devices, that open space suddenly became this hive of technology and potential.

Hugs and Hellos were dished out with abandon, and cries of “It’s so good to meet you at last” were deafening in their abundance. I moved from person to person and finally got to meet people who I’d talked to online or who I’d been following for ages. I was even surprised to find people who wanted to meet me!

The Morning

With typical fervour and energy the trio of Chris Huntingford, Kyle Hill and William Dorrington (who had come over for the start despite having removal lorries outside his front door!) kicked off the day.

A surprise video message from James Phillips, Corporate Vice-President of Microsoft, impressed upon all of us just how much the community is noticed by Microsoft and raised the expectations of all in the room another notch. If our dials were at 11 before that video, they were at 12 afterwards – and even Spinal Tap didn’t get to 12!

I’ll be honest at this point and admit that I can’t remember who presented exactly what and when – my mind was a maelstrom of ideas and planning.

The engaging Architect and Storyteller Alex Rijnoveanu (@WomanVsTech) from Microsoft delivered enthusiasm and encouragement.

The very funny, and trying-not-to-be-as-sweary, Sarah Critchley (@crmcat)presented in a way that only she could – with an idea about helping out stray cats using powerapps and other bits.

m-hance presented alongside Solent Mind, and that I related to what they did in a huge way because of the work I see in my day job at St. Andrew’s Healthcare. It was a sobering presentation in many ways, but also opened up our eyes as to “the art of the possible”.

Saurabh Pant and Sameer Bhangar had flown in from Microsoft (yes, all the way from Seattle) just for this event and then through away their planned roadmap presentation to give us all a major pep talk and stir us up even more. I have to say that the funniest thing was their very friendly (and also slightly sweary) rant about how much they had heard about Samit Saini in the past year! In so doing, it just served to show us all just what was possible – those who knew Samits journey smiled and laughed, and those who didn’t had their eyes opened to a new level of potential.

Quantiq presented some of the work they had done with the Leonard Cheshire charity and also give a glimpse of their toolkit for healthcare and the ideas kept flowing. As I look around at the other teams I could see people taking notes, typing away, and whispering to each other. This hackathon was going to be competitive, but boy was it going to deliver some amazing results.

I’ll apologise now to all the presenters as I haven’t done you justice in my few words, and I may have mangled your presentations up, but believe me when I say that all the presentations hit home with all of us listening. Those presentations took our plans, determination, and enthusiasm up to levels you just wouldn’t believe if you weren’t there!

Let The Hacking Commence

With a final presentation to lay down the rules of engagement, and also to make it clear that stopping for lunch was most definitely not an option, the starters gun was fired and the 4.5 hours of planning, building, and preparing began.

The buzz in the room was electric as each team discussed and planned out their scenario and then grabbing whiteboards and white space to map out what a solution could look like.

I’ll be writing more about the Team White proposal in the coming days, as there is more to come from that, but we settled on a solution that would utilise so much of the stack but would be able to be modularised and deployed as a “solution-in-a-box” approach.

With my amazing team of Penny, Josh, Denis and Raj we set about building Microsoft Forms, PowerApps, Dynamics 365 solutions, Flows, and the concept of the Hololens. Oh yes, Gadget King Raj had brought us a Hololens – and that just expanded the possibilities for us. We weren’t looking at gimmicks and tech-for-techs-sake, we were looking at a genuinely life-changing solution using some amazing software and hardware.

With a soundtrack of some amazing 80’s rock being pumped out (and yes, thanks Chris for Rickrolling us!), everyone was doing something. If you could have harnessed the energy in that room at that point you would have been able to power half of London.

Floor walkers popped by each of the teams each one listening and absorbing before offering advice, help, suggestions and more – but what was even more amazing was that the teams were all talking to each other. You read that right, the teams all talked to each other.

There was sharing of scenarios, encouragement, suggestions for improvement or additions, and helping hands. This was a competition that was like no other. This was a competition in which we ALL wanted to see every team achieve their goals. I’m a mildly (ok, seriously) competitive person at times and yet there was no sense of barging past each other to reach the finish line. This was collaboration and cooperation in competition towards a common goal.

The Winners

And with 4 and a half hours gone in the blink of an eye, the race was run. It was time to do the 5(ish) minute speed-dating presentation of the solutions.

As each team stepped up and shared I really do not know how I held it together. These were genuine scenarios, delivered with innovative solutions, and by passionate people.

Every last one.

We all watched, applauded and cheered. None of us could separate the competition. Judging was going to be tough, and so it proved.

With our hosts waffling as much as possible whilst the judges adjudicated, we all sat wondering just who it would be. We all wanted to win, but we all knew that whoever did win was fully deserving of it.

With the decision made, the announcement came that Team Grey (who had flown over from Germany to take part!) had won with an app for rounding up as you ordered food or transport and donated this to your charity of choice. Writing that makes it sound simplistic, but if you think of the implications of it you soon realise that it has massive potential.

It Is NOT Over!

The final speeches and thank you’s were made, the applause leaving hands feeling rather raw and sore, but this isn’t the end. Every proposition in the room has legs, and every person in the room knew that this couldn’t stop just because the clock had run down.

Saturday saw the start of something, the spark that starts a fire. We all felt it and reading all the posts on twitter and LinkedIn etc after the event just reaffirms that determination.

We saw not a glimpse, but rather a bright shining beacon of the power of the community. I go on and on (and on) about Community but what happened in that room on Saturday, with just a part of the enthusiastic and passionate community present, just proved what we can all achieve if we put our minds to it.

Here TDG we have the Community Collaboration Portal for working on community projects together, and there’s the Power Platform Bank for making solutions available, and then there’s all the social media channels out there as well.

Let’s turn this spark into a raging fire of change. Let’s use our collective skills to build new solutions to old problems.

Oh, and let’s do this again real soon!

 

 

 

Dynamics 365 Saturday – Dublin 2018

The Dynamics 365 Saturday 2018 took place in Microsoft Dublin (One Microsoft Place) and was hosted by Janet Robb and her Team. Congratulations on Janet for a great work on organising such well-structured event.

Lots of cool sessions provided, as well as workshops for PowerApps and CRM for the ones who were interested.

 

Even though I’m not a Dynamics consultant, to me as a SharePoint/Office 365 Consultant, it was very cool to see how the same stack of products (Power platform + Azure) that we use on top of SharePoint/Office 365 is been adopted in the Dynamics Community as well. As mentioned on the keynote, for all D365 specialists it’s been a constant work to keep up to date with tons of new features been released (I can assure that for Office 365 as well), and an event like this helps to connect the community and to get a summarized overview of what’s been there in the market.

Special thanks to our Dynamics Guys who came from the UK and smashed in their presentations:

Chris Huntingford – Dynamics 365 for Marketing

Kylie Hill – My Favorite new D365 Features

It was a pleasure to meet those legends in person.

Also, the interaction from the community posting and sharing content and pictures on social media (Hashtag #365SatDub) was really nice, cool to see such engagement and nice pictures from everyone on Linkedin and Twitter.

Looking forward to the next #365SatDub!!

Demystifying the Common Data Service & PowerApps – Hackathon Summary

On the 28th of July, Those Dynamics Guys held a Hackathon to help people demystify the Common Data Service and PowerApps. The goal of the Hackathon was to educate the audience in various elements of the Common Data Service and PowerApps and then provide them with a task that required various levels of technical and business skills to complete.

The hackathon was timed in such a way that it took place right after Microsoft Inspire and The Business Applications Summit, where various elements of the Microsoft technology were focused on. The Microsoft Power Platform got a particularly large amount of focus due to the nature of the product and how it is perceived to change the very way people within the Microsoft family (Employees, partners, ISVs) work.

There is unfortunately no way for me to make this a short post, buckle up…. This will get interesting.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with terms such as “PowerApps” and “Power Platform”, allow me to take this moment to briefly educate you. For those of you that are familiar… Skip the section full of product definitions and go on to the Hackathon bit.

The Section Full Of Product Definitions

Microsoft Power Platform is the term used to describe the Microsoft Business Application platform which includes PowerApps, PowerBI, Flow, the Common Data Service (CDS) and a series of gateways & connectors. This platform is used to customise both Office 365 and Dynamics 365 and utilises Microsoft Azure. For the less technical people, it is a platform that enables the creation of relevant applications across all areas of a business and promotes their utilisation by all types of users.

PowerApps is the term used to describe a service within the Microsoft Power Platform that enables users the ability to build and use business applications that connect you to data and work across various devices without the need for expensive software development. Basically, you can build AWESOME looking applications that work on all your devices and connect you to the data and functionality you need in order to do your job more effectively.

The Hackathon bit

On a very sunny Saturday just over 60 people from Microsoft, Various partners, users and students gathered at the Microsoft Reactor in Shoreditch to learn, teach and evangelise all about Microsoft PowerApps and the Common Data Service. They came early and enthusiastic about getting to grips with this amazing technology.

The participants were split into teams that were branded by a certain colour: green, Red, Pink, Yellow, Brown, Orange, Blue and Purple. The participants were split based on a skills survey that was filled in prior to the event. Unfortunately, some people did not arrive, which left some teams with only four people. A MASSIVE thanks to those that did arrive and give up their Saturday!

Each team was assigned a Power Platform environment with PowerApps, PowerBI and Flow enabled, as well as a configured instance of the Common data service that was fully populated with data. There was also an example of a model driven application that was linked to the demo scenario positioned below.

The Presentations

The teams were taken through various elements of the technology by some amazing folks from Microsoft. Bruce Nicholson, Anna Waight, David Reid and Craig Bird. They absolutely wowed the attendees with the Microsoft roadmap, some amazing technology and kick-ass demonstrations of what the tech could do.

My partners in crime, Will Dorrington and Kyle Hill did some fantastic demonstrations of what could be done with Canvass Apps and Model Driven Apps, which gave the audience an idea of what was possible when utilising Microsoft Power Platform to create business relevant applications.

Anna and Bruce did a stunning presentation opening up the event, talking about the Power Platform Roadmap and how it fits into the different partner communities such as partner and user. The two of them really set the mood and tone of a very interactive ad exciting day.

I took the teams through a scenario based solution that surfaced data and functionality to various user types utilising all elements of the Power Platform. The demonstration of this process can be found on the PowerApps Bank.

David Reid came on next with a brilliant presentation on the Common Data Service and how it is technically structured, as well as how to add new entities, views, fields and more. David also dipped his toes into how the CDS surfaces data within a Model Driven App. I’m sure David’s brain just oozes excellence! Download David’s presentation HERE.

Kyle came on next with a pretty sweet looking model driven app and spoke about how the data could be surfaced from the CDS within a functionally rich user interface that promotes process driven interactions with the data. Poor Kyle was massively jet lagged after just getting back from BusApps summit, so we had to heckle him as much as possible. You can download the CDS Data Structure and Model Driven App HERE. You can download instructions on how to setup your own environment with all of the relevant data HERE.

Next on were Craig and Will, which was a riot! They explored the deep functionality available within canvass apps and how data could be surfaced from CDS as well as LOADS of other data sources. This was coupled with some pretty alternative functionality, shown in the form of different connectors to different apps and data sources. There is an example Road Side Assist Canvass App that is connected to the CDS which can be downloaded HERE.

The concept was around Road Side Assistance and how you could use services within Power Platform to handle a breakdown process. The concept was very light touch due to the fact that the participants didn’t have a lot of time to form a bond and work together as a team. This is also why a large amount of the configuration was also pre-built. Road Side Assist was also selected because it’s a common scenario and most participants understood the concept as well as how the process could work, without having too much explained to them.

The Judging Criteria

Based on what was demonstrated, the goals were set for the afternoon where the participants had to deliver an innovative solution that worked with the data structure provided and show how Microsoft Power Platform could assist in the management of vehicle breakdown calls. There were two key criteria that the judges were looking for:

  1. Team work: How well did the members of the team work together to generate a cohesive story and solution.
  2. Innovation: What did teams do to build on the provided structure? How did they leverage the platform?

A massive thanks to the Hitachi Solutions team who came through and did the judging.

Sajeel Afzal

David Singh

Jesmond Giordmaina

Let’s hack Stuff!!!

The teams had lunch and got cracking during the lunch break on networking, planning and even starting the build on some of their solutions. After lunch the teams only had 3 hours to build something amazing… which THEY DID! In fact, some of the stuff that came out of the different groups was amazing. The Microsoft and Those Dynamics guys team members were roaming the floor acting as support for all questions, both technical and non-technical. The teams really put us to the test with a number of questions… Which means that the boundaries of the product were really pushed!

There were some REALLY awesome apps that were created with a massive focus on utilising the canvass apps to surface data and functionality. All the teams had very well thought out stories and themes for their apps, which made the judging really tough.

We saw everything from bright pink user interfaces (WHICH WAS AWESOME) to an actual integration to the DVLA (WTF…that’s crazy). Teams were using all sorts of combinations like Microsoft Flow, PowerBI, Microsoft Forms, SharePoint, Twilio SMS and loads more. Basically, it was a tech fest! 😀

Ultimately, there was a lot going on in the room. Lots of chatting, disagreeing (in that cuddly, healthy way), lots of tech talk and many flow diagrams going on.

Speed Dating for Apps

After the countdown clock had completed its cycle each team then had 5 min on stage to show us their awesomeness. Each team showed no fear, got up and spoke about what they had done. They told the judges their story and showed us evidence of what they had built. I gotta say, most of them put me to shame from a demo point of view. It was just amazing to see all these proud new “App Parents” showing us how cool their creations were. I almost shed a few tears of joy 😀

Without handing out participation medals, I need to say that each team smashed it! Each team had both similar functionality and functionality that really stood out from the rest of the teams. Some were technically stronger than others and some had a better story.

You can download each teams model & canvass applications from the Those Dynamics Guys PowerApp bank!

Wrap-up, high fives and Prizes

After all the presentations were done Sajeel Afzal from Hitachi Solutions, our primary sponsor, came up and spoke a bit about the magic he had seen happen in the room and how proud he and Hitachi were to be part of such a collaborative event. He pointed out that no matter if you were a partner, user or student, everyone came together to participate in a very cool event, which is what Hitachi Solutions is about.

After a VERY tough decision the judges finally decided on who the winner was. Taking into account the two key criteria, the judges selected the RED team as the winners. They were selected because they worked together as a cohesive unit, they had a strong plan, they had a great story, they were able to present a solution that utilised the Power Platform in an innovative way through the creation of a VERY strong canvass app and Model driven app. The red team also had three students in the team that had never even seen the product stack before, which just goes to show that the citizen developer tag given to PowerApps is a real thing. Great job RED team.

The red team won a Philips hue starter set each and a sweet award which can be used as a paper wright, door stop, weapon and many other useful things.

There were two other awards that were given out to two members of the blue team who the judges felt were incredibly collaborative and worked hard at bringing their teams together. Incidentally, this team had the highest number of members… So a great job to:

Ryan Mclean

Laura Graham Brown

And finally, the social award went to Marcus Mattus for his incredible contribution on social media and getting our event out there to the rest of the world.

Ultimately, what we were hoping to achieve during the hackathon was to create that “Penny Drop” moment for all types of users, which was to realise that this platform is so robust and dynamic; the sky is the limit here. Together, we can create almost anything! We don’t all need to be software developers to do this. People from all backgrounds can get stuck in here and enjoy it. It is as simple or as complicated as your knowledge and skill level allows.

 

THE PUB

We finished off the day at a pub in Shoreditch called Flight Club where many delicious pints were consumed and many high fives and handshakes were portioned out amongst the participants for a job well done.

A Big Thanks is in Order

To each and every participant, thank you so much for giving up your Saturday to come and play with technology and learn about how epic the Microsoft product stack really is!

THANK YOU to Hitachi Solutions UK for sponsoring this event. We could not have done this without you. You were amazing in fronting the cash needed to do this, putting up with my nonsense and must rolling with the event because you believe it grows the community and the perception of the product and how it can be used. You are amazing!

To The Cognitive Group… Thanks for the delicious drinkies and snacks at the bar at the very end. They were needed! AND for the amazing VR headset that went to Ryan… he loves it!!

Anna, Bruce, David and Craig from Microsoft, you were unbelievable! Thank you so much for giving up your time to us and for sharing all of your amazingness. It was amazing having you there representing such a strong brand.

The Microsoft Reactor team; a massive thanks for all of your hard work and for helping us through the event process. You were fantastic, the venue was fantastic and you were incredibly hospitable. Amazing job.

To the TDG Team… great job boys! Hugs! 😀