Hack4Good – My First Hackathon

Hack4Good Group Photo
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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 April, 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!

 

 

 

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