I Went to My First Hackathon (..and my team won)

11666130_1669242413311743_7361418111660226341_nLast weekend I went to my first hackathon, with little idea of what to expect. CAMTECH – a program based in the Massachussetts General Hospital – ran its third Jugaadathon in Bangalore from the 26th to the 28th June. The focus was on maternal and child health – and it brought together doctors, public health people, designers and engineers of all stripes.

 

On Saturday the hackathon begun at the GE Health Campus in Whitefield. Initially people from industry, foundations and donor agencies pitched challenges such as “improve communication around family planning”; “get oxygen to rural facilities at a lower price”; “develop telemedicine models in areas with no connectivity”. Each challenge was accompanied by a cash prize – a nice little carrot dangling in front of us.

 

Then participants “pitched” ideas, inviting people to come and join their team. There were 63 ideas pitched. The whole process was much more chaotic and unsettling than I expected. But we quickly found focus – people formed teams and work began. We spent the next 48 hours developing our ideas into a three-minute presentation – or “pitch”. Software engineers wrote code. Mechanical engineers built models and prototypes. There was a lot of movement around and between the different teams with people giving feedback and support to different ideas. The atmosphere was collegial, even though we were all competing.

 

Many people stayed up all night – and the next morning you could tell – unbrushed teeth and unwashed persons contributed to the heady atmosphere. Myself – I went home and had a drink with friends, showered and changed my clothes and slept in my own bed – justifying this exit because of my old age. And I do think I was at the upper age range of participants – this is definitely a thing for people in their 20s. I am glad I went home in the evening – I always benefit from standing back and then looking at something again afresh.

 

11692645_1669237119978939_2199938455243295216_nThen we pitched. It was kind of thrilling but stressful and I felt like throwing up. And we reached the finals and I definitely felt like throwing up – but in a good way – if that’s even possible. And then we won! And we got our photos taken with a big cardboard cheque – I have always wanted to hold a cardboard cheque, it’s so quaint – who uses cheques?

 

And now, I am still clutching on to my little trophy – in my work I face many long uphill battles and it’s really nice to have this quick win under my belt (after only 48 hours of work) – it gives me fresh energy to face everything else.

 

What was our idea? Well, that is another blog post. However, the sneaky Economic Times has already written about it, so you can get details here. See below for Hackathon dos and don’ts.

 

Hackathon Dos and Don’ts

• Do take a toothbrush, deodorant and a change of clothes

• Don’t be curmudgeonly – you have to work collaboratively and fast, so leave your grumpy side at home

• Do bring your laptop and a pen drive (if allowed, many corporate campuses don’t allow)

• Do take a water bottle and keep filling it. Good to keep hydrated, bad to see so many plastic water bottles used.

• Don’t wear a suit! Not comfortable when you are working such long hours on little sleep

• Do have a graphic design program on your laptop such as illustrator – you need to communicate visually for your pitch

• Do find high energy people for your team – this requires a lot of work over a short period of time and you need all the momentum you can get

• Do share your ideas as you go, and take other peoples’ help, feedback and guidance – especially people from different disciplines

• Do listen to what others are saying, but also keep your focus

• Don’t try and cover too much with your solution – it needs to be focused

• Do discuss intellectual property rights with your team members and be clear and honest about who is contributing what. This may be your least concern when you are furiously working – but a more substantial concern when you share the prize money (we shared it equally)

 

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