Win 2 Hackathons in 2 Weeks: The Climate Hack Story
After a Hackathon Win
Fresh from a previous hackathon win (which was posted in the news), I asked my team mates if they would be interested in another event, this time for the climate. Ted, our dev-ops guy, and Marius, our designer, both declined. I asked Monica, our android developer if she’d still be willing to join. She agreed and I proceeded to look for other members of the team.
My Business Partners
I’ve worked with several business partners who I thought would be interested to join in. This time, knowing the prize was bigger, I asked my colleague Renzo (who was amazing at delivering pitches) and Nelson (our hardware expert who had his own electronics parts shop) to join in and they agreed. The Hack-the-climate event allowed for 5 team members. I needed one more to complete the team.
Our Ace in Hand
I was working with several tech communities and it was from one of our meet-ups that I met Mac. At the time, I didn’t really know that Mac worked before with a Government Environmental and Climate initiative called Project Noah. I just knew he was both a coder and a teacher. I chatted with him to find out if he’d join our team.
He seemed to pause for a bit and asked for some time to think about it. A few moments later he came back and chatted with me again.
I did not really realize it yet at the time but we had just picked up the ace in our hand.
Preparing for the hackathon
Based on what we learned from our previous hack experience, we prepared early on and did our homework. We checked the criteria for judging and checked out who the judges were.
IoT and Agriculture?
Renzo, Nelson and I have had experiences working with Agriculture and the Internet of Things. At the onset I thought we would be working on something similar to what we had done before. The projects I’ve worked with Renzo included something to do with Aquaponics:
And I’ve also tried the Internet of things with some parts from Nelson’s shop:
It would not be as simple as we thought.
The first time we all met and had an Ideation session
I invited everyone to meet-up and ideate on possible hacks that we’d focus one. We did our initial online brainstorming and Renzo gave a lot of feedback on the overall direction. We studied the hack website early on and read the following:
This ruined our initial plans. I personally wanted agriculture and food but it was not the focus of this event. We brainstormed on a google spreadsheet our ideas and thoughts.
Based on our conversations, we wanted to be different and focused on something to do with Media and the telecommunications industry. We ironed this out in a meeting over at a local fast-food restaurant.
What were the user stories?
Applying what I’ve learned in Agile and UX, we did our user stories. Getting user stories early on really helped us formulate the broad flows and directions of our concept. Our early scraps and notes showed what we thought of doing as well as initial estimates on the amount of effort:
Mac started to shine at this point. He gave us a lot of insights on the problems with current apps and government initiatives. Apps were pretty much helpless if people didn’t download it or if people didn’t understand what the apps said. This insight would later on be invaluable to our pitch.
Early Paper Prototypes
Two days after our initial ideation and setting our concept focus, we again met in a local coffee shop to fine tune the flow. We made some paper prototypes to make sure we agreed and understood what we wanted to do.
This early on Renzo was already practicing his pitch to the rest of the team.
By the end of that meeting we had a overall hack plan.
Finally, hack day came and we found a nice corner of the area to work in.
Kanban and Burndown charts
We proceeded to make our Kanban board and this time I’d tried to do a burn down chart so we could track our progress. We didn’t have a whiteboard so we conveniently turned the nearby air-con unit as our kanban board.
Early on and with just paper prototypes Renzo continued his pitch practice as the mentors dropped by.
I started mocking up higher fidelity prototypes and put the screens in Marvel. The flow looked much more understandable.
By the morning of the next day, we were all tired.
Uh-oh Worrisome Chart
The chart was particularly useful in getting us a broad look at where we were. By the morning after the first day we were behind our original hack plan. Aside from that, we started adding new tasks that was not part of our original plan. This added hours on top of our original estimates. We needed to adjust.
We hacked on and were getting comfortable. Food and drinks were around. Mac took his shoes off. We started wishing there was a shower room.
Renzo continued to practice his pitch. He received a lot of feedback on how to improve it. At this point though, the pitch was around 9 minutes long. We had to trim down to 3 minutes.
Nelson was pretty busy on the hardware end. He had made a router using a raspberry Pi. It also served as a media center. The concept was to allow people nearby to connect to the access point during Climate disaster mode and have access to updates.
Monica started to have stomach pains. She tried to sleep it off most of the time and just go back to code when she could.
Renzo and I began to worry and discussed our options. We told her to just go home and rest. We thought we had enough to ‘wing it’ even if we didn’t finish the UI.
At around 3AM in the next night, we wondered where Monica went.
“Where’s Monica? Is she okay?”
She came back later and explained that she had puked. She felt a little better after that.
Last Day of the Hack
Like our previous hackathon, we still crammed up to the last minute.
A big countdown screen showed us what time was left.
By Code Freeze Time
We didn’t really reach our remaining tasks but we had something working. It was good enough to show to the judges.
There were 24 teams and were the last to pitch. The very first team on stage were our friends from PhilRobotics.
We were still doing some preps for the pitch itself.
Jitters and Smiles
Renzo did a masterful pitch when our turn came. One of the judges said:
“I must say, you did your homework…”
It was no guarantee we would win though. We didn’t want to “count the eggs before they were hatched.” We just tried to calm down our nerves and settle down. We were all anxious at the end.
We prepared quite a bit for this and it paid off. Mac, in particular, was very happy and asked if he could keep the ‘cheque’. I gladly agreed.
It was a long tiring weekend but it was a lot of fun.
I sincerely hope we can bring our concept to reality. What happens next? Well, we will see.