Won Two hackathon challenges at DeveloperWeek, NY 2017

The week of 18th June was special to me in my professional career for more than one reason. It was kicked off with Hackathon.

I (Mahesh Veerabathiran), Vigneshwaran Kennady and Gowsalya Thiruvenkataswamy participated in the hackathon hosted by DeveloperWeek, NY backed by sponsors from well known Tech. companies. Hundreds of developers competed for hackathon sponsor prizes. It was a great experience to compete with developers with wide skill sets participated across states from the nation. We are proud to share the news that we won two hackathon challenges, Insurance cross-sell challenge from Vitech and NetApp ONTAP cloud challenge, a total gift worth of $6000 dollars.

We reached the hackathon venue at 9.30 AM on 19th June and we were allowed to enter the building at 10 AM after the registration. The overview of challenges was posted at DeveloperWeek online portal, all hackathon sponsors were also available at onsite. At 11.30 AM, each sponsor went to stage, explained the problem statement and announced the prize money for their challenge. We analyzed the posted challenges and met the sponsors to confirm our understanding of the use case and got our queries answered.

We understood the game! Sponsor either had a use case to solve or wanted their new product offerings to be used in the interesting use case. We decided to do both. We decided to build an interactive dashboard for Vitech to empower their business leaders to analyze the sales of accidental insurance policy to their existing dental policy customers using Apache Superset, an open source visualization tool from Airbnb and NetApp ONTAP cloud storage solution for a database storage.

Vitech shared millions of policy-holders details via Rest endpoint using Apache Solr, however, we wanted to leverage ONTAP cloud storage solution that exposes REST endpoints for disk backup, restore, branching and cloning features hence we housed Vitech policy-holders data in a MySQL database powered by ONTAP cloud storage and high availability of data is guaranteed by automation of disk backup and restore. To our surprise, Apache superset does not provide integration support for most NoSQL databases and few relational databases that include MySQL hence we had to customize Apache superset to talk to MySQL database.

The real challenge of any hackathon is how to accomplish building an interesting solution for the use case in given timeframe. Anybody could build a good solution if we are given a week time and a great solution if we are given a month time but the rules do not offer that liberty. Most of the technologies and tools that we used at the hackathon were new to us. We had next 24 hours to come up with an interesting solution that should stand out from our competitors. We are glad that we were able to make our mark at DeveloperWeek Hackathon and win two hackathon challenges,1st prize worth of $3000 from Vitech and the 2nd prize worth of $3000 from Netapp.

Sharing the winning moment with Team Vitech
Receiving hackathon prize from Team Netapp

There are quite a few learnings from our hackathon experience.

Healthy workforce:

It is very important that the people who we work with value each other ideas and thoughts, ask right questions and work towards the target goal. Though Vigneshwaran Kennady and myself worked together for short duration (3 months), we share a mutual respect and great rapport. At the hackathon, we both felt easy to work with each other; there was absolutely no insecurity and both had just one goal that’s put our best to build a solution, winning is secondary.

Perseverance:

I mentioned above that we had 24 hours to complete the challenges that include time for our breakfast, lunch, dinner and sleep. In addition, we were on the move. Initially, the hackathon kickstarted in a warehouse nearby Brooklyn and we have been asked to leave the venue at 3.30 because the same venue was used for hiring mixer. We got to work from nearby co-working space until 9 PM and got kicked out once again. We headed to Times Square, NY and worked from Starbucks nearby until 11.00 PM and then headed back to the hotel in Queens, NY.

That was not the end of the day to us. While I changed my hat to finish pending tasks for my speaking session at DeveloperWeek, NY conference on 21st June, a VCU student from our team was researching and enhancing the dashboards that went on until 4 PM and we were back at the hackathon venue on the next day. There was no expectation on us, the team members could have attended conference sessions that started happening in parallel but all stayed together to complete what we started.

Pitch to the judges:

This is the best part of any hackathon, the slots were given to pitch our solution with sponsor judges. First, we pitched our solution with NetApp, they were happy with the outcome but we were not quite sure about winning because many teams pitched their ideas after our pitch. Then, we pitched Vitech, it was quite interesting. While some of the panel members were embarrassed by the data anomalies we found and others were poking fun at them. Vitech impressed with the completeness of our solution and its features tailor made for their use case. We learned that the judges were equally excited as we were to see the offerings from different teams because no two solutions were similar that’s the good thing about a hackathon.

The best process is no process:

At least, it does work well for building prototypes and solving problems. We should continuously evaluate the redundant and unnecessary process involved in our regular work. If the process by itself takes more time to manage and complex enough for the developers to understand then it loses its purpose. When there is no process, it frees people to solve creative problems. When you are given the privilege, please don’t abuse it because there is no coming back.

It was an unforgettable experience, our names have been announced twice in DeveloperWeek, NY main stage. When we won the second challenge, All heads turned our way! We were the only team who won two challenges on that day. We were very proud of ourselves.

Sometimes winning help us to rebuild ourselves and seed hopes to become stronger.