A little under a year ago, my friend Huan Ho and I met and shared our experience of being recent residents of Vancouver at a local cafe. Over a cup of latte, Huan said “This city is great, but I really miss the energy in Silicon Valley. There’s always something going on, hackathons everywhere with people solving problems together creatively and engaging the community”. As the conversation progressed, telepathically, we both said “why don’t we do something here?” and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
Fears that AI, automation, and robotics will take away jobs dominates the conversation over the future of work. Indeed, the structure of work has constantly been reshaped and redefined by technological progress and government and organizations are struggling to come up with policies and solutions to support this change. With this being one of the hottest topics in 2019, we decided to host a hackathon to address this challenge, to bring the community together for a creative problem solving weekend.
Our adrenaline-filled Future of Work Hackathon took place from April 12 -14, in downtown Vancouver, with Mobify as our venue sponsor. Over the weekend, we had 7 teams that hacked their ways to transform the future workplace as they pitched their solutions in front of 4 judges, 10 mentors, 5 micro-learning sessions, 2 keynotes, 9 sponsors, 1 yoga session, and countless people volunteering their time. Our main differentiator for the hackathon was the emphasis on idea formation and validation over coding. We wanted this event to be as inclusive and diverse as possible: diversity not just in terms of gender and age and ethnicity, but we worked hard to cultivate a range of domain knowledge and skill sets in our mentors, learning sessions, and in how we selected our judges.
One of the biggest hits was our micro-learning sessions. Each session was between 15–20 minutes in length and they covered topics as wide-ranging as idea validation, evidence-based decision making, rapid prototyping, interaction design, and pitching. The important thing was for participants to be able to apply their learning immediately and practically into the products they were developing. Mentors further supported teams in consolidating the learning and application.
The ideas being pitched were as follows:
Procrasti-NOT — a wellness app that helps young professionals struggling with anxiety and social pressures to achieve their wellness goals by identifying problematic smartphone usage.
Expense Genie — a mobile app that can submit your receipts on the go that automatically categorize expenses and add appropriate sales tax.
Meeter — A smart scheduler that calculates the ROI of meetings to allow enterprises to reclaim money annually with a scheduling algorithm.
Employence — A platform that allows people to explore a career before they commit to it.
Gift Up — an app that allows employees to donate extended health benefits to people without access to medical treatments.
HAW — Happiness at Work is a quarterly intelligent survey that gives employees incentive to participate and tracks their mental growth.
Future Proof You — A hybrid coaching platform targeted at the freelance workforce.
After much deliberations from our judges, the winners were as follow:
First Prize: Procrasti-NOT
Second Prize: Meeter
Crowd Favorite: Expense Genie
For more information about the pitches, visit our site at https://fowhack.com/
The Yoga Session
Overwhelmingly, people really enjoyed the yoga session led by Davey Feimer, an Education Manager at Lighthouse Labs and a certified yoga instructor. Inspired by an article written by Gloria Lin titled Masculinity and Machinery: Analysis of Care Practices, Social Climate and Marginalization at Hackathons, we scheduled a yoga break to encourage participants to practice self-care and to balance their mental and physical well being. To make things interesting, we even incorporated a plank challenge — to see who could hold the plank position the longest!
The Two Keynotes + Sat Morning Talk
The two keynotes were extremely well-received. Friday night kicked off with an inspiring opening keynote by Myra Travin, Post Futurist and Learning Strategist. Titled “Meet the Future You”, the presentation set the tone for the weekend as Travin urged us to kill ideas that no longer serve us. She spoke about the importance of timing, that most great entrepreneurial ideas will sound nuts, and it is pertinent that we upskill ourselves to see new ideas.
On Saturday morning, Robert St-Jacque, Director of Customer Success from 7Geese, delivered a high-energy talk called “Evidence Based Decision Making — In a Hurry”. Using Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow methodology, St-Jacque cautioned that we must be aware of our cognitive bias, and how the two systems of fast and slow thinking shape our judgement and decision making.
For the closing keynote, LN Renganarayana, Head of Data Science and Machine Learning Architecture from Workday delivered a compelling talk on “AI, Automation, and Future of Work”. Despite a long and exhaustive weekend, participants hung on to every word, and the energy in the room was invigorating.
Overall, we have learned a lot. Here are some of our reflections and takeaways:
· You can put together a well thought-out event in a relatively short time but we definitely could have used more help. In retrospect, I would recruit more volunteers from day 1. It does take a village to host an event!
· Keeping the cost low by getting sponsors was a good idea. Develop a pitch deck to share with your potential community partners and sponsors.
· If you needed help — ask! People are mostly very generous and ready to help. During the hackathon, we need constantly clear garbage from the venue and the participants all chipped in to help with our daily clean up.
· There is an appetite for more events and learning. People keep asking us if we are running this annually and how they can be part of it.
· Bringing the community together to learn and collaborate is what makes the effort worth it. One of the participants commented “This is the first time at a hackathon that I don’t care if I win, I learned so much and the access to the mentors and the learning opportunities were immense. I just love it.”