Expect the unexpected: A brief review of GDG DevFest 2017 — Danang, Vietnam

Before joining my very first Hackathon as a software developer, the expectations and impressions I had for GDG DevFest 2017 (GDF) were somewhat demotivated. Personally speaking, I’ve always felt highly doubted about the possibility of the deployment of the end products. The ideas that are promoting by participants in the competition have either been done so well and became parts of bigger organizations, or there are already plenty of huge competitors on the market who took over all of the potential users.

This is very true for the majority of the initial ideas of the teams, not to mention the fact that some of them are even duplicated. Take my team’s idea of building a money management mobile application for example. We can easily see that there is already Money Lover there, and one of the others team also came up with the same goal for the similar idea. Thus, this awkward situation leads to a seems-to-be important question:

Are those ideas worth developing?

Of course, that is not something that I can decide or judge by myself. It turned out that the answer for this is a lot more complicated than I thought, so I will come back with this one later in this story. Let’s go deeper into the review of GDF. There are three major remarks that I would like to list here: the introduction, the community, and the experiences.

The introduction

GDG DevFest’s sanctuary

GDG DevFest is a Google-themed Hackathon which is organized by the Google Developer Group. It’s a 3 days 2 nights event, including more than 50 hours of coding and a demo day for pitching the products. Each team should have 3–7 members and is compulsory to use at least 1 Google’s technology (i.e Firebase, Voice recognition, …). The grand prize is not really huge, but motivating enough: 5.000.000 vnd and a free two — way ticket to Singapore.

The community

If someone asks me to find a specific word to describe GDF’s community this year, I would definitely pick diverse.

On the one hand, we have technical experts, enthusiastic participants (some of them are young students), benevolent mentors and juries. On the other hand, we also have reporters, supporters, organizers, and media agencies, who worked really hard in order to make the most out of this event. I did felt regretful that I missed some interesting parts of the sharing sessions by those brilliant speakers while debugging my crappy code. Obviously, GDF (or Hackathons in general) is not just about coding, but also about making valuable conversations with the peers. I’ve made more friends in GDF than I did in the last 3 months 😎.

Speaker Allen Day’s sharing session during the Demo Day.

There are some drawbacks from the organizer’s side, so I would like to put it here so that they can see that other people saw their mistakes too. Nevertheless, mistakes are the prerequisites for the upcoming improvements, so I hope that I can use better internet connections and see better team arrangements in the next GDF.

The experiences

Participating in a Hackathon is, without a doubt, a worthwhile experience for any software developers out there, and GDF is no exception. It was a long, exhausting weekend for me and my team started from the moment we began to break down the idea to the intense pitching stage. The overall feedback for the event is positive, and I would strongly recommend anyone to join GDF next year without any hesitations. I learned a lot for myself — both technical and non-technical stuff; I made some good connections with talented people through networking, and I gained useful guidelines from the experienced Gurus. Moreover, I got to work with my team in an unusual condition — literally working, dining and sleeping with each other. I also encountered a lot of programmer jokes, which is kind of exciting because most of them are pretty awesome 😂.

Mr. Gartner is giving advices to our team.

After my first eight hours of diving into the contest, I’ve learned that no matter how well your preparations are, you will eventually find yourself blocked by something. The code is going to be messy, the internet connection is going to be slow, and the revisions are going to conflict hard. Like I said, please do expect the unexpected, as they could be wilder than you would ever imagine.

Working together.

Flexible adaptation is another interesting factor that I almost missed in this contest. At some certain point, one should be able to make crucible decisions in order to lead the team to go with a new direction if necessary. Team spirit plays a critical role in GDF, so be calm, do not provoke the conflicts, and show your leadership frequently.

One last useful tip for the future ambitious competitors (in my opinion): Preparation for presentation should be the most important task in the whole event. You might find yourself explaining a lot about your applications/products on the pitching stage, but what’s really important is how much the juries and audiences can receive. The best practice here is to focus on what you did well, for instances: the most well-done function in your app, or what give it the high-ground advantages compare to the existing products on the market.

The intense pitching stage.

To sum up,

At GDF, people with different ideas, different approaches, different backgrounds merged together in order to wrap up an idea and finalize it into a product. It was such an extraordinary experience for me to witness the collaborations between those passionate participants and mentors. I love the atmosphere, I adore the people, and above all, I saw some transformation from within, in a positive way.

Big shout-out to all of our dedicating supporters, mentors and family members who’ve shown up and stayed with us until the last moment. We did not win the Hackathon, though, but it doesn’t mean that we returned home empty-handed. I also found the answer to my silly question in an unexpected way: via the people. Did GDG DevFest 2017 give you things that you don’t know you would want in an unexpected way too? I bet they did 😉.

Cheers for the next challenges!