My Experience At The F8 2019 Hackathon

Wilfred Mulenga
May 6, 2019 · 10 min read

This is an article of my experience in the 2019 f8 Hackathon which took place in San Jose from 28th April- 1st May 2019. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience and I thank Facebook for making it possible. I was lucky to be selected to take part in the hackathon. I applied for the competition after reading a post by Pendo Manjele, a Facebook Developer Circle Co-Lead in Lusaka. I never thought I would get picked but by the grace of God, I was.

I was overjoyed and honored to receive this invitation which included an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the hackathon and the F8 conference. My month of April revolved around thinking about this hackathon and my first-ever trip to the U.S.

Welcome to San Jose!

San Jose is thousands of miles away from Lusaka, my hometown. I knew it was not going to be a short trip but made sure to carry a book to keep me entertained. I met a Journalist from Turkey and a Developer from Rwanda who was both going to f8 when transiting in Amsterdam, we shared our experiences and when we got to the San Francisco airport we helped each other navigate our way to San Jose where f8 was being held.

We decided to take a train to San Jose and we met a guy who would later be my teammate. His name is Josh and he is a Fullstack Developer from San Francisco who previously worked in the medical field. Josh helped us call the hotel’s shuttle bus to pick us up after we got off the train. Being on that train and seeing the city for the first time was really thriving. We were lodged at the Holiday Inn San Jose. It had a restaurant nearby called the Denny’s where I had my first real American meal.

After we got to our hotel, we decided to meet several other participants of the hackathon and share our experiences and what we thought of the hackathon criteria. We had participants from all over the globe that flew in to attend the hackathon. This to me made the event x10 more special and very grateful for Facebook for making it possible. It was so refreshing to listen to developer stories from other developers and see the similarities in our journeys.

We discussed on forming teams and how we would approach the problems. On the first day of the hackathon, we were picked up bright and early from the hotel to go to the hackathon venue. One thing that I particularly loved about my stay is finding a nice fresh brew of coffee downstairs in the morning. It was my first time drinking American coffee. It really got me wired and I could feel my blood pulsing after having a sip.

The Civic Centre, venue of the f8 2019 Hackathon

F8 Hackathon: Day 1

The hackathon was held at the Civic Centre which was opposite the McEnery Convention Centre where the f8 conference was held. I loved the Civic Centre and the arrangement of the hackathon. The hackathon was run by Facebook and Devpost. Devpost organizes many hackathons around the US and across the globe. The focus of the hackathon was to build social technologies that help enable the best of what people do together. We were tasked to build a solution that could help solve one of the four Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), namely, SDG 4,8, 9 and 11.

The UN’s SDGs are a blueprint to creating a better and more sustainable future. The SDGs are a universal and ambitious call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. It was a very interesting topic to give because they are regarding real-world issues happening right now across the globe and using technology and innovation to solve those problems is even more rewarding in my perspective.

As part of the hackathon criteria, we were also required to use at least one of the several Facebook Developer Tools. We mingled and had snacks with other participants before being addressed by the organizers. During the announcement, we were welcomed and given an overview of the hackathon and the criteria. We were also introduced to SDG Experts and Facebook Engineers who were around to give consultation on the SDGs and technical queries that we had.

Day 1 of the hackathon: Team Building Session

Team: Save a life

Once we had an overview of the hackathon, participants started forming teams. I remember I shifted from one small group to another listening in on people brainstorming and trying to see how they would tackle one of the SDGs. I loved seeing the passion with which the participants had and the technologies they planned to implement. I decided to partner with Josh whom I had met earlier and my other teammates: Ivonne who had several years of experience creating chatbots and is from Germany, Anna, who is a wonderful Fullstack Developer and is from New York, and Yujin who had a fusion of skills including UX design and Software Development and is from South Korea.

Together we aimed at building a solution that aimed at training people how to conduct Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, CPR, on infants, children, and adults. This is an essential life skill that can save a life when someone is suffering from a cardiac arrest. That is why we gave our project the name, ‘Save a Life’. Through our research, we found out that 70% of Cardiovascular Diseases, CVDs, happen at home and the first few minutes are critical to saving someone’s life and conducting the right therapy can be the difference between life and death. When a person goes into sudden cardiac arrest, CPR can double or triple their chances of survival. We also found that 90% of people who experience out-of-hospital cardiac arrest die. These alarming results gave us more passion to carry out building our project because our solution could help reduce those numbers by helping someone learn how to save a life.

Anna going through a list of ideas for a project with the team

The SDG we planned to tackle was SDG 4 & 11 and we spent the first couple of hours trying to think what we could include in our project. Josh who had a background in Medicine gave us the necessary information we needed. Ivonne and Yujin worked on building the chatbot that taught people how to carry out CPR on infants, children, and adults and gathering statistics on CVDs. Josh, Anna and I worked on the web application and gathering content CPR. Anna even created her own gif ( they all pronounce it as ‘jif’ and I was the only one pronouncing it as ‘gif’ haha) telling the user to check the safety of the surrounding and we used in both our applications.

The first day was mostly spent researching, collecting content and building the backbone of our applications. We ended Day 1 with a dance led by the Facebook team and everyone joined in and had so much fun. I was also lucky enough to meet with the CEO of Devpost and Facebook Engineers and have a chat with them.

F8 Hackathon: Day 2

Day 2 of the hackathon was equally amazing. We got to the Civic Centre around 9 AM. And continued where we left off. We drove on trying to implement the tutorial for Child CPR on the web app. I had a challenge implementing the tutorial feature in React so Anna and I pair programmed and debugged a couple of issues. Josh worked on creating the speech-to-text feature so that people could learn via voice. The application was able to analyze the response from the user and make a decision on which step to show next. Ivonne and Yujin created an awesome chatbot. I liked the emojis and gifs which they added, and their great flow to the chatbot. I personally love creating chatbots and it was thrilling to have people who love chatbots on the team. Yujin cooked up a sweet artwork which we used as the image for the bot and on the devpost submission.

We cracked on late into the night trying to finish implementing these features. Anna added a map to the web app that showed all Automated External Defibrillators on the US map. Finding the dataset and implementing it in React was not an easy task but Anna pulled it off. We worked till late in the night and managed to have our project submitted before the submission deadline which was 8 AM the next day.

In the morning, we went for the first day of F8 and got to listen to the Keynote by Mark Zuckerberg where we were introduced to many new updates to Facebook’s products as well as their plans ahead. I will write another article about my experience at F8.

After we listened to the Keynote, we went to back to the Civic Centre where we pitched in front of judges. And guess what, Mark actually came to view some of the projects the participants built. I was spooked, I didn’t think I would get the chance to see Mark this close up. Unfortunately, he didn’t come to our table so we didn’t pitch our project to him but was super excited to see him.

Mark viewing one of the team’s projects at the hackathon

We gave a two-minute pitch to the judges stating the cause for building our project and a live demo of the applications ( you can find the link to our project on Devpost here). After the pitch session, we went back to the McEnery Convention Center to listen to the final sessions before the afterparty. Our team had a great time there, there was awesome music, food, drinks and it was fun to see everyone let loose after an intense hackathon.

turning up with the team at the f8 Afterparty. From the left to right: Josh, Ivonne, me, Yujin and Anna

After the Afterparty, we went back to our hotels to get some much overdue sleep. At the second day of F8, we all went to listen in on the Keynote and experience f8. During the session, “Building Sustainable Ecosystems” the winners of the hackathon were announced.

Winners Announced

Here are the winners of the f8 2019 hackathon:

The first place which was the best in SDG 11 category and also won the audience vote was Human to Human who created a messenger chatbot that helped migrants settle in easier when they get into a new city. This included helping them manage the documents they would need when they arrive the new city and match them to new employment.

Team ‘Human 2 Human’

Second place and best in SDG 8 went to MatchWithoutLimits which aims at helping remove the bias that may be there during the interview process. They built a VR application that would mask the voice and appearance of the person being interviewed to prevent the interviewer from making a decision based on skin tone, accent, appearance, etc.

Third place was uFunda who created a platform that aimed at connecting the digitally unconnected to curated educational content, peer learning communities, and work opportunities. Users would subscribe to content through Whatsapp and be able to download that content as well as know the file size.

Winner in the SDG 4 category went to Code Canary which teaches people how to learn code through a messenger chatbot. This chatbot is fun and has a great sense of humor.

Winner in the SDG 9 category was Xport2US, A messenger chatbot that makes it easy to build the capacity of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in sub-Saharan Africa to export their products to the US and better integrate into the Global Value Chain. The chatbot assessed whether the user was ready to for exportation to the US through a quiz and providing regulatory information for the user.

These projects were so inspiring and I love the ideas the participants came up with. What is also special is the collaboration that took place within the space of two days and strong bonds that were built.

Major Takeaways

First, I would like to thank my Facebook Developer Circle community, Developer Circles Lusaka, because I would not know about such a great opportunity without them. I encourage everyone who is interested in Software Development or is already in the field to join a community because communities drive you to improve your skills. They are a great place to connect to with people in the same industry and can open new doors in your career.

The f8 2019 Hackathon was truly an amazing experience that I will cherish. I got to make lots of new friends and learned so much in a short period of time. I got to collaborate with extremely bright people from all over the world and for me working with them is my greatest achievement from the hackathon. If you have never taken part in a hackathon, I highly suggest you do so, they are so much fun.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which were part of the requirements in the hackathon are issues that countries and organizations are trying to solve. We can all help create a better future for ourselves and the next generation by coming together and actively thinking of solutions.

I would like to thank Facebook for bringing this all together. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. I got to see Mark Zuckerberg in real life, got to talk to Facebook Engineers and got to work with and meet incredible people doing extraordinary things. It was the best hackathon ever!

Thank you Facebook!

Thanks to Mbuyu Makayi

Wilfred Mulenga

Written by

Software Developer

Developer Circle Lusaka

This is the official medium Publication for Developer Circles Lusaka

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