Sina Leuchte
Mar 25 · 6 min read
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FREE NOW employees joined the #wirvsvirus project of the German government

The #wirvsvirus Hackathon | Germany

During the last weekend, the German internet broke (well, not the internet, but at least certain tools utilizing the internet):

Thousands of participants gathered virtually for what feels like the biggest e-hackathons ever!

Inspired by the Estonian Hackathon, the German government and seven social initiatives initiated a nationwide hackathon #WirvsVirus (#UsvsVirus) — all of which was organized within five days of planning and preparation.

Within these five days, the hackathon grew tremendously:

  • 100 organizers,
  • 43,000 registered participants
  • 2,900 registered mentors
  • 1,500 projects successfully handed in
  • 464,886 Slack Messages 🚀

The hackathon was aimed at attracting problem solvers from the tech and creative industries, as well as committed citizens eager to address socially relevant issues regarding the corona crisis. This was done by offering a framework for participants to gather online to develop functioning prototypes and approaches to such issues.

Not surprising, due to the unexpectedly high number of participants, the online infrastructure wasn’t stable enough to deal with such a large group of people on Friday afternoon:

  • The project collaboration, which was supposed to happen via Slack, was unable to invite all 43,000 participants at once. The organizers then reached out to the Slack CEO via Twitter, to get this problem resolved within two hours.
    That was indeed some quick thinking!
  • YouTube server capacities also struggled to upload all project videos on Sunday evening at 6pm, so the deadline was extended by 2 hours. (Good for us as participants! 😅)

You are probably wondering how did this hackathon become so popular practically overnight?

Let me guess, even though it might be quite obvious:

  • Corona Virus is spreading as rules for #stayhome are getting more and more serious
  • People at home want to contribute to a bigger thing and might feel that they have unused capacities or even feel bored at home
  • It’s the first time something like this happened in Germany!

It was unsurprising however that our very own FREE NOW employees joined in on the action.

Philipp Wallhäuser, Alisa Dammer, Tereza Lofciu and myself, Sina Jahnke, participated in three very interesting projects:

  • “ Supermarket Heatcamp”
  • “Dance Against Corona”
  • “Patient Prioritisation & Blockchain”

Here is what they had to say about it:

Project: “Supermarket Heatmap

FREE NOW Participants: Philipp Wallhäuser alongside four others working at Jimdo and Enfore.

A lot of projects were aimed at getting better information about how crowded supermarkets are at a specific moment and whether specific products are still available or not.

We focused on getting publicly available information on supermarkets and their locations from Open Streetmap and created an API to rank the crowdedness of the market. We also started implementing a web application that people could use to see heatmaps of supermarkets around and also to enter the data on the supermarket status.

As other groups did similar things, we needed to check how to bring the capabilities of those solutions together.

Project “Dance Against Corona

FREE NOW Participants: Alisa Dammer (@FatDataUnicorn), Tereza Iofciu (@terezaif) alongside Yenny Cheung (@yennycheung) from Yelp.

As we have already been staying home for a couple of weeks and as our dance and sports classes have been canceled, whilst our tech meetups have been moved online,, so we thought why not offer a way for our dance teacher to do her class remotely. We thought of Zoom as an option, however, the dance and art community really thrives on Instagram– a place where they already have their followers and can put the classes live on Instagram.

The community created an Instagram account to repost all the info on dance classes from other artists. This soon became quite hard to follow and keep track of. So we digitized and created a page where one can have an overview of the next 3 days of free dance classes in the world. By doing so, we also provided contact information of the artist for people to contribute with donations when they can, for classes taken.

This was quite a fun project where we got to use all sorts of tools, like Airtable for the data, Python and Heroku for the backend and React.js, Procreate, Affinity Designer and Netlify for the frontend (and lots of zoom of course). The only thing we paid for so far was the domain.

We will continue working on this as we still have lots of ideas!

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Project: “Patient Prioritisation & Blockchain

FREE NOW Participant: Sina Jahnke (myself), alongside a group of Accenture and Siemens employees

Personally, it was my very first hackathon. I studied industrial engineering — yes, I am working in a tech company, but despite that, I’m not a developer at all. I’m good at developing concepts, organizing groups, clarifying tasks, connecting the dots & cross-functional alignment and pitching. I have to admit: these kinds of skills are super helpful, especially in a hackathon of this scope and size!

We knew from the beginning: we wanted to focus on the optimization of virus testing procedures! Some of us are in the weird situation of not getting tested because of missing symptoms and we wanted to understand what and how this works and how it could be improved.

We drew our concept and split up tasks. We quickly realized: without other team members we were missing diversity of skills. We partnered with a team of Siemens engineers who wanted to work on blockchain logic for health care units and front-ends, as well as a team working on a digital waiting room as a user-facing front-end for test appointments.

Within the 48hours, we had regular catch-ups and status calls.

In the end, together we developed:

  • a triage logic to prioritize incoming testing
    how to prioritize passengers in a pandemic crisis, based on system-relevance / symptoms/exposition and vulnerability)
  • the underlying data as a blockchain.
    Working with a distributed ledger to Healthcare-Units like testing centers/praxis and public health departments and mirroring the test results back to the user-frontend
  • The API to connect to our partner system “the digital waiting room” as a Userfriendly Frontend.

It felt like two days full of working, excitement and learning: all of which has convinced me to join another hackathon in the future.

Here are some learnings that I took for myself and for my next Hackathon:

  • Select your challenge wisely!
    Review all existing challenges and define for yourself where you want to add the most value
  • Scope your project when the hackathon schedule wants you to!
    We missed to scope our initial idea on Friday evening, so we lost some time for alignment on the Saturday before, in order to get into full working mode.
  • Pay attention to the framework of the hackathon, IT IS HELPFUL!
    Join kick-off calls / get2know your potential mentor / listen to announcements / make use of support-channels / pay attention to guidelines on eg how to name uploaded videos & your channels.
  • Join the social challenges to keep up the team spirit!
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Wanna get a feeling of the “hackathon”?

Check this out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAl2wGPzu6c&list=PL-xPLOh9MOSCCHkgOEpg1UrWRzodkrcW8

..What’s next?

All projects will be evaluated by a jury as well as public voting. It’s not about finding a winner — it’s about identifying all products to be developed further (eg with money/support etc.)

Want to get to know the other projects of the Hackathon? You can find a list of all project videos here

We hope you liked our little project review! Want to share with us how you contributed during this time? Feel free to reach out to us!

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