Blockchain Hackathon: A weekend in the life of a Developer

Seamus and Tim from Marino on the near right

The world’s biggest ever Blockchain Hackathon, organised by Chainsmiths, took place last weekend on the DCU Alpha campus in Dublin, Ireland. Two of Marino Software’s engineers, Tim Colla and Seamus Cantillon, went along to take part and as part of the Orion team, came 2nd out of the 15 teams competing. Here we ask Tim, an iOS developer, a few questions about how it all went…

Hey Tim, Congratulations on your 2nd place finish. You must be very happy?

Yes it’s great! I didn’t expect to get that far at all. There were so many great ideas going around, so it’s pretty cool that we got 2nd.

Had you much experience with Blockchain or Hackathons before the event?

I had no experience with either! But I always thought it would be a cool idea to do a Hackathon, so I took the chance when we were asked if we wanted to go. The organisers had said that you didn’t need any experience in blockchain, and there were people there with all types of experience and backgrounds. I did do a bit of reading about blockchain before the event though, so I got the gist of it before I went.

So what exactly did you have to do?

The event started on Friday evening with people pitching app ideas to the whole group. You had to choose which idea you wanted to be involved with, and this was how the teams were formed. The team members got to know each other later that night. The second day we started at 8 in the morning and went on to 11.30 that night. It was spent building a prototype app to demo to the judges the next day.

Sunday was spent finishing off the prototype, and at 3pm everyone pitched their ideas to the judges. You got 5 minutes to pitch the idea, and then had to answer any questions they had. The judges then went off to look at all the demos. While the judges were deliberating, all the teams went back to the Auditorium and a panel of mentors were there. We were able to ask them questions on how blockchain works and they talked about how they could see it working in the future. When the judges had come to a consensus they came back to the auditorium and awarded the prizes. After that we had some beer and food and time to network.

What were you being judged on?

We were judged on how original the idea was, on our pitch and presentation to the judges, our app demo and on how well the team was getting along and working together. The technical implementation was only 10% of the mark and having a working app was weighted highly too. So having a simple idea and being able to implement it would get more points than having a more complex idea but not being able to implement anything. The whole idea was to have a working prototype at the end of the weekend. It’s a bit like olympic diving or gymnastics, the more difficult dives or tumbles can lead to higher marks but they’re only worth it if you’re able to land them.

You mentioned your team also won a prize for first complete team. What exactly was this for?

On the Saturday we started at 8am. There was a prize for the first team to have all members at the event who took a picture of their team and posted it to Twitter. There were two other teams who were there and posted pictures but one of their team members were the ones taking the photo, so the full team weren’t in the photos and it didn’t count, so we won the prize! We each got a hardware ledger wallet so it was a great prize too.

What did your app do?

Our app idea was Pokémon Go style. It was a treasure hunt, where you had to follow clues and walk around to different locations. If you were at the right location, you got the next hint. The hint was given by video, presented in AR, so you had to use the camera on your phone to find the hint and then it popped up. If you thought you were at the right location, you could ask the app if you were correct but you would be charged a fee to do this. You would just follow all the hints until you got to the end and find your treasure. So for example, a pub or coffee shop could create a treasure hunt and at the end of the hunt, the treasure could be a free drink. Or a tourism board could use it to set up a trail through a city using various landmarks. There are lots of different applications for it.

Did you find it hard working with people you had just met, with such a tight deadline?

No not at all, everyone was great so it wasn’t hard to get along with people. It’s a group of like minded individuals and we got to know each other a bit on the Friday night before starting any work on the Saturday. Everybody had different skills so it was easy and straightforward to divide up the tasks that needed to be done.

Where were your team mates from?

We had a combination of Irish, American, French and of course I’m Dutch. About 50% of the people there were from outside Ireland. It was the biggest Blockchain Hackathon event in the world so it was great to be part of it.

You mentioned that the event host said that your app was a very good implementation of blockchain and what it should be used for. Why do you think it did so well?

In theory our idea didn’t need blockchain, but we were able to use it well in the app. We used smart contracts i.e. if all conditions are met, there is an automatic transaction made. The first international blockchain and smart contracts transaction was made the other week and it was based on the delivery of a consignment of cotton from the US to China. Agreed amounts of money were transferred as the boat reached particular locations. In our app for example, if a drinks supplier was to provide a free pint to a user once they reached the end of the treasure hunt, the smart contract could automatically credit the pub to pay for the pint. A smart contract is a guarantee that whatever was agreed upon is being done. Smart contracts are completely transparent, anybody can read them. And as it’s on the blockchain, you can’t alter it.

What part of the event did you enjoy the most?

It was fun to come up with a new idea, and make a prototype of that idea, all in one weekend. It was a small amount of time but we had something working at the end of it.

Would you do another Hackathon?

Yes I’d definitely do another Hackathon, maybe this one next year because it was a lot of fun.

What was the biggest thing that you learnt?

Conceptually I learned about blockchain and smart contracts but I would like to learn how to implement the code in the future. In terms of Blockchain there are lots of different applications for it, but you need to be wary of the hype around it. An app might not necessarily need it. It should be something that brings something extra to an app, not just be implemented for the sake of it.

Thanks Tim and well done!


Marino design and build software for mobile and the cloud. Follow us on twitter @marinosoftware