Problem solving, innovative solutions and plenty of fun — SCHackFest 1.0
ShareChat and hackathons have a special connection. Ankush Sachdeva, Bhanu Pratap Singh and Farid Ahsan — the three co-founders of ShareChat and Moj — met during the Yahoo! Hack U event during their college days. A journey of building products that started in the hostels of IIT Kanpur eventually led to the establishment of ShareChat in 2014.
This year, ShareChat hosted its first-ever hackathon — SCHackFest. The 24-hour hackathon took place on November 17–18 to give the employees an unconstrained platform where they could run free with their ideas and help find solutions to some of ShareChat and Moj’s most complex problems. The challenge for the associates was to form workable solutions that could be scaled and implemented on our platforms.
There were more than 400 participants who came together to put forward their solutions. The different teams had the option to participate from different locations. While some decided to work from the Bangalore, Gurugram, or Noida offices, several teams also came together online to prepare their solutions. This was made possible because of the support from Hack2Skill.
The associates had the option of picking from a wide range of themes. They were judged on criteria like Originality and Creativity, Presentation and Delivery, Impact, Working Prototype, and Technical Complexity. Given the time constraints, where the participants had 24 hours to not only ideate and create a presentation, but also to develop a demoable solution.
The hackathon, in many ways, was a reflection of ShareChat’s core values of Ownership, Speed and First Principles thinking.
“Hackathons are at the very core of the culture of a company that has long-term ambitions. We want to encourage and foster a ground-up and generally distributed innovation culture. I look at SCHackFest as a booster shot to that culture. It’ll trigger the ripple effect of ideation, thinking and collaboration,” said Amit Zunjarwad, the Chief Product Officer of ShareChat and Moj.
The event, which was a month in the making with a team of 24 that included various leaders and volunteers, kicked off with an opening note from Amit.
“A hackathon is a sprint towards innovation. SCHackFest is a step in that journey through which we are committed towards creating innovations that truly change the way Indians communicate with each other” — Arya Ketan, Senior Principal Engineer.
To keep the atmosphere engaging, some of the volunteers and organizers came together at the Bangalore office to indulge in a jam session while others around them continue to ideate and build their solutions. After several hours of continuous coding, the challenge was to keep the energy going. To ensure that, there were late-night online jam sessions with various associates coming in to perform for their colleagues. There were also late-night memes sharing threads on Slack, which led to plenty of banter and fun.
From the seven categories — a total of 13 teams were chosen to present their solutions to a grand jury, that consisted of Ankush, Amit, Gaurav Bhatia (Senior Vice President of Engineering), Udit Sharma (Chief Revenue Officer), Shashank Shekhar (Senior Director, Content Strategy & Operations) and Arya Ketan (Senior Principal Engineer).
Team Live Rockstars — consisting of Pulak Prusty, Ganesh Hegde, Nikhil Mandlik, Prakesh Kumar and Ruben Quadros — won the grand jury award for the best hack of SCHackFest. There were cash prizes for other category-wise winners and runner-ups as well.
“We were a team of all android developers working remotely and the experience turned out to be very different from a usual hackathon. There were different challenges given the remote setup. We had to be together on Google meet, communicate about everything over Meet and Slack. At times, we had doubts in our minds if we could actually deliver a working prototype but everyone put their best foot forward and we were able to present a live demo before the jury and win the hackathon,” said Pulak of Team Live Rockstars.
“My biggest takeaway from this event is that when you have a closely knit team and have trust among your team members, everyone will take ownership and deliver when you need them to deliver, even with the time pressure that a hackathon brings into the picture.”
For Aravindh R, the Principal Product Manager at ShareChat, the hackathon came with several crucial lessons.“The first ever full-fledged hackathon at ShareChat was such an experience to cherish — a full-on adrenaline-laden thrill ride where so many new ideas/approaches could be attempted and a lot of learning happened as an outcome,” he said. “We failed with many of the approaches, but we failed fast, broke things (safely), built some meaningful stuff, had a lot of fun and earned a few more new friends.
“I have always found Hackathons to be opportunities where seemingly “impossible” things get done — and get done in 24 hours. And while doing it, each of the team members has the opportunity to not just contribute in areas of their expertise but also pick up a working understanding of areas that they thought will always be completely alien to them.
“I learned a lot about new areas/potential side-projects and also many of these insights are pretty applicable to the actual “day job” as well. It was a great way to further stoke innovation by increasing the luck-surface area, promoting liquid networks,” Aravindh added.
The hackathon was a huge success with associates from multiple functions — engineering, product, AI, design and content operations — working together to build something that can be implemented and scaled with by ShareChat or by Moj.
The whole organization came together to build innovative solutions or to cheer for their colleagues. “I was thrilled by the passion and customer-centricity of the solutions presented during the hackathon. It also seemed to be a reflection of the passion that the teams had to deliver something meaningful and impactful,” said Tejas Singh, Director, Product and one of the jury members in the event. “My biggest takeaway was to figure out more such exciting avenues next year, so that we can get the creative juices flowing and generate more such ideas throughout 2023.”
Meanwhile, Ankush, co-founder ShareChat and Moj, stressed that the hackathon could well be the first step to something big in future. “The thrill of getting something out in time is always amazing. The memories of participating in all those hackathons (during my college days) are still very special to me,” he gushed. “Maybe we’ll see future founding teams form from this hackathon.”