Hey guys, I know most of you have probably at least heard of it, but I’m not sure how many of you have thought about signing up or have done it in the past. So, I thought I’d share some information from my experience at last years event to help those of you who might be on the fence about participating.
The event is completely free and open to anyone. You don’t necessarily need to be a seasoned developer to participate. There is free food, free swag, and activities outside of just “hacking”. I had a lot of fun last year and I’m looking forward to this years event even more now that I have a better understanding of what the event entails.
The Hackathon Contest
There are 3 separate competitions/categories to compete in working with a Big Brothers/Big Sisters data set. Last year they were:
HACK ($10,000 prize) Main prize
a fully functional predictive application that utilized neural networks, a heuristic for success using three measures, and a gale shapely algo to rank prospective bigs
CODE ($5,000 prize)
a native app intended to reduce friction to entry for donors, volunteers (Bigs), and parents and enabled these parties to interact using 21st-century paradigms
FREE style ($2,000 prize)
a centralized communication app which incorporated social validation and enabled supervision of all digital encounters by BigBrothersBigSisters
For HACK, if you don’t have experience with Data Science/Machine Learning techniques and algos don’t even try. This is really the only one that people did much coding at all and it all revolved around building a model to predict what creates a good “match” between a big and a little based on historical data they have like exit surveys, how long the pair lasted, ethnicity, age, etc.
For CODE, the idea was to present an App that helped Big Brother Big Sister reach their goals (add new bigs, sign up new kids, onboarding, whatever). One of the finalists presentations I remember seeing last year was a Facebook Chat Bot that asked questions to potential bigs to see if they were qualified or something.
For FREEstyle, this category to me was a complete gimmick. No one coded anything. They all basically spent 24 hours putting together Powerpoint presentations that introduced a new product/concept. One of the finalists from last year presented a “Virtual Reality world” where Bigs/Littles could hang out and get to know each other. Aside from creativity (I guess) I was shocked this was a finalist. They had no idea what or how they would build it, and couldn’t answer basic questions about what the interactions would be like. Another more polished idea was using an App that allowed the Bigs/Littles to interact with each other and the littles could push like emoji buttons to track how they felt during the interactions. It was a better thought out idea, but still left a bit to be desired (imho).
Last year, was my first Hackathon even and overall I was a little disappointed in almost all of the finalists projects. I was pretty new at the time and had no idea what to expect, so maybe I built it up too big in my mind, but if I was able to do last year over again I definitely would have gone for the FREEStyle prize because that was attainable at my skill level. Honestly, when they told us the categories, I was so confused about what they wanted in CODE/FreeStyle, that I just went with Hack because it was the only one with a clear goal that I could identify.
For HACK, like I said unless you already have a working knowledge of the Machine Learning algorithms I don’t think you really have a chance. 24 hours isn’t enough time to learn an algo and put it into place with their data (we gave it our best shot!) The winners basically ran the data through 4 or 5 different algos and identified what they thought was the best fit for the data. I remember feeling like the winners spent more time applying algorithms blindly than understanding what the data actually meant, but at the end of the day, it’s just more fuel for giving it another shot this year.
I really think anyone at almost any skill level can help as long as your fit in a team where you can provide something that’s missing. Each Category requires a different skillset, FreeStyle almost just requires decent powerpoint/ux/design, SOME understanding of technology, and good presentation skills. I’m telling you at least 2 out of 3 finalists didn’t write a single line of code.
This year, I will probably target the CODE category. I’m a backend dev with a background in Product Management, I’ll be looking for a front-end dev with experience quickly mocking up product ideas in React/Vue/Angular or something, and probably a UX/UI Designer. I fully functional App isn’t a requirement to win, as long as your idea is well thought out and you have a nice looking mockup. Not sure you actually need to code anything in this category either if you have a proper presentation.
So anyways I hope that helps those of you thinking about giving it a shot. I’d recommend it to anyone. I felt a little out of place last year as I was brand new to the community, but if I didn’t go last year I’d probably be in the same boat this year, so I’m glad I went. It was a great experience, and you can always just hangout and chat and get to know people if you get stuck! My recommendation is; JUST DO IT
This year there will be a new partner (not Big Brothers Big Sisters) I believe the previous year it was working with Harris Teeter data.