Showing posts with label Hackathon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hackathon. Show all posts

Monday, February 3, 2014

PilotAngel and the Newest Wearables

One of the winners at the AT&T Hackathon, PilotAngel, made interesting use of an interesting wearable: the Neurosky Mindwave sensor.

It just looks like a little-bit-heavyweight headset:

But it allows your brainwaves to be digitally monitored and reordered.

Most of the applications available on the actual web-site appear to be self-experimental: attempting to get yourself into the meditation zone, or something like that.

But at the Hackathon, several real-world applications of interest were seen. One of these was Pilot Angel. 

The idea is, that if the operator of a vehicle starts entering into sleep brain-wave patterns then an alert goes out, which if unresponded to, gets escalated to a supervisor. It's kind of amazing that such things are rapidly leaving science-fiction and entering the realm of actual technology.

From their presentation:
It's time to stop the catastrophes seen in the news with ships, airlines, trains. Often this is not negligence but loss of focus and “Highway Hypnosis”.
eam "
Pilot Angel" 
  a functioning proof of concept at the AT&T DevSummit hackathon
for CES 2014 u
  • Neurosky Mindwave sensors
  • a Nokia Windows Phone app,
  • a pebble smart watch
they monitored and analyzed pilot’s brain waves in real-time,  detecting
loss of
 focus and  triggering awareness-boosting lighting using Philips Hue lights and text-messaging & Pebble watch alerts to the pilot and their supervisors along with GPS location data. PilotAngel is looking to make the proof of concept a reality
 and create a start up. 
Pilot Angel
 is open to team up with various partners and angel investors.
Read more about this and a few other wearables here.  And you can see the demo here:

I hope that Pilot Angel -- a team that had my vote -- goes forward with their idea. I think it's important for hackathon winners to take their ideas as far as they can.

I Remain,


Monday, January 27, 2014

Notes on a Hackathon

Hackathons are about integrating Entrepreneurialism, design, and development in one highly condensed period of time. This last Startup Weekend was  a "themed" one, so that it attempted to focus all of that into "education" projects.

Startup Weekend has gotten pretty big over the years. The statistics they cited last weekend were:

  • 1250+ events
  • 556+ cities
  • 113,000+ attendees
  • 115+ countries
I already blogged about my "pitchfire" (60 seconds) pivot to education, and getting enough votes to get into the running. What happened next was the formation of teams. And here was a tremendous problem. Although I got votes, they were apparently sympathy votes, as I couldn't get people to join my team! I managed to get commitments from some members to spend part time on helping me out, while they worked primarily on other projects.

What made this all the more astonishing to me, was that I turned out to be virtually a lone developer! I only saw one other team actually working to develop a product.

So, I worked alone -- well, not really alone. I helped out the teams I liked the best (as an unofficial coach), and sat with one of them, while I worked on my own project. Unsurprisingly, I didn't get enough completed to demo it.

I actually surprised myself at how far I got. I think there were 7 hurdles to getting my project implemented, and I broke through 5 or 6 of them. If I hadn't already been tired going into the weekend, I could probably have pulled an all-nighter, and delivered. And I'm happy with that. It's information to put into my arsenal for next time.

I liked how the Startup Weekend organizers would periodically interrupt the Hackathon and require group leaders to give their pitch again. The practice and repetition led to better honing of the ideas.

So, I had mixed emotions about the final presentations.  To begin with, they had 4 minutes to present, and 4 minutes for questions. That's huge! And, not surprisingly, the presentations were very interesting and relatively good -- almost all of them. But when it came to the "demo", or the portion on which they actually executed, there was nothing but vaporware. I could have presented, if there was no requirement for an actual achievement. At the other Hackathons I've been to, everyone would have been disqualified.

I suspect that this is just characteristic of Startup Weekends. They are more concerned with Customer Validation, and putting together a good pitch-deck, than with actual development of a prototypical product. And all of that is good, but it needs to be married together with actual development. A real product needs to result from the work.

I Remain,


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why Do a Hackathon?

I can think of lots of reasons to go to a Hackathon:

  • to experience the Startup-lifecycle in a compressed time frame.
  • to see new technologies in use.
  • to brainstorm with other entrepreneurial technologists.
  • to have closer contact with business ("idea") people.
  • to push your code-sprinting capabilities to the limit.
  • to be in an environment where people passionately pursue their values.

But my colleague, Troy Miles, points out  here that he likes Hackathons because they put the fun back into development. That's what he does daily. What a wonderful reason! Because technology is fun! And working really, really hard to achieve a lot in a short period of time is one of the most fun things imaginable.

If you do decide to do a Hackathon this year,  and I hope you do, Troy has some advice on preparation; but so do I!


First of all, fellow technologists, it's presentation, presentation, presentation.

If you don't go a good "firepitch", you won't get a good team.
If you don't present well to the judges, you won't even get consideration for your work!!!

If you're a technologist, you need to focus on your presentation skills more than anything else.

And I have a very practical tip. First off,  you need to hone your "elevator pitch." This is true for startups in general, but also very true for Hackathons. You have, typically, 60 seconds to pitch your idea. How do you prepare for this?

First, acquaint yourself with speaking at different speeds. Court reporters typically train at around 200 to 225 words per minute, which can be viewed on youtube here.

So, you can probably fit in somewhere around 200 to 250 words into your minute presentation. Then write it and calculate your words!

Second, get your stopwatch and time yourself. And don't say "uh." There isn't time for it & it won't do you any good.

The same principle applies to whatever time is allowed for your final presentation.

I Remain,


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Release the Kraken ... I Mean, The Hackathon

TheHackerCIO always wanted to say that, "Release the Kraken." So, now he got the chance. Actually, I say it each time I release the newly washed Chihuahua into the house, but that's a separate story.

What actually got "released", or kicked-off was a Hackathon. I must be the luckiest technologist in the world, because my company board actually backed my participation. It's a kind of sabbatical! But I'm not sure that it's at all a restful one. Of course, I have a lot of influence with the board!

The Hackathon this weekend is a Startup Weekend, and this one is centered around the theme of education.

I went, uncertain whether I would pitch or join a team. And, while I've done Hackathons, I've never done a one of the Startup Weekend variety. There were a few interesting twists and turns along the way, and I want to point them out, especially focusing on my reactions and impressions.

After pizza and coke, we filled into the room for the "Pitchfire" presentations. 60 seconds only is permitted to specify the idea. They suggested that the pitch cover these 4 things:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What problem are you solving?
  3. How will you solve it?
  4. Who do you need?
I'm not so sure that I agree with that list approach, but then the presenter/organizer went on to say that most people fumble #1, and waste too much time on it. And, as I've blogged before, I couldn't agree more. In general, I'd try to avoid #1 entirely, if possible, unless it somehow organically fits in with the rest as somehow relevant. But we can deal with that later. 

After this presentation they played a game of rock-paper-scissors, where the winners kept competing against other winners, and the losers followed along until there was a final winner. I hate crap like this, all psychobabble bullshit, trying to get people to "loosen up." 

So, I was less than favorably disposed when they began yet another game. This time it was called Halfbaked. But, although I went into it with a bad attitude, it turned out to be a good game. The purpose was to get teams used to thinking about how they were going to pitch things. Groups were formed, and two words at random were distributed to each team. Everyone got 5 minutes to come up with a product offering, using the two words. Ours were "Cocaine," and "justified." 

So, our group spent 5 minutes discussing this and we came up with the idea of "Ethical cocaine; perfectly natural; cocaine in the raw -- i.e., just the coca leaves, like the natives used in the Andes, as a stimulant, superior to coffee."

So, we thought we were set. But then, they made us exchange one word with another team. So, now, we ended up with "Baby" and "Cocaine." This was to emulate the "pivot," which is so central to the Startup world.  5 more minutes of discussion. For some reason, the team chose me to present. I honestly don't know how they could figure that out so quickly, but anyway, I did my best. 

Our presentation centered around "Cocaine, ... Baby!!!" A product for fathers with young newborns, who need to go a level beyond coffee." I'll try to post the footage later here. 

After these play pitches, I decided to go ahead and try to pivot my idea into the educational realm. The idea I had come with was a pure technology play. You read about it here, this week. I called it "DataStory." And, if I hadn't pivoted,  I would never have made it past the judging anyway, since "educational impact" was 25%. Remember, that the decision and ability to do this Hackathon was a last minute one. I barely had time to skim all the posted materials prior to arriving. And if I hadn't come up with an interesting idea on Tuesday, at the Geeky Book Club, I wouldn't have had anything to pitch at all! But that's quite in the spirit of Hackathons. 

I'll try to post the footage of my pitch later, and I'll analyze it for what was good and bad. Since I pivoted, I think I didn't do as well as I could have, but ..

Then we went into the foyer, and attempted to solicit votes for our teams. Only the top teams were allowed to compete. I managed to get 13 votes, indicated with post-its:

And that was enough to get into the running! So, I'll have to blog about my idea later, because for now I'm too tired. But tomorrow I'll continue this saga, probably many times during the day, so check back early, check back often, as I attempt to develop an MVP and code DataStory.

I Remain, Exhaustedly,


Thursday, January 9, 2014

How a Contest Judge Had No Idea Who Won the Hackathon!

I keep getting asked how I could be the celebrity judge of a Hackathon, and yet have no idea who the winner was. It's the bad influence of American Idol and Dancing With the Stars, I'm told, by those who watch television.

It turns out that the panel of judges only selected semi-finalists. Six, to be precise. Three in the "Wearables" category and three in the "Mobile" category. Then, these teams presented to the 3000+ attendees of the Developer Summit, which is to say, the AT & T conference that happened right after the Hackathon.

As a mobile phone company, I suppose it makes sense to ask your developer employees to text their choices to a phone number, to make the final selection. It's a stunt. But then so was the Espresso coffee machine in the "mingling room" that would take your order from an SMS message to 855-ZIPWHIP, and brew it without operator intervention! The Espresso was tasty and techy. It doesn't get better than that.

So, because these six teams presented (a 2 minute lightening talk) to the developers, and the final winner wasn't selected before TheHackerCIO drove back to Silicon Beach, he never found out the final winner. He had to read it on the web, like anyone else interested. There's something wrong with that. Just saying'

For those interested, here is a short video about the Hackathon and its two winning teams, who took the cash prize of $25,000.00 :

I Remain,


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What Did I Do Wrong in My Hackathon Presentation?

Post-mortem analysis is the very flower of Pathology. And of medicine.

It's the mechanism by which one can scientifically determine pathology, learn from it, and eliminate it from live patients.

Very few presenters at the last Hackathon were "live" in the judges estimation, after they gave their 90 second lightening talk.

Toward the end of the 5 1/2 hour ordeal, the judges were saying, "so, is that another WTF? Did anyone understand what it did?"

And so, another 48 hours of labor times team-members bit the dust.

Don't you think thats a waste?

I suspect that huge numbers of original, innovative, and well executed projects were there at the Hackathon, but it was impossible to know for certain because the presentations were, generally speaking, so poor. Incredibly poor. As if they never read my blog poor.

TheHackerCIO isn't going to repeat the details of the 4 Tips for Hackathon Presenters. Follow the link, if you haven't read the basics, which I posted prior to the judging. Here, I'm just going to list them, with no details, and then add in an autopsy on the additional errors and failures I saw. I'm not prioritizing them or otherwise ordering the list. It's in the order that they come to my mind.

But anyway, we all know how many people love these numbered lists!!!

1. You over "Uh-ed".  Don't "Uh".  It's OK to think without making noise.  
2. You didn't Speak Up. Speak up. You have a microphone.  

5. You didn't focus. You can't solve every problem in Public Safety. You can't use every API on the contest list. Why do you make it seem in your presentation that it is "all things to all men." All that means, is that it is nothing. It has no identity. No integrity. Diffuse presentations were a major problem at the Hackathon and the judges hated it. 

6. You didn't rehearse. So you got cut off at the end of 90 seconds. That means you didn't get your conclusion in. You missed out on delivering the Fing most important lines of your presentation. All because you didn't rehearse and get your timing down. Shame on you. Shame. 

7. You presented How before What. I knew that you used a proximity sensor and a Gimbal and this AT&T API and that Plantronics head sensor and all kinds of wonderful stuff. WTF it actually did -- I have no clue. You presented how you did whatever you did but forgot to mention what it was you actually did. The what must precede the how. Duh. My 15-year old daughter complained most particularly to me about this, without my ever telling her. So how come you didn't figure that out? Because you didn't rehearse with anyone. And I was available. A Hackathon weekends labor is a terrible thing to waste. Especially just because you blew it something as simple as good communications. 

8. You failed to convince the judges panel that you actually produced a demo version of your product. That blew you straight out of the competition. In one particularly tragic case, TheHackerCIO had to fight with the other judges. "So, did they actually deliver anything?" Came the question from several of them. "Yes, they did,  I replied. I saw it working last night at 4am. And they had time to add in more after that!" But if I hadn't been there and hadn't seen that demo and been blown away by it, We would have immediately eliminated that team from the running and moved on.  Remember, we had about 10 seconds to evaluation your 90 seconds of presentation. 

9. You focused too much on the business or revenue model, when you were presenting to judges who were technical. In other Hackathons, CEOs were brought in to judge the winners. Those are the people to pitch on business viability. Now, a quick mention of this wouldn't have hurt, even with us. But some people spent way too much of their precious 90 seconds on this, when it WASN'T a JUDGING CRITERION. 

10. You wasted precious time from your 90 seconds by introducing yourselves and where your team was from. Your name is irrelevant. We had no criterion for "good introductions" that gave contestants points. All this did was rob you of time to convince us of your originality and execution. It's also the lamest possible attention step. "Hi, I'm Bill Hatley, from Iowa and Shirley here is from San Diego..." Yeah, that really riveted my attention; I quit looking at that cocktail waitress walking by because I wanted to see what Bill from Iowa looked like. 


Ok, so I'm way too tired tonight to continue. And I'll be moving on to other topics, starting tomorrow. But that doesn't mean that I won't be writing up all my notes from this event. I'll be dribbling them out over the next few months, so if you want to learn the most you can about the event for the next time, you'll need to stay tuned ...

And tomorrow morning, TheHackerCIO takes a plane out to Miami. Time to visit clients and get back to work. And get back to some other interesting technology problems. It wouldn't do to dwell overly on just Hackathons. 

Maybe it's time to talk about Strategy. 

Or about Java 8. 

Or ...

I Remain,


Monday, January 6, 2014

Judge & Jury, Too

TheHackerCIO worked the Hackathon the moment he arrived on Saturday morning.  Not caring too much about it, he barged his way in the door, looking like he knew where he was going, and kind of half hiding from the door-guards, by "drafting" behind a few other, properly registered Hackathon contestants, in much the same way he would have drafted behind a large City Bus with his 10-speed bike, when he was a teenager.

But he didn't want to wonder if he'd ever get back in the door a second time, should he go to the hotel room.

So, after many hours, down to registration he moseyed. "I'm judging this Hackathon," said he to the registration attendants, "And I kind of think I ought to have a badge!"

"Of course," said the very helpful ladies, "So..... let's see .... You're a judge ...."

"And Jury, too," said that funny fellow, TheHackerCIO!

Laughter was apparent at the Registration table.

But isn't there a truth to it?

Why do they always call it a "judge" for some kind of event like this? What is typically done is far closer to the function of a Jury. We had a panel of about 5 judges. We all sat around a table (not quite sequestered, but close), and we recorded our decisions individually, but discussed our scoring internally and argued and convinced each other to reach a set of final verdicts.

As far as the function of a judge, I definitely performed this function to some extent as well. I reminded my honorable fellow jurors of the need to be objective about their "evals." For example, several times business considerations entered into the discussions. And while I'm very sympathetic to using that as a criterion, that wasn't an option. It was not in the "Constitution" of the competition! Only Presentation, Originality, and Execution were our evaluation criteria (Use of AT&T APIs, also was in the list, but was assigned to a separate jury). I had to give the jury instructions on this matter several times. "Business viability is irrelevant," I told them. "It's not one of our evaluation criteria."

It's just an interesting reflection, but that's an important thing to do.

And besides that, I always wanted to be able to say, "I'm judge and jury too." So this posting has been my big chance!

[And for the curious, inquiring minds, that photo is of TheHackerCIO with an M249Saw in hand and a belt of .223 over the shoulder. With that, he could mow down any opposition. It's also, about a $150,000 piece of hardware. This picture was taken at about 11am Sunday, at a well needed break from working the event to go on a shooting party with my family and a Las Vegas colleague (and friend). After the shooting party, came the work of judging the lightening talks. ]

I Reflectively Remain,


Sunday, January 5, 2014

110 Lightening Presentations of 90 seconds

That takes 5 and a half hours.

2pm  to 7:30pm!

So, we the judges are tired and hoarse. There were 54 entrants in the Wearables track and 47 in the Mobile App track. Then extras came into play, for a total considered in excess of 110!

TheHackerCIO was kind enough to blog advice to all the teams on doing their presentations. But it wasn't heeded. When I've recovered, I'll be posting a lot of post-mortem analysis about presentational failure.

The number one reason for failure to win a prize was presentation. Piss poor presentations, to be precise. That is sad. Especially when a world class coach was available in TheHackerCIO. Stay tuned, for details will surely follow ...

I Exhaustedly but Contentedly Remain,


4 Presentation Tips for Hackathoners

Today marks the completion day for the Hackathon. Presenters will have 90 seconds to win the prize. Or not. TheHackerCIO likes to see crisp, excellent presentations. So, despite the fact that he's a judge, he sees no conflict of interest in helping as many people as he can to do their best on their presentations.

I've told everyone the following:

1. First and foremost. Don't "Uh".  It's OK to think without making noise.  Every "Uh" you add cloys the auditory palate of your audience and detracts from your presentation. Practice your 90 seconds of fame with a colleague or friend. Have him bitch-slap you every time you say "Uh," or "Um." Or whatever other verbal detritus you have picked up. Eliminate it. Do it now.

2. Speak up. You have a microphone.  Find the sweet spot between these two extremes:

  • nasty screeeeeeeeeeeeching feedback
  • mumble, mumble, blah, and mumble
You want to fill the room with your voice, so that no one must struggle to hear your presentation. They might do it for a moment, but they will soon tune out. And that's not good.

3. If your presenter has a thick accent, consider employing a better communicator. Why let the non-important issue of accent screw with your winning a prize? At the last Hackathon where I was a GrandMaster (I wasn't just a Sensei .... I'm beyond that level!), one of the teams brought an actress to present the concept. The idea-generator (who had a thick accent) coached the actress to make the best possible presentation. I thought this a very smart move.

4. Pick the most interesting attention step you can. Grab your audience by the mental throat; arrest their attention and then transition immediately to the main point of what problem you solve or value you offer. You don't want your audience to keep looking at that cute waitress bringing out drinks ....

This will get you started toward making the best possible presentation you can.

Now let's break this down and see how it applies to winning a Hackathon. I've seen two first place prizes go to an actress who never coded a line of code (until this last year), but who nevertheless brought home the bacon repeatedly. Two years in a row. First place both times. Why?

Because the Hackathon is judged on 4 categories:

  1. 25% weight - Ability to clearly articulate what your app does
  2. 25% weight - Originality of idea
  3. 25% weight - Difficulty of technical implementation
  4. 25% weight - Use of AT&T APIs

Actress scored 100% of 25% on point 1. Perfect articulation of what the app does. She was absolutely the best at the Hackathon. This was true at her pitch, so she attracted the best developer. That was an advantage for point #3, which we'll see later.

Actress scored some percentage of point 2. Not super innovative. But interesting. 

Actress scored 100% of 3. Not so much difficulty, but the amount of functionality produced was clearly the best at the Hackathon. And that was because Actress got the best developer and the best designers and other helpers to work on her project.  And that was all because of her good presentation of a clearly articulated idea.

Actess scored a good showing, at least a 90% of point 4. Again, because she attracted the best developers, they in turn did an excellent job of using the APIs.

I think this example underscores the importance of good presentation skills. 

I hope this blog posting helps you to produce the best presentation you can, and win the Hackathon for your awesome innovation.

P.S. See also: here

I Remain, Helpfully,


Nightclubbing for Geeks

At 4am TheHackerCIO went Nightclubbing. Nighclubbing for geeks means this:

That's right! The AT&T Developer Summit Hackathon is going on at the Rain Nightclub!

I have to tell you that the staff -- who were awesome with their service & very friendly -- were laughing their behinds off when I told them that this was what Geeks thought was nightlife! One said, "Sorry to laugh at you," but I told him, "Hey, TheHackerCIO has been laughed at since he was in elementary school." Another said, "When they come up with the next Facebook, they'll have the last laugh." And who knows? That could be true.

I like to do a late night survey of a Hackathon I work, because you see who is really dedicated.

Sort the wheat from the tares.

I counted 65 Hackers hacking between 4am and 5am at this Hackathon. These are the all-nighters. That's a good total.

But some people have to get some shut-eye. Here are a couple of our younger contestants. One is a 17 Year-Old Caltech Freshman. Yeah, he skipped a grade. The other one is a High school student. Oh, yeah, he was at Y-Combinator already! What an amazing bunch of Hackers! It's inspiring to see

Rest comes in various forms:

The "Internet of Things" theme of this hackathon, really means "wearable technology," which includes this hoodie:

Which looks like this when it's "On":

This application is to warn drivers not to run you over, while you're jogging.

Jonathan DiCamillo a 17 Year-old Hacker at Summit View High school is developing a game with wearable pressure sensors.

So, that makes for a final roundup of the action at the Hackathon. It's 6am. Tomorrow is the presentation, so I might have a few words to say soon about that,

But for now I Remain,


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Swag and Sewing Machines

Pictured above is only a tiny sampling of the thousands of dollars worth of Swag: induction mats for telephones, headphones, brain-wave sensors, smart-watches, and all kinds of other sensors and cool gadgets had to be given away to the developers at the AT&T Developer Summit Hackathon.

It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

TheHackerCIO is willing ....

But it's amazingly tiring: we spent nearly three hours listening to "lightening talks" and pre-qualifying them for the hardware give-aways. The contestants had to "show connection", as the lawyers call it, between what they were developing and the hardware. It wasn't enough to say, "I'm kind of developing something that sort of helps out in some nebulous, undefined way." When we got those, we had to turn the contestants away.

They need to firm up their concept. The Swag is there to support the development effort. Anything left over, would be given away, of course. And some judges were easier going than others. TheHackerCIO was pretty easy. There was another pre-qualifier who was a real bad-ass.

This Hackathon is centered around wearable technology. Sometimes you have to see this kind of thing to catch the vision. Or at least it's much easier. It always seemed toy-like to me, before. But now, I'm starting to get it.

At first, I was startled to see this machine at a Hackathon:

But if you're doing wearable technology, it makes perfect sense.

I Remain,


TheHackerCIO does Vegas

TheHackerCIO just did Silicon Valley.

Now he's doing Vegas. Got some strange looks, on arrival at the Palms Casino Resort. 

Not sure this was the right t-shirt to wear...  Pretty tired after a long drive ... 

But ...

What's Hacked in Vegas ain't gonna stay in Vegas! 

I hope not, anyway. I want winners that go viral. 

In about 8 hours, the AT&T Developer Summit Hackathon will begin; that's Saturday morning. Registration opens at 8am. Lightening talks begin at 11am. For those newbies who are using this series on Hackathons to self-educate, a "lightening talk" is a very condensed presentation. Sometimes people refer to these as "elevator pitches." The idea is that you should present the essence of your Startup in the time it takes to ride an elevator.  

Condensing the corporate value-proposition is an excellent exercise. It focuses the mind. It's a sort of acid-test of your play. If you can't captivate people with your offering, you are scarcely going to make it in business. Or attract the capital to try. Or attract the people to work with you. 

At a Hackathon, the elevator pitch is typically reduced even more than what you might use in your real-life Startup. Sometimes they allow only 30 or 60 seconds to present! Generally, in real life, the "elevator pitch" can be a bit more relaxed.  The Hackathon "Lightning Talk," also tends to be more developer oriented. Most idea-pitchers -- even those with developer skills -- don't come with a full team, and need to attract coding talent. So while the concept must be clearly articulated, it may be more technical than the ordinary Startup "elevator pitch." 

But before I get drawn into this, TheHackerCIO needs some rest. It wouldn't do to be too tired for the Lightening pitches. 

I Remain, Sleepily ...


Friday, January 3, 2014

Put "Hackathon" on your New Year's Resolutions!

You can hardly expect TheHackerCIO to restrain himself from plugging Hackathons. So I'm going to take the advent of a new year as an opportunity to re-shout the truth:

If you work around technology (or want to), 
You need to go to a Hackathon this year!
Do it! Plan for it Now!

Maybe a couple. Or more.

I've been increasingly impressed with what I've learned from Hackathons.

The biggest and most unsettling thing I've learned from Hackathons in 2013 is that there are a whole new slew of agile techniques and frameworks out there that allow an order of magnitude faster development speed for production of an MVP.  In comparing the 2013 competition to the prior years event, development velocity was stunning.

In one particularly telling example, a contender failed to attract a developer after his initial presentation on Friday evening at 6pm. On Saturday afternoon, at a time when I would have told him he might as well join up with another team or go home, he pivoted to a completely new idea, attracted a co-developer, and they not only completed their demo-quality MVP.

They won second place.

Now that would have been utterly unthinkable the year before. In 2012, I remember the CloudHero team valiantly struggled, hoping to add one last feature prior to the final presentation.  As they worked, I stood outside the door, ready to signal them the moment they were on. Inside, a dedicated team member stood poised to hit the enter key, thus issuing the VCS command that would wipe out any work and leave them at the last stable demo. This had been a 48-hour effort.

In 2013, many teams had a near-demo quality version of their MVP up the first night before they went home! Now it's increasingly more common to see 1 day hack-nights. The whole pace of code development is now able to be performed more rapidly. This kind of environment is really important for Startups to know, and consequently for CTOs to be aware of. But you can't really know this if you don't have your finger on the pulse of the development world. Just taking my own example, as good as I am, I would have wrongly advised that 2nd place contestant!

TheHackerCIO uses this as a technique for keeping current with rapid and agile trends. It makes him better at technology recommendations to early stage Startups. It helps him to know what new technologies, frameworks, and packages should be put onto the list for play during the year and eventually, hopefully, to master.

It helps focus the mind of the technologist on every aspect of the startup experience. And it's not just for developers. I could write volumes about this, and no doubt I will post quite a bit more about it this year!

But for now, resolve to do a Hackathon this year. I beg you. For your own sake. So you don't become irrelevant. Maybe I'll start The Great Hackathon Challenge, to encourage everyone to do a Hackathon.

Hackathons weigh heavily on TheHackerCIO's mind right now, because he is about to go to the AT&T Developer's Summit Hackathon. It's this weekend, in Las Vegas. You should at least spend some time reading about it. All the winners from the AT&T Hackathons are invited to the big event at  the beginning of the year, to compete for the final prize. I'll be a judge at this Hackathon, but I'm hoping to give mini-presentations and advice to the contenders, to help them maximize their chances and do the best they can! I'm an inveterate Sensei! And, I can't even apologize about that. I love to teach and help. I love to see success and improvement. I'm selfish that way. But judging should be a new, fresh perspective. I'll provide more details after I get up there in Vegas, since once more, I have to hit the road ...

I Remain,


Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Happy Hacker Am I, Today!

Just a moment ago, I received an email from the producers of a documentary, "48 to Launch." It's named after the 48 hours many Hackathons typically take. They filmed the entire AT&T Silicon Beach Hackathon and I helped them extensively -- especially with my evaluations of the contenders.

 I've coached a couple of Hackathons now, this last one our title was that of "Sensei," because we handled multiple teams -- there weren't enough "Coaches" to go around. That went down really well with me, because I'm a Brown Belt in Goju Ryu Karate. (Ni Kyu for those who know; Next April, outside of Kyoto, I'll test for Ichi Kyu). And my boutique consulting firm is very informed by the Martial Arts mentoring system and approach. But that's another day's blog.

It's a shame that more CTOs didn't coach this year, because a Hackathon is the best possible opportunity for senior IT professionals. The experience is wonderful beyond expression. It's not only good for IT pros, but for everyone. That's the topic of an upcoming post: Why Everyone Should Do a Hackathon. I'm also going to prepare a presentation on this topic. So stay tuned ...

Some excerpt quotations from TheHackerCIO & the Narrator:

TheHackerCIO: This is everything that's great about America.

Narrator: To help level the playing field, Veteran technology moguls hand select teams to mentor throughout the weekend.

TheHackerCIO: I'm James Rothering, I'm a part-time CTO for early-stage Startups.

TheHackerCIO: And an extraordinarily good one, I might add.

I love to see the publicity for Hackathons, so I'm a very Happy Hacker today!!!

And, having spent three years living in London,  One and a half of them working for a Startup at Charing Cross, right next to Nelson's Statue; I know how much my London readers will appreciate me offering up my Obligatory "Have A Nice Day!" imperative!

I Remain,

The Very Happy HackerCIO