Digital Network Hackathons at the ABC

This post probably needs a bit of context before we dive in: I’m a Senior Developer at the ABC, and I’ve been working there almost a year.

I get to work on products that people use day-to-day, which is great, but I’ve also had the chance to pour effort into things I believe are fantastic for a development team: driving the ABC’s involvement in GovHack 2015, efforts in diversity, and the best part… not just one, but two internal hackathons to drum up some inspiration and build communication links within the division.

On the roadmap is an ABC Development blog, with contributions from various developers in the team. Unfortunately it hasn’t got off the ground yet 🙂 The blog would be perfect to talk about these hackathons, but since that space doesn’t exist yet, I’m doing so here.

Background

Earlier this year, the ABC was undergoing a restructure of all its digital teams into a single Digital Network division. With the restructure, we really wanted to help bring together separate teams – who often sit on separate floors, and rarely get to interact – around a fun event.

Our main aims were to introduce people to others, and foster new communities within the dev team. It was also a great chance to let people flex their creativity muscles, and build prototypes for future products or features.

Our Challenges

The ABC has a lot of developers with different technology backgrounds, and we wanted to ensure that everyone had a fair opportunity to join a team and build something that interested them.

We also have many colleagues who work interstate. Facilitating teams and introducing everyone to each other was a bit of a puzzle, especially since we wanted to have team formation and idea pitches done before the day.

We’d also never run a hackathon at the ABC before, so we were given the chance to run a small-scale version in March to help us prepare for a larger, two-day event in June.

The First Hackathon

This was a one-day event held at the ABC in Ultimo. We invited 20 people from ABC Innovation (later Digital Network) and gave them 6 hours to build anything they wanted.

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Seven teams produced a variety of hacks, surprisingly all ABC related, and had their demos watched by an audience of around 60 staff.

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We got a lot of great feedback:

  • People really enjoyed meeting and working with others they didn’t know
  • It was fun working on something different
  • It was great getting the chance to build something you’ve wanted to for a while
  • Showing off the hacks to an audience was satisfying

We also learned what to improve for next time:

  • Attendees needed more lead time so they could prepare an appropriate idea, research what data they’d need, and explore what technology they might use to build it
  • Including a wider range of staff such as product managers and more designers would produce more diverse hacks
  • All attendees would benefit from guidance for hack presentations, including sample slides
  • The biggest challenge was team formation, especially considering the next event included interstate staff

The Second Hackathon

Our second event was much larger, with around 70 people hacking over two days at the Powerhouse Museum, just down the road from the ABC – complete with Angry Birds and Minecraft.

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Given more time to hack, and more time to prepare, there was a big improvement in the quality of the hacks compared to the first event. It was also great to have all the teams from interstate mingling together in the same room.

Our main feedback (aside from faster wifi!) was still around team formation: teams had to be composed of people who didn’t work together normally, and were capped at 4 people. If someone hadn’t found a team a week before the hackathon, they would be allocated at random. Given how dispersed people are physically, it favoured people who already worked on the same floor, or knew other people socially. So, there are still things we can improve with this process.

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For more coverage of the second hackathon, there is a complete rundown of the day, including summaries of the projects, photos and winners available on Storify in reverse chronological order. 🙂

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Looking forward to the next one!

Winners of She Hacks 2014!

I was really excited to attend the inaugral SheHacks 2014 hackathon in Sydney, organised by the lovely women from Girl Geeks Sydney – Georgi Knox, Denise Fernandez, Kris Howard, Sera Prince McGill and Peggy Kuo. It was held at Google’s offices in Pyrmont and was a fantastic event! (SheHacks was running in parallel in Melbourne too, so you can check out a rundown of the Melbourne event by Tammy Butow.)

Everyone hard at work

It was the first hackathon for quite a lot of people, and it was great to see people getting involved in an event they might not otherwise attend.  Tickets for the event were sorted into several types:

  • Developers (the majority of the tickets)
  • UX/Designer
  • Non-technical

People were encouraged to form teams of about 5 people – 3 developers, 1 ux person, and one non technical – with the goal that your devs can build, the UX person makes it look amazing, and your non-technical person can coordinate and concentrate on your presentation (following excellent advice laid out by Kris just a month ago on presenting your hackathon project.)

Team Disasterama (minus me)

I was also amazed at the generous catering – pizza, caffeine, snacks, lots of cookies made by team mate Denise, and a decidedly un-male breakfast spread of yoghurt, muesli and fresh-cut fruit!

snacks aplenty

The result? 50 women in 11 teams competed for some great prizes donated by Google, Atlassian, Microsoft and Razorfish. There were some fantastic team hacks presented, and I personally enjoyed:

  • Mini Jobs – finding odd jobs for younger people to do to boost their confidence/skills and earn some pocket money
  • Share the Paw Paw – crowdsourcing locations around your neighbourhood where fruit and vegetables are freely available, or if you have a surplus to give away
  • Coffee Run – formalising coffee rounds in the office, including keeping tabs of who owes who

HOWEVER… our team of Denise Fernandez, Luciana Carrolo, Kim Chatterjee, Anna Zaitsev and myself won first prize with our “Mission Possible” app!! The site is designed to connect volunteers with coordinators to assist with disaster relief. The amazing prezi designed by Anna and Kim describes the idea in detail.

The source code is available on GitHub. The app was designed to be realtime so that volunteers can see up-to-the-minute information about where their help is needed, and in our demo we used two screens to great effect (realtime updates are always a crowd pleaser!). It was written using node, socket.io, handlebars, google maps, twitter bootstrap and a lovely set of custom icons designed by Kim.

A screenshot from our app shows a shaded area where the “disaster” has occurred (an oil spill), and a point which is the muster point for volunteers to go to to help (save the penguins!). Everything updated in real time from a master coordinator, who would add extra muster points and specify numbers of volunteers that should be at each point.

Mission Possible

Our prize was a Nexus 7 tablet and a 3D printed trophy, which was a pink computer.

Hello, computer!

I was pretty happy with the outcome of that! It’s the third hackathon in a year that I’ve participated in and won prizes for.  I really love the energy and creativity that comes out of such an intense situation, and it’s a lot of fun to see what everyone else does in such a short time as well.

Thanks very much to Girl Geek Sydney for a great event!

Save the penguins!