Hackman '16. A Hackathon Mentoring Experience.

It was one of those weird things that I heard. A college was organizing a Hackathon. Never that I have heard before. I was invited to be a Mentor for the Hackthon, and was asked to represent FSMK (fsmk.org).

I was not really interested in going there. It was a 24 hour(No sleep) Hackathon. But that was not what was stopping me. It was the way the Hackathons happen today.

What is a hackathon to me ? A Hackthon is a place where a bunch of people come together , hack on an idea, project, share knowledge, talk to new people. It has always been about an extreme flow of information and knowledge to be shared by all. But then today's Hackathons are more like, build an idea in a night, and win a cash prize the next day.

Tough I never attend, such Hackthons, I for some reason, decided to go in. I wanted to talk to people, understand their ideas, see if any socially impactful projects are available, and if the teams are interested, take forward such projects to the next levels subsequently and make them happen.

Most importantly of all, many believe Mentoring is all about, Mentor knowing all the things and just waves the magic wand and things happen. I really wanted to break that perspective from all the participants. I wanted to make it clear that, if you can use a search engine and read the docs, you are very well a Mentor. Mentor is not an all-knowing person. The only thing that a Mentor could provide was motivation for you to take up a Hack and make it happen. And, I think, I have made that point.

Now coming to the actual event, to my surprise, an all student organized first time event, was just amazing organized. The food tough a very little delayed was just incredible. Football games, the dinner together were all priceless moments I had. One big kudos to the organizing team.

The participants were all college students(both from Diploma and Engineering), and majorly first timers, and it was astounding for me to see, that there were a lot of hardware projects put up there. A lot of them had clear ideas, incredible thoughts, and all they wanted was a starting point. To be frank, to all the teams, the only mentoring we did was get them started with programming itself. What ? I know that expression, but trust me, the college teaching of programming, is just not enough. There is a great deal of things that we have to learn to participate in a Hackathon and make things happened.

I personally found 3 things extremely demotivating about this whole hackathon.

First, during the start of the event, one of the person, started roaming around, and started suggesting nodejs as a building block for all the teams. While I have nothing against nodejs and mongodb, I don't personally believe that nodejs or mongodb is thing that I would be proposing to extreme beginners who are just getting started with programming, and all they have is 24 hrs, to learn it, and implement their ideas and get it working. This specific suggestion, had made a few teams coming back and telling us, we are not able to understand nodejs, so we are quitting. It took a lot of clean-up and effort to bring back the motivation in teams.

Second, I was not a part of the judging panel, but then, I really felt, the expressions in a few places by one of the judges was awful. For ex, one the team had built a IoT with End-to-End Encryption, and actually made things work. To me, a team that didn't even know great programming, learning it, understanding IoT, making it work actually with E2E encryption was an amazing effort. But when the team mentioned that they were using AES for encryption, one of the judges threw away the pen from "his" hand, and made a statement "Do you think AES is so secure? Shall I break AES right now and show"? Well cumon. Grow up and be a judge and acknowledge the effort.

Third, is a very personal demotivation. I personally believe, I did not have enough time to sit and talk to all the teams, and spend a lot of useful time with them. While I had spent enough time with a bunch of the teams, I personally am not satisfied. But then time flies.

So assuming,I was the judge, here are the teams I would have short listed. I personally don't believe in prized, so I will have to say, all the shortlisted teams, I am listing here, deserve a big kudos. I really admired their effort and their thinking. The teams listed are in the order of my remembrance and nothing else (Dont get your brains suddenly working XD)

Waste Segregation Project : One of the teams had actually built up a circut, that had the ability to segregate wet and dry waste. They were also be able to detect the amount of waste collected in a bin and then accordingly sort what to do with it. They were also clear on what value(could say monetary value) the waste segregation processed, and how to potentially reuse them (Not to a great extent, but to an extent I was satisfied).

Arduino API : I dont think I can explain this project right.This team had built up an API,with which they could program the arduino board, in a much more efficient manner. They had also avoided the problem of re-flashing the board everytime we want to upload, making the best use of their API. This team, was the only team that told, "Mentors go away", we know what we are doing, and we will get it done. I was extremely satisfied with them. This team has also decided to keep their whole project libre/open . An extra kudos to them.

Music tone detection and Note generation : This team had an unique idea of making the app to listen to a music, and be able to generate a notes from it. The only thing that surprised to me of this team was, they didnt get their guitar along. We could have used some music during the hack XD.

Delivery as a service : A team was trying to build an app, more like an uber or ola, that could schedule local hyper deliveries. So it is like, you select a source and destination, and a delivery person picks it up, and delivers it. Tough this model still has a lot of things to be done, I personally felt a good use of these apps, in high traffic cities like Bangalore, Chennai, where the working population is more.

Noiseless Honking : A team made some sensible use of the sensors in the cars to avoid the noise created by honking. The project basically involved tracking the rear and front sensors to track the object in front/rear and accordingly alert the driver about it. This project was still in an initial stage, and has a lot of scope to be built as an amazingly useful product. Think of the world without the noise honking. The amount of noise pollution that it could reduce. This was just another amazing idea.

KhanaBachao : This team was trying to build another social app. Parties and restaurants which have excess food, would be able notify the NGO/people who would be able to make use of that food to be distributed amongst the needed. More than the idea itself, I personally saw the huge social divide that they were trying to tackle and minimize. While I am not a big fan of the NGO model, I personally felt that, apps like, which are able to connect the people in need and people in excess in the surrounding place, would make a little less people starve. This project also posed in front of me an important question as to , what are all the available govt laws and legislation's that could also be combined along with this app to make this a more sensible one. This was one another brillant idea.

While, these were the 6 projects that interested me the most, 1 project deserve a special mention. A team that was trying to use networks (bluetooth, Wifi and GSM) to be able to automate and control High power sites in a way to avoid/take measures while/during disasters. I really loved this project and they had it all working. The only reason, I have not put it up in the shortlisted was, this team had nearly completed the project even before they arrived in the hackathon. While I understand the complexity involved, I have to give credits to people who used the time given to build the project.

So, as a part of my effort, I am going to be pinging all these teams, and see how to take things forward. Personally I am determined on 4 projects, "Waste Segregation Project","Noiseless horn"  "Arduino API project" and "KhanaBachao". I see these providing a huge social impact and I see a lot of ways in which these projects could do a lot better. I also going to talk to a bunch of my friends on the electronics side, to help the electronics project.

To all those asking why only these 4 projects ? This is more like the prize thing I was against. No ! All these projects have a huge social issue that they are trying to solve. And I personally am more interested in socially impactful ideas and commercially viable ideas in hackathons. So I am "not" qualifying them as winners or something, I am just going to work forward with them to see what help I can do to make these projects make surface.

It was a great experience. I learnt a lot of stuff, met a lot of new people, and had a lot of fun, and another sleepless night. I have been so sleep deprived that, I sometimes forget I have to sleep XD (PJ XD).

You can find all the event updates and images here. https://www.facebook.com/WeAreHackman/.

Good-luck, signing off for now, in favor of going to sleep.

Note : All opinions expressed here only my personal opinions and does not represent the college or the Hackman organizing team or anybody else.

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