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  • Hackathon
  • Hack Manchester
  • Women in Tech
  • Success
  • Failure
  • Learning
  • Code
  • Time Machine

We only went and won Hack Manchester 2018!

Last year you may recall I wrote this post about my experience at Hack Manchester 2017. My mentor and I worked together to create a mobile app aimed at helping women going through menopausal symptoms track their hot flushes and change in mood to help them, their support network and medical professionals spot patterns. You can read that post for more detail.

This year, Clare and I were back for Hack Manchester 2018. This post will discuss our experiences (Spoiler Alert! The result is in the title ;)). We were joined this year by her colleague Cynthia and the great Dr. Sal Freudenberg. Sal is a well known neurodiversity advocate, agile coach and public speaker. So I was not only very excited to meet her but also excited to work with her!

Last year we were a very organised team and this year was no different. We created a Trello board quite early on, then created a WhatsApp group that led to a Google Drive where we stored any relevant documentation for ideas, technology and guides etc.

It may seem a bit bonkers using Agile techniques for a weekend ‘hack’ and being so organised but we are all big fans of organisation and process in our day jobs so it suited us best and allowed us to be as productive and happy as possible.

Clare makes a blog post every year documenting the challenges from each sponsor in one place. The Hack Manchester website is notoriously awkward and you have to keep clicking back and forward to read them all. Writing it also gives her a chance to get an idea of what kind of stuff is of interest this year. She was most excited by the Centre for Biological Timing challenge which was around ‘hacking’ your body clock. It made her think of a time machine.

Now when this was mentioned in our WhatsApp group, we all got quite excited and a flurry of messages and ideas flowed. Let’s face it, everyone reading this has probably felt the same at different times; it feels like there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything! So we decided on a time machine and the idea that you could get back time in your day. This might be allowing you to take a nap when you are feeling sleepy after too much pasta at lunch, or to ‘undo’ your late train when you have places to be.

Clare had access to some physical puck.js buttons that we thought would be perfect as little time machine buttons so we decided we would include them in our solution.

Once the day arrived, I packed all the things a good Agile team member should; post-it notes, sharpies of all colours and a whiteboard! Cynthia packed bigger post-it notes we could also use, Sal brought along aromatherapy oils to keep us calm and focused and Clare brought spares of some stuff in case we needed it.

We were determined to put self-care first so along with all that we also packed laptop stands, keyboards, mice and anything else we needed to ensure we passed workplace DSE standards and could be as comfortable as possible. Over the course of the 2 days I think quite a few people were a bit jealous of our setup.

Our team at Hack Manchester 2018 ready to get started
A photo of our post-it wall at Hack Manchester 2018

We all knew ourselves well enough to know when we are at our best and how much taking breaks helps so we followed hourly sprints. We had clearly defined goals for that hour, worked in pairs then after that hour was up, had a 5-min retro where we discussed what we achieved, challenges we faced and what we learned. We weren’t afraid to use this time to make decisions like moving away from Vue.js to vanilla Javascript as it was overkill and causing issues using the Puck.js script, which was only available as a script file and not a node module.

We then took 10 minutes away from our screens to get some natural light, tea/coffee, stretch our legs and chat to other people. I really like the Hack Manchester organisers and volunteers so was a great chance to catch up!

In the evening at about 9pm I left to go home and sleep along with Cynthia who did the same. Clare and Sal were more night-owly so stayed up until 4 and 2 respectively, however due to Cynthia and I deciding to return bright and early, there was never really that much time the code wasn’t being worked on so we didn’t really lose much by resting. In fact I would argue we functioned much better as developers and people by being well rested!

Day 2 can often be a bit of a mad rush to get finished and it is easy to let good habits slip by like regular breaks, however we were disciplined enough to not do this.

After a while, we realised though that we needed to step away from pairing a bit to allow us to get some mental breathing room and get some bits done. Sal became our team video editor and absolutely smashed it. I will post a link to our video at the end so you can watch what a great job she did!

I was happy to pair on/off but my inner introvert/Autistic was finding it a bit much too so I chose to focus on adding in the ability to text ‘Greenwich’ when a user requests a time-travel period. One of the challenges involved using Clockwork SMS and I knew from last year how easy to use their API is so I really enjoyed adding that functionality in. It also allowed me to add in a touch of humour, with text messages being sent from ‘Doctor Who’!

As Day 2 progressed, it became clear that we might be on to something good with our application. We regularly had visitors from the Centre for Biological Timing at our table, mentioning that a fellow judge/colleague had told them our idea would blow their minds. Everyone we were able to demo to (some judges had really bad timing and would arrive when we had just broken it temporarily) seemed really positive.

Before we knew it, it was all over. We had no idea what other people had done so although we knew they liked our team, how we worked and our idea we had no idea if we would do well in the challenges or not. Sadly Sal had to leave early to head back to Somerset and Cynthia wanted some time to rest before the award show so Clare and I did what all true nerds do, headed to the pub, had a pint and played a round of a board game called Exploding Kittens!

Later on, the 3 of us remaining met up at the award’s show. Dunnhumby was sponsoring a challenge this year so I was able to mingle with my colleagues, friends and team mates throughout the evening which was great. Hack Manchester is always really well organised so there was food, open bar and the event was excellently hosted by the great Gemma Cameron complete with cheese jokes!

The prize giving started and each shortlisted video per category was played. There was some really fun and clever hacks done over the weekend! I was really impressed by all the teams. As our categories we entered came and went and we saw the quality of the entrants, we began to think maybe we weren’t going to best our runner-up from last year. But I was happy regardless.

I can be competitive but growing up, competition usually manifests itself in sports and I am not an athlete. I can play a variety of sports but I am not overly good at them so I learnt to not be competitive. I was just happy to have taken part in the hackathon, made new friends and had a fantastic time smashing code for a weekend!

The next few minutes from that evening are a bit of a blur. They finally got around to announcing Best in Show and as ever they played the videos for the shortlisted teams. Our video was the last played. Despite being shortlisted last year, being played on the screen for Best in Show was still a total shock! Then Craig Dean, MD at WebAppsUK and Head Judge said the winners were an all female team and I realised we had won!!

I was filled with shock and pride! I knew our team was awesome, we had been really successful in terms of self-care, having fun and learning new things. We never argued, we supported and encouraged each other and celebrated everyone’s little wins but it is still a huge step to be considered the best!

If anyone is thinking about attending a hackathon, I say do it!! As we proved, you don’t need to be all macho and stay up all night. You don’t need to all know the technologies you choose to use. All you need is to be organised, enthusiastic and determined!

You can watch our video here!

A photo of our team (minus Sal) accepting our awards at Hack Manchester 2018

Emote of Luce making a heart gesture

Luce Carter

Dev 🥑 at MongoDB | Microsoft MVP | Twilio Champion | I help developers build confidence and battle Impostor Syndrome, one line of code or story at a time | She/Her