TH.0 GovTech Hackathon: Kickoff

Here we go! Last night was the official kickoff for my third hackathon (and second virtual hackathon). This one was hosted by a company called TH.0 and honestly I was nervous. This would be my first hackathon I wouldn’t know anyone attending.

In all honesty, those nerves didn’t calm down until about 8pm last night. Kickoff was at 7.

Let me start from the beginning.

I found out about this hackathon event on LinkedIn. When I was “GovTech” I thought it would be hosted by the UK government and that sounded exciting. It took a while before I realised “GovTech” meant technology to do with the government.

But still, it would be interesting.

I signed up at a developer without a team. I was informed that the hosts would find me a team. I’ve seen that happen in previous hackathons but this would be the first time I would need it.

So Friday came. Kick off day. And at some point in the afternoon I got an email with an invite to the hackathon’s Slack channel. This was it! I must have been eager because I was one of the first few to send a message on the channel – well, eager or there weren’t actually that many people who would take part. At that point I didn’t know. That’s the anxiety of a virtual event.

Next we had to inform the hosts about our preferred challenge. They had set out four challenges: engaging voters, modernising the voting process with block chain, using AI for engaging voters and preventing fraud in elections.

I chose engaging voters.

Within an hour I was added to another channel with four other people. There was another developer, a UX specialist, and a HR person. In three different time zones.

Which did not help my nerves when no one in the channel responded when I sent some initial messages. In fact by 7pm I actually messaged the hosts to see how long I should wait before trying to find a new team if no one in my team actually ended up participating. They told me to wait until 8am the next morning to allow for the different time zones. Ok then.

Then it was time for the kick off meeting on Zoom. There were several people in that meeting which was reassuring. People were actually taking part, phew!

After the initial Zoom meeting finished there were a swarm of notifications from our team channel. The hosts were adding a few extra people into our team. That’s when the chatter started. The hellos, the hi’s, how are you’s and general introductions.

One of the other people went ahead and set up a GitHub repository. I set up a Trello board. Then she also set up a Zoom call and I jumped on that (it took a while for the guys to join us but we got a good majority in the call).

By this point it was just after 8pm – well, for me that is. Two on the call were in the mid afternoon. One was three hours ahead of me, another was only an hour. Then there were the individuals who were still offline because it was 3am!

Juggling time zones was going to be a nightmare.

While we were trying to figure this out I asked if some sort of excel/google document would make sense to help highlight what time people would be working. Saving people from having to constantly translate to GMT time zone.

That’s when the woman who set up the Zoom call mentioned a website called LettuceMeet. It’s an app which allows users to “block out” their availability in their local timezone and then does the leg work for you.

Brilliant! We input our information and realised that, thanks to the time zones, there would be someone working at every point of the weekend.

The next issue was how to document our thought process. We already had Slack, and Trello, but another team member mentioned a whiteboard app. It would allow us to all write our ideas etc on the same document at the same time and see other people’s work in real time. That was great so that was set up.

Now it was time to get working.

By this point it was around 10pm so I was going to be calling it a night within the next hour or so. Which worked quite well as the ones who were in the middle of their day had to jump off for school, work etc.

But we thought it would be great to start bouncing ideas around. This was facilitated by one of the UX specialists and he had some fantastic processes which helped us narrow down our ideas. And there were a lot! It was so useful because it helped us really narrow it down.

Around 11.15pm I finally called it a night. Ready for an early start the next day.

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