Maybe like me, you’ve always been intrigued by hackathons but never been to one?
I strongly believe that the way we organise ourselves to get work done in the future will be different to the way corporations have historically worked. Attending hackathon sponsored by the big players in Virtual Reality confirmed this to me beyond any doubt.
Just look at how small groups can achieve astonishing financial results. We’re all familiar with these examples. Whatsapp were just 80 Engineers when Facebook bought them for 19 billion. Instagram were just 13 Engineers when they struck a deal to sell for 1 billion.
“the average late-stage startup costs $135 million plus $0.5 million per employee” — Crunchbase
With the gig-economy in full-swing, many developers of software and digital art demanding remote-work-only contracts, and talent marketplaces such as Wonolo, Upwork and Envato growing in stature and patronage, it’s inevitable, that how we will collaborate to get work done, will continue to follow a very disruptive path.
“Whether you’re a dog walker, doctor or driver (or pretty much anything else) there are vertical market platforms that will help you find work” — Small Business Labs
With all this being said, there are a ton of excuses not to attend a hackathon….
I attended the GlobalVR Hackathon in Singapore last week and here’s what I found out.
Support for VR in Asia is strong. We had people from Film, Architecture, University Labs, Platform Vendors, Education, Games Industry, and even a few people who make real money out of full time jobs here in Asia in VR/AR. There were about 50 attendees at the hackathon, (And 230 RSVP’s to the follow up talk 2 days later @SGinnovate)
It’s literally amazing what a potent combination of PASSION, PURPOSE and COMPETITION can do. These are truly the vital ingredients to getting things done fast, and done well.
There’s a great value in good old-fashioned, classical leadership. The teams who were able to recruit well, assign work aligned with the talents and interests of the teams were the ones which performed best.
An ideal system would be immune to ‘gaming’, but such ideal systems are often rare. So I was not that surprised that some people cheat. Cheating at a hackathon might consist of passing off work done over a long period of time, rather than during the hackaton. This might be as a final year project submission, or a cut-down replica of a product at the place you work). I get that it’s hard to come up with original ideas (ours wasn’t) and was glad to note that the rules were re-stated by Roy from IgniteVR before the prizes were given out. Only work done during the weekend would count, not prior.
The sponsors at a hackathon are really involved and care about developing the ecosystem. I’ve been to many HR tech conferences where the sponsors seem to be there to throw out tired old HR tropes and presentations masquerading as value, which are actually just tepid sales pitches. In particular I was impressed with the attentiveness and helpfulness of Unity Technologies, who had an actual VR evangelist (Hi Jay) at hand to provide support and advice, and also Ubisoft, who fielded a mentor in the form of the extremely helpful Mederic.
Diversity needs improvement. The gender imbalance was disappointing.I counted just 3 females among the participants indicating more effort needs to be made on this front. On the other hand, this was a truly global group, with more than 12 nationalities present, and I wasn’t the only fossil there, plenty of the other participants were the wrong side of thirty.
What our team did well
2 concepts. This was a 3 day event and by the end of day 1 we had a fully formed idea and a backup idea. It was the great suggestion of one of the mentors to do that.
Focus on MVP. Lean startup methods rule here because of the very limited time, so it’s key to prioritize features and be willing to drop them if time is short.
Talent Management. We agreed and defined the roles for our team of 5 within the first 2 hours. We had a PM, a Product Owner, a Tech, a Sound Engineer and Cinematographer.
Time Management. Although everyone gets the final call for demo’s we baked in more deadlines of our own to keep ourselves honest during the process.
User first. We chose to pick a character and tell the story through the eyes of the user of our product. This made everything else fall into place.
Establish a team ‘culture code’. This included making sure everyone had a voice and was encouraged to use it.
What we didn’t do well
We failed to recruit a real tech! We were at a VR hackathon and Unity is the tool of choice for rapid prototyping. We had a 3rd Year Systems Analysis student who knew a little bit of A-Frame (A scripting language to code VR websites) We realized quickly that we were at a huge disadvantage by not having a Unity coder in our group.
We also lost sight of the criteria for winning. It sounds unbelievable I know, but you know how sometimes you get carried away with an idea and run with it, morphing it into something totally different? That happened.
What we built
We decided on an AR solution, and we named it after our team “Rojak”. Click here to see what we did.
Click here to go to the Google Slides
What we won!
Time for some honesty here.
Best runner up is still a prize :)
We didn’t actually WIN the hackathon. Far from it!
We won “most promising idea” which had already been announced as the ‘sympathy prize’. Nevertheless, we were absolutely delighted that our idea was recognised among such challenging competition.
We took away access to a Python Mini Degree, and Unity VR training courtesy of Kickstarter backed Zenva. We got 3 day access to a new, almost built co-working space, $100 in cash, and a years worth of access to Houdini, which is a perplexing yet marvellous VFX tool made by some crazy Canadians called SideFX.
But more than what we took away in virtual and physical goods was:
New lust for life.
New ideas about the future of work.
New knowledge and skills. (OK so still haven’t cracked Gaze Trigger)
Last but not least, new inspiration to share my VR hackathon experience here and on VirtualRealityPop, in the hope that more people will be inspired to sacrifice a weekend getting involved in a new communication medium blending art and science!