Hackathon - Code for Good 2017

On June 17, 2017 I go to an all-day hackathon organized by Google at Harvard Buisness School. The topic is 'Code for Good.' Topics include healthcare, environmentalism, poverty... Attendees are mostly undergrads. Below, I record my experiences.

Time-course of events

7:59 am : I show up to HBS. Why did I wake up so early?
8:09 am : Google calls this the ‘first time coders in Boston gather to code for a greater cause.’ Blithely ignoring Code for Boston, the weekly non-profit coding meetup going on in the city, and blithely ignoring the 48in48, the other code-for-good event last week.
8:10 am : Breakfast is served. Food is copious. This positive trend continuous throughout the event.
8:50 am : Looks like its 30% whites, 30% females. Making this a more racially inclusive and female-oriented than other tech spaces I’ve been in.
9:02 am : After a round of introductions, I fail my first attempt to network with potential team mate. He shot down all of my recommendations, arguing that gamifying dating leads to more anxiety, helping people diminish their dating anxiety by offering dating coaching leads to inauthenticity, and asking hackathonees to ’code for good’ is too restrictive.
10:07 am : During the team-mate forming session, someone is pitching an idea that he obviously wants to turn into a company. He greedily stares at people who he thinks can help him make money. I get uncomfortable and side with the guy with has the most concrete idea.
10:10 am : Excited to join a team! The ‘environmentalism’ theme generated a team that will attempt to elevate ethical standards in real-estate brokerage. We launch into discussions about how to save the world.
noon : Beef sandwich is yum. My team-mates are smart and nice.
12:12 noon : I ask the quiet hispanic guy to share his thoughts about what he thinks we should do. He explains that the ways in which we discuss business topics is anglo-centric, and explains the role that community and trust plays in facilitating peer-to-peer real-estate transactions. After sharing this frustration he is much more engaged.
1:05 pm : Looks like we finally have a topic. We will design a tool that helps people save money in real-estate transactions, and ask them to put some of the money they saved back into their communities by donating to local charities.
1:09 pm : We vote on the priorities of our features and divvy them up. I'll focus on the static pages to gather user input.
3:00 pm : The person who came up with the idea left. This made me really mad. Interesting how some people are willing to come up with big ideas… as long as others implement them.
6:06 pm : We finally submit our hack, 36 minutes after the deadline. Lets just say we had some integration issues.
6:50 pm : While the judge smiles down on us, the website fails to load. Eventually it loads and he says we have a really cool idea.
7:31 pm : Turns out that the HBS was experimenting us during the process to understand how mentorship impacts software development. Cool.
7:46 pm : The guy who lead the project tells me he wants us to continue working on it later. I’m skeptical, but honored.

Technical lessons

+ Google Firebase a lighter, faster way to put up websites. Conversely, if you want to control the nitty-gritty of your backend, stick to Heorku.
+ Google maps API basics are free, and its hello world is surprisingly easy.
+ There are APIs such as HouseCanary available that use machine learning to predict housing costs.
+ Blockchain is going to change how law works.
+ Survey.JS makes it super easy to produce online surveys. Bye bye, Qualtrics.

Hackathon lessons

+ Plan how you will use your time up front. We spent way too much time coming up with an idea. Something less well-conceived would have sufficed for the needs of this event, and we would have had more time to hack.
+ Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The moderators knew their stuff and were super useful.
+ Spend more time up front getting to know each other’s skills. That way, it is easier to know what to expect from everyone.