The Brothas and Sistas Guide to Collective Building for Hackathons

collaborating The Essence Festival in New Orleans is planning to have their first ever hackathon event and I think that’s pretty exciting to talk about. Actually I don’t have anything on my schedule for the 4th of July and was thinking about heading down to New Orleans anyway. Someone told me the best experience a brotha can ever have is catching the Amtrak train riding along all those fine sistas from Maryland, DC, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi to arrive in New Orleans and see all the Texas sistas from Dallas and Houston show up also. I was told the 6 hour train ride is a sacred journey in itself, even if you don’t go to the festival. The hackathon sound real interesting and one of the news that came out with the hackathon is that Prince will be participating in it somehow. I don’t know what Prince will be doing at the hackathon but to be honest, I think Prince would have some good ideas and information to contribute because Prince is very insightful and Prince is a programmer who composed on the computer back in the day. I really hope people don’t be starstruck by Prince and actually see what Prince have to offer if he has anything to offer at the hackathon event. From what I read, this is what the hackathon will be about: Youth (ages 13-20) hacking alongside adult professionals to build web and mobile app solutions focused on New Orleans with tracks in Education, Environment & Sustainability, Restorative Justice, Music & Entertainment, and Health & Wellness. Source: http://www.essence.com/festival/yeswecode I appreciate the fact the hackathon focus on creating solutions for New Orleans. I do have one issue tho - when I looked at the itinerary of the Yes We Code hackathon, it look like a pitch contest and you guys know I have a strong problem with so-called “pitches” when it comes to our people. I only believe in working together where everybody is a winner and these pitch contest stuff takes away the collective spirit when people are trying to crown someone instead of showcase the fact people are coming together to develop solutions. With that said, any of yall going to Yes We Code hackathon should go with the purpose of finding solutions for New Orleans instead of competing. As far as I’m concern, you are a winner just for showing up. Pre-Building Components to Focus Only on the Solution One of the ways to make a hackathon efficient is to pre-code common components so these components can just plug in play into a hackathon solution. For example, no one should be coding up a new user registration or signup page in a hackathon. A lot of hackathons go wrong or incomplete because the pre-coded components are not there and coders have to create these components from scratch. I don’t know if the Yes We Code team has these components established but I expect if they are experience that they do. But if they do not and expect cats to work from scratch, I’m going to list out the common components me and my crew have already setup not only for hackathons but for our hustle. Let’s discuss the components and go through them real quick. Member Management. This is the system in place to register users to use the service in question. While the common format for memberships involve username/email and a password, the best format for a hackathon is using existing oAuth providers such as Facebook and Twitter APIs which people in general already have. I find ASP.NET MVC to be impressive with canned solutions to handle both internal membership management and oAuth membership management. Account Management. This is your prepaid account where a user have “credits or tokens” and can do a fund transfer. This allow the establishment of a micro-payment culture where people can make transactions quickly without the use of cash and connecting to external payment providers per transaction. For example, it takes 2 tokens to buy beer or 7 tokens to buy from a food truck – you Taste of Chicago people know what I’m talking about. Then you can use this model to create a food truck park in New Orleans to provide jobs and tourist draw as a hackathon solution where cash is managed centrally and the food trucks focus only on serving food. Payment Processing. This is taking actual payment card processing of funds which is important because if the web service do not take money, then it’s just a cute hobby. Now, most people use PayPal but keep in mind there are plenty of other payment providers in the game to process transactions over the Internet. Also do not forget that you can use monthly subscription payment providers to charge $9.99/month from a bank account or you can also use things like Square Register and use serial codes to redeem purchases digitally. Have all these concepts in mind on how you going to generate revenue for the hackathon or hustle idea to sustain itself in the real world. Customer Support. The number one problem with tech startups is the customer support. No customer support means cats are going to be on review sites all day long complaining they cannot get support or contact a person. To establish a support system, use Facebook or Twitter for the contact and then use a ticket system and make sure you keep the customer in the loop if there are problems and mass contact all customers. A lot of hackathon people ignore this but the hustle cannot ignore having a customer support structure in place to respond to issues and errors. API Snippets. You need the code to leverage APIs from social media sites as well as information brokers like Google Maps or Bing maps. You may need to quickly display a map on a page or you may need to show a user the nearest location for a farmer market in New Orleans – these can be quickly established by pre-coding scenarios with API applications. Also, look at Facebook API where you can post images to the app Facebook group to allow people to share messages virally. Camera-based APIs and image processing APIs should be available for people to tap into to do more sophisticated hackathon solutions. Metric Dashboard. The metrics dashboard is used to measure how effective your hustle or hackathon solution is quickly. A lot of people ignore these dashboards but they are need to let you know quickly what is working and what need improving or an extra push. For example, the QR code scans indicate not enough people are being processed in a part of New Orleans below the expected amount so you see this in real time and can direct more workers to that area to bring the number up if the one person cannot handle the load. It is very important to have metrics defined such as number of member registrations, number of transactions to help you see how your solution is doing in real-time. Type of Hackathon Solutions When sitting down and thinking of ideas to pitch, keep in mind that it is not the idea that you are selling – what you want to build in a hackathon is features. You want a feature-rich solution that has a workflow for each feature you can describe and explain how each feature works. That is what sells more than anything. So let’s say you want to create a solution similar to what I did with SistaSphere last year – you don’t say create a geo-location web presence enabling virtual vendors market to market to a smartphone audience in a geo-fenced area – that’s a dork talk. What you do is spell out the features in your pitch and explain how these features make up an overall solution. You say you want to enable local merchants to upload marketing material to a “virtual market” web site and allow people in a geo-fenced area be able to view these merchants and do business with them immediately. You say it will use maps to provide direction from the customer current location, showcase images and coupons and provide a way for the user to contact the merchant or vendor directly. See, when you list features, people understand that you have a plan and it sounds doable and can work. Rapid Innovation and Team Assignments Let’s say you already thought of the idea and the features before going to the hackathon, you still have to use the post-it notes to get innovative ideas from your team. Work with your team and get their input and have the team work on the class model. From the class model, the UI experts will look at the view model and the data cats will look at the data model and they can work independently and have them craft up their section and then bring in the group to hash out the details and mapping stuff. Then make sure the features that you touted can happen. See, what I’m trying to drive to the brothas and sistas is the hackathon is about hacking features together for a solution. You are not really coding and I think the word “coding” scares people off. Coding is just the hard work but when you have a plan, the coding is easier because the team know the purpose towards creating a feature. Remember that you are promoting in your hackathon solution a bunch of features that make a solution. It Benefits All of Us If the Essence Hackathon Works Out This article was design to help brothas and sistas learn how to collectively develop technology solutions and we hoping the hackathon event inspire more brothas and sistas to work collective to create solutions. One of the things I hope does not happen at the Essence Hackathon is the ego thing where someone comes in thinking they are the alpha person that knows everything and what will work and what won’t work. A hackathon is not yall think what works and not works it is an effort to create a proof of concept that can be taken further and a learning lesson for the participants. I hope this Essence Hackathon works because HBCUs are pathetic in terms of promoting collective solution building. If this works in New Orleans, this is motivate more students and others to start creating their own hackathon to establish solutions in a collective effort instead of griping and complaining on comment sections and AM talk radio shows. I really hope Prince is allowed to contribute what he thinks because Prince is a worldwide cat and smarter and very insightful and I hope the people there listen to him for solutions instead of adore him as fans in this hackathon setting.

7 thoughts on “The Brothas and Sistas Guide to Collective Building for Hackathons

  1. Good read I hope that things go well at the Hackathon as well. Im still working to better myself in the tech game I see great things for myself here. The Sista Sphere is a awesome concept and I haven’t stopped building upon it yet. I have been studying more and more on ASP.NET MVC and trying to learn the program on my computer as well. I definitely want to be another idea for brothas and sistas to work together and provide competitive solutions around the world.

  2. I’m planning on taking some online classes on coding,Its seems like creating new or improved apps is also where the making of good money.

  3. Sounds like it should work. I hope they take Prince seriously. He was one of the first big time musicians to use the internet. He knows a little bit.

  4. I’ve been thinking of creating a coding think tank for black coders in dc but im new to coding i only know html javascript a little sql and just started python. i recently read an article on how the Sikh community dominated silicon valley and it inspired me . Seeing as you are in the tech field and in just an undergrad gis major i was wondering if you could give advice or write an article on the subject.

    1. fumie, check out the DC chapter of the BDPA where there are plenty of black coders and programmers and advanced architects. I move between Atlanta and DC/VA to work/associate with the best black technology experts in the world and know it’s tons of talent out there in the DMV area.

  5. I agree with you. I’m a d.c. native and my mother is a software engineer who works for Leidos and has worked for IBM. She never taught me anything about coding. I’ve lived in MD and DC and lived in four counties. I’ve never heard of the organization. I am a newbie to the industry, but if I google coding dc tons of majority white orgs come up first not the BDPA. I feel like there needs to be a trickle down of knowledge and mentoring for youth. I go to UMDCP and we have had a ted talk and a hackathon. However, no black professionals in STEM have reached out to us. The DC tech community that I’ve recently joined seems to be drowned by whites. Since you’ve traveled to my area I was wondering if you know why is it that the little black organizations we have aren’t well known by other blacks new to programming or coding? I feel like they should be like the NAACP a name known by all so we can attract new members. I just looked at your old article on an innovation lab. I definitely think that there needs to be a space for newbies to code as it takes years to become proficient and can get lonely self-studying. I’m going to look up some global patterns for innovation labs and tech spaces. Then I’ll attend some in the area to take notes and start my own tech space.

    1. fumie, upfront – I don’t agree with the black identity angle. Trying to herd black people to get together on anything is a distraction and offpath from what need to be done which is to learn and grow. The only thing that matter is to get a diversity of people who are simply interested and if a few of them are black, then good. But you end up working with a diverse base that can bring diverse techniques on technology and you become a much better developer with wider exposure to techniques to learn.

      Just create the innovation lab – drop the black identity stuff and just make sure you are the black person that will make the change instead of relying on others. Heck, this blog been around for how many years? How many “black people” came to this blog and lifted technology and technique and actually done something? Just do for self and you make it happen, the followers will followers and the other leaders will be inspired to do for self.

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