In October 2015, I had the privilege of participating in my first hack-a-thon ever. Though I had helped organize hack-a-thons and Jugaad-a-thons before, and acted as a mentor and judge in a few of them, I finally had the chance to put my money (rather, time) where my mouth is.
The event was the CAMTech Diabetes Innovation Hack-a-thon, held at the Indian School of Business on October 10 and 11, Saturday & Sunday.
Here’s what I learnt.
Don’t start at 11 pm on Day 1
That’s pushing your luck a lot. You have 30 hours at most to go from need identification to solution design, so time is of essence.
However, do enjoy the entropy of finding good people to work with – without checking your watch every single minute. Once of the winning teams came together after a serendipitous conversation at teatime on Day 1 (Saturday). This was after two of the team members had spent the prior 3 hours working with a different group on an entirely different design.
Play it by the book
We were fortunate enough to make it to the final 12 of 42 teams. One of the reasons was that we had experienced hackers on the team, who decided to play it by the book. What does the good book tell us?
Be passionate about the problem, don’t get emotional about the solution
Many folks (fellow techies – I’m looking at you here) start with a solution and work back towards a problem. After a while, they get so emotional about the solution that the problem disappears from the picture. I’ve done this twice in real life. Both situations ended up with poor business and technical outcomes.
I remember what Dr. Data Santorino said in the Clinical Summit preceding during Jugaadathon 2014, “Unmet need is your anchor; it saves you on the bad days when your solution seems bound to fail. Find you center based on the problem you’ve set out to solve. It will keep you sane.” I think he pretty much said it all there.
Clarity about the problem statement allows you to validate it independent from the solution – because the solution can (and will and should) evolve as you move through the hack-a-thon. But keep your focus on the problem.
Enjoy the journey
Winning feels awesome. We were thrilled to make the cut past the semis to the finals. But the ride there was even more fun. I learnt a lot about my teammates, Niraj Gupta, Chetan AC and Bharadwaj Swarna, even though I had known them before we collaborated at the hackathon.
You get to see people at their best and worst during the simulated pressure cooker of a hack-a-thon. So find someone who takes to the pressure well and befriend them. They’ll probably make for good friends in real life too.
I’ve come away from the hack-a-thon with tremendous respect for all participants who put themselves out there. This includes the gal who kept it together in front of the judges during the semis, even though she was terrified of speaking in public – if you’re reading this, you know I’m talking about you!
More power to the hacker community. Keep calm & Jugaadathon!
Why the Blog
As we grow Lattice, we would like to share our lessons in product design & development, building a company, and the healthcare space. We hope it presents you with some interesting ideas, and starts off useful debates.