I moved to Nottingham a couple of years ago, and discovered the amazing TechNottingham. A fiendishly well-run technical community, they organise multiple meet-ups every month, typically centred around a couple of talks and free food. I’m a regular attendee and occasional speaker. The community is enabled by the efforts of @MrAndrew and @MrsEmma, who run things with an apparent effortless efficiency that manifests itself primarily as animated gifs and a flamboyant stage presence.

Emma and Andrew Seward, driving a hackathon

This year, I was fortunate enough to get TechNottingham’s hottest ticket; Hack24. As part of a team of 4, I competed over 24 hours to build software in answer to a number of challenges set by sponsors. Our team (The Ruminant Ablutionists) used Microsoft’s Cognitive Services to build an Augmented Reality Face Recogniser app to assist with networking at a conference or event. We started unsure of whether the goal was too ambitious, but at the end of 24 hours, we not only had it working on iPhone and Android, but we were able to add a number additional features to allow us to enter multiple challenges.

Half of the Ruminant Ablutionists

After 24 hours of coding, we had 2 hours to produce a video for judging, and I found that to be far more stressful than the hacking. We shot some footage, and then Greg (our team’s WevDev) single-handedly converted our story-board into a submission.

Despite not winning anything (though we were finalists in two categories), I had a fantastic weekend. I met new people, played with some new technologies, and created a fully functioning prototype with my team.

The Hack24 team did an amazing job.  Here’s what impressed me as a participant:

  • Communication: I never didn’t know something that I needed to know.  This took me through registration, enabled me to form a team, and made sure we knew how not to set off the fire alarm on the day.
  • Facilities: The venue had enough space, the meals and refreshments were both excellent and relentless.
  • Challenges: The challenges were published before the event; they were varied and interesting, with enough scope for creativity.
  • Prizes:  The prizes were awesome; Drones, Smart-Speakers, Huge Easter Eggs, Pokemon, etc.  I think MHR did the best job as prize sponsors because they had a runner-up prize as well as a main prize.  In fact, runner-up prizes for each challenge would be my only suggestion for improvement in the Hack24 format, given the number of teams participating.
  • Fun:  Details like team stickers, a board-game corner, all-you-can-eat watermelon candy, non-technical prizes, and a surprise cameo from Mr Blobby helped to create an environment that encouraged the kind of anti-risk-averse thinking that a hackathon really needs.
  • Failure is Free: Most importantly, no team was required to submit a hack.  If things went badly for whatever reason, it could all be swept under the carpet with no loss of face.  Only the winners (and runners up) in each category got mentioned, and almost a fifth of teams didn’t submit an entry.

Despite ending the weekend exhausted, with a sore back, and complaining that I’m getting to old for this sort of thing, I’m really looking forward to next year.

Photo Credits: Andrew Acford

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