#SheHacks Girl hack

Girls bring your toys… I mean code!

The lovely ladies at Girl Geek Academy bring you a girls only hackathon. So what’s it like, and is it a good idea?

You will often hear conversations around “women in IT”, “girls in STEM”, “diversity in tech” and many other similar phrases. Well, this hackathon is aimed at changing those stereotypes. Rather than be an exclusive hackathon, #SheHacks aims to provide girls with the opportunity to experience a hackathon for themselves, giving them the confidence to go and compete at other hackathons. I had the pleasure of speaking to some of the ladies at #SheHacks. For many of them, it was their first hackathon, and they were always apprehensive about competing in these competitions as they are “for guys who code”.

Well we all know this is not the case, and anyone who has been to my hackathons know I encourage everyone and anyone to compete; coders, designers, hackers, business minds, interested folk, girls, guys, everyone! This makes for really diverse solutions and creative outcomes. #SheHacks simply provides an easy springboard into hackathons for women. It shows them that it’s not all about coding, that girls can do just as good as guys, and that, above all, these events are INSANELY FUN!!!

Girl Geek Academy knows how to hackathon
Girl Geek Academy knows how to hackathon

Fun, why did I mention fun? Now I have to talk about it. Sarah Moran and the team at Girl Geek Academy put on an AMAZING hackathon. From 3D printers, branded scarves, cookie cutters, Pokemon cake pops (yes, it was inspired by Pokemon GO I’m told), croissants, stickers, and tea… oh and was there an abundance of tea?!? Anyone who knows me, knows I LOVE tea (remember the post I did about not drinking coffee, yes that one). I dunno how Sarah did it, but she somehow managed to find, not only a huge range of teas, but an entire tea set that matched the Girl Geek colour theme… yep, it’s pretty sweet right. I think I drank probably half a box of tea in the short time I was there.

Pokemon cake pops, popcorn and scones... YUMMY
Pokemon cake pops, popcorn and scones… YUMMY
Nothing like T2
Nothing like T2
It's a hackathon tea party
It’s a hackathon tea party

Back onto more important things, the hackathon. I should mention, I wasn’t able to be around the whole weekend, and therefore this post leaves out the winners and other things around pitching. If you want to know all about who won and the awesome ideas they created, check out #SheHacks on Twitter. Instead, I’ll write about what I experienced during my short time at General Assembly. The women I spoke to at this hackathon were incredibly exited by the prospect of a hackathon. Not only had many of them never done this sort of thing before, but most of the ladies hadn’t met others working within the tech/startup/dev space before. It is a great opportunity for them to network together, build on each others’ skills, share experiences, and have a great time. I met a heap of amazing people, and was able to give my insights into the tech space, startups, and hackathons in general. Many ladies are keen to come to another hack like this and hopefully we’ll see them around soon.

It was also a pleasure to see the new Xero Developer Evangelist, none other than Bec (Coder) Martin. She was in full form, with her new tees, Xero merch, tonnes of stickers (starting to rival Dev Steve), and the new coder, developer, evangelist barbie (what even?). Bec managed to pull this one off and Barbie even has her own girl geek scarf.

Coder Bec and Barbie in the house
Coder Bec and Barbie in the house

The other thing I loved about #SheHacks is the photographer… nice thinking girls! Sarah and the team organised a professional photographer to come and take portraits and head-shots of the attendees (I even got mine done). This is a fantastic way to give our LinkedIn profiles a fresh new, and dare I say it… professional, look. Getting this done in a group setting is not only cheaper, but it’s so much more fun!

Well, that’s about all I had time for at #SheHacks. I hope I get a chance to compete next year; bring it on girls! In the meantime, I’ll no doubt see many of you at more hackathons coming up. Don’t forget to check out the list here if you are unsure of what is on next. Until next time, happy hacking =)

The life of a startup

I haven’t written a post in a while, and for good reason… I’ve been snowed under with my startup. So what’s it like working in the startup world?

Well it’s a lot of work… hence the lack of blog posts. Honestly though, I would love to be physically snowed under right now and not just metaphorically. The mountains are covered in the snow and the alps are calling me to their slopes. But alas, my startup is far more important at this stage. I hope to give you an inside look into this crazy world, and give you a bit of an understand around the insane hours, late nights, and weekends we all work.

Talk about insane, this is what our desks look like!

As many of you would know from the various articles, Twitter posts, Facebook updates, and LinkedIn messages, I’ve been running my own startup sitting with the Melbourne Accelerator Program. Our company, Black AI was one of ten startups accepted into this year’s intake. We are all very excited to be here and while it’s hectic at times, it is one of the best experiences I’ve been through (so far, we’ll see how long this lasts).

Black AI and Harrison Cleaver (Mass Challenge) at the MAP Launch Night
The Black AI team and Harrison Cleaver (Mass Challenge) at the MAP Launch Night (left to right; Keaton, Harrison, me, Sebastien, Karthik)

Someone once asked me to “give a run down of my day-to-day workings”. This is an interesting question to ask a startup person, because almost every single day is different. Yes there is the usual answering emails, following up on leads, catching up with people for coffee, and managing the social media stuff, but there are also tonnes of other exciting, unknowns happening almost every week. Sitting with MAP means random things will occur; an entourage of corporate people flowing through the space, stopping to ask what you’re working on and requesting a demo once they find out it’s something “cool and techy”, the Governor coming past to see all the startups (and get on a Bajaboard!), the serendipitous (I love that word) meetings, pitch nights, meetups, unannounced mentor drop-ins, the free food which sparks weird conversations, the kinect dance parties, and, my favourite, those times when everyone celebrates the wins of all the other teams. Take Nura for example. If anyone hasn’t seen it yet, it’s the most successful Australian kickstarter campaign ever! They raised over $1.8 million, leagues ahead of their $100,000 ask. Each of the teams, colleagues, and coworkers here at LAB-14, were giving Nura high fives all around the office, asking to see the video, sending the link around, and all sharing in this amazing success story. This is definitely the best part of being involved in such an awesome accelerator program; the support and help contained within this building is incredible. I can’t wait to see what we are all able to achieve working together.

The 'organised chaos' that occurs at LAB-14
The ‘organised chaos’ that occurs at LAB-14

It sounds so good, so what’s the catch?

Now it’s not all sunshine, rainbows, and lollypops. Many people have a glamorous misconception of startups; being able to work for yourself, making a truck load of money, and just having fun. Yes some of this is true, but the reality is startups are hard work. Running your own company is hard work. It requires very long hours, a lot of effort, and huge sacrifices on everyone’s part. Many startups will often fail, leaving only a handful of “success” stories. Basically, if you are in a startup just to “make money working for yourself”, you are going to fail. In fact, you are probably more likely to win the lottery. On the other hand, if you are passionate about what you want to achieve, the difference you want to make, and you believe in yourself and your team, then there is nothing you can’t accomplish! The best startups are those who stick at it in the tough times, because there will be tough times. I just described all the fun, awesome, exciting things happening here in the office, but there is another, darker side. Just be aware that if you want to do a startup, do it for the passion, the team, the good you can bring to society, the economy, people’s lives. This is what will keep you going through the late nights, endless hours of paperwork, and bowls of mi-goreng.

So why do I do it then? What keeps me going? I’m glad you asked! For me, my startup is an exciting whirlwind adventure where I believe we can make a massive difference. We are building a system which will hopefully improve the lives of millions of people, save billions of dollars, drive the economy, and bring about a new age of technology. It’s a thrilling time to be involved in the tech scene with advances moving forward so quickly. We are riding a wave which bring about changes to almost every sector of our world. It’s awesome… and yes, a little scary. There has also never been a better time to be involved in startups around Australia. The word startup is no longer an exotic synonym hailing from somewhere in the Valley of Silicon, but rather an integral part of the Australian economy and corporate environment. Many large companies are adopting lean startup methodologies, thinking much more innovatively and creatively. Startups are also a key driver in the employment world. The companies coming out of MAP for example have created over 120 jobs, raised over $10 million in funding (this is so out of date now that Nura is kicking goals), and generated over $5 million in revenue (also probably out of date). This is fantastic news for us. Everyone knows I’m a great advocate of Melbourne, and the entrepreneurial culture in this city is only continuing to grow with these companies. It’s not just MAP either, many other places such as York Butter Factory, Inspire9, Teamsquare, Collective Campus, and more house heaps of startups. There are even big “startups” like Zendesk and Slack coming to Melbourne. Go Melbourne!

Loving my startup

Okay, I went on a bit of a tangent there, so back to why I love my startup and why I keep doing it. Aside from the insane difference we can make, and the awesome products we can build, we have a killer team and I love working with them. I met my cofounders at hackathons and we’ve all become such awesome friends, so close in fact that most of us are housemates! I know the other startups here think we’re crazy, how we pretty much see each other 24/7, but hey, if you love them enough, why not??? The other thing I love about working with my startup is the connections, interactions, and types of people I get to meet. Not to say I wouldn’t have met them anyway, but it is a different vibe and relationship when you meet someone in the startup context, as opposed to the Events Coordinator for a big innovation hub (my former role at Carlton Connect). The pitch nights are another one of my favourite things. If anyone has ever seen me on stage, you’d know I love talking in front of a crowd, getting everyone excited, and presenting something very new and different. Having a startup gives me the opportunity to do this on a regular basis. Although I do have the chance to MC a number of other events around Melbourne as well. And most of you pretty much know I definitely haven’t given away the hackathons. In fact there are a whole lot of them coming up in August, so check them out here.


Well, I think that’s certainly enough from me at this stage. I haven’t written a post in a while so I don’t want to swamp you all at once. I have some ideas for other posts coming up, but if there’s anything you want to here about, let me know in the comments or reply to me on Twitter.

Knowledge is Power

It was Sir Francis Bacon that first coined this phrase in 1597. Jump to 2016, and Melbourne Knowledge Week shows this in action

Every year, the City of Melbourne chooses a unique place in the CBD for their Knowledge Week hub. It’s a space that embodies Melbourne’s culture – rustic, retro, re-repurposed, sustainable, central, diverse, and laid-back. The MKW hub this year was no exception, with the media opening kicking off in style at 1000 Pound Bend.

Blue is the theme, 1000 Pound Bend is the place! MKW Hub all set to go.
Blue is the theme, 1000 Pound Bend is the place! MKW Hub all set to go.

The theme this year was “Connecting Minds, Creating Change” with a focus on “embracing failure and all its benefits”. Melbourne has become the city of the Australian startup world. Its entrepreneurial culture, 24 hour services, diversity, and unique cafés encourage people to break out of their comfort zones in all aspects. Knowledge Week aimed to be a celebration of this drive, highlighting key inventions born from Melbourne; the polymer bank-note, the bionic eye, the baby capsule, the dim sim, the stubby, the esky, and yes, the Keep Cup!

The Lord Mayor said at the opening, I love it how Melbourne takes the simple, and turns it into something “elegantly beautiful and completely functional”.

The hub

1000 Pound Bend became a place of innovation, creativity, technology, and a bringing together of both the old and the new for one whole week! Let me just say too, this place does AMAZING food and coffee (well chai for me), but try their pizzas – they are delicious.

Anyways, back to MKW. Each day the Hub showcased a number of different startups, inventions, community organisations, and companies around Melbourne. First up was SCANN3D, alumni from the Melbourne Accelerator Program, Deakin University and their new VR course, the Melbourne School of Engineering with drones, the Melbourne University Space Program with a satellite, and Colbalt – they had keep cups!!!

How many Keep Cups is too much?
How many Keep Cups is too much?

Connie and Robert, the lifelike Nao robots, hung around the hub for the week, playing a role in many panels and talks, but also just being a mechanical presence. They had people dancing along to Gungdam Style and asked visitors if they “wanted a friend”.

Nao during "Life in the Cyber-Physical World", presented by Deakin University
Nao during “Life in the Cyber-Physical World”, presented by Deakin University.

Over the course of the week, many other companies featured their technology; Deakin was alive with the VR lounge, heaps of workshops were held in the chapel, startups pitched their ideas, drinks were had, and it’s safe to say there was a lot of networking.

Make and Create, Design and Build

Sunday saw the Hub turned into a makerspace, complete with drones, robots, LEDs, 3D printers, soldering irons, and of course VR. Virtual Reality was a big player this week with Deakin setup in the hub from Monday until Sunday evening, and SCANN3D running around doing captures of the spaces as well as presenting their virtual tours in Tasman Terrace.

VR at the Hub's lounge.
VR at the Hub’s lounge.

The makerspace was a massive hit, with plenty of people coming out for the day to fly mini drones, learn to solder, use 3D printing pens, and check out the different places in Melbourne playing in this area. The Connected Community Hacker Space demonstrated what they can do with Arduinos, Girl Geek Academy presented their custom made Hello Kitty 3D printer, JayCar gave out spirit levels, and many companies showcased their technology.

The chapel at 1000 Pound Bend is transformed into a Makerspace!
The chapel at 1000 Pound Bend is transformed into a Makerspace!
Hello Thingy! Girl Geek's custom 3D printer
Hello Thingy! Girl Geek’s custom 3D printer.


There was something on all the time for MKW. If you had a spare few minutes I hope you had a chance to check out all the amazing things happening all over Melbourne. I didn’t get to all the events, so these are my highlights.

Technology Transforms the City

Dan Hill’s keynote talk on what our future city would look like was a sell out on the Monday evening. He wants to measure how citizens interact with the city, not just collect a whole lot of data (might be something for Black here). Dan spoke about the importance of designing both the physical and digital spaces in order to ensure mobility and interactivity with others. But how does applying technology to our city affect its culture and behaviour? We’ll have to wait and see…

Interestingly, he also called tech companies not to build MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) but to focus on the MVM – the Minimum Viable Magic! Make something that will add value to your city, yes he’s talking to you, whoever you are with a great idea.

Speaking of magic… know what else was magical? Andrew Sorenson, the Concert Programmer, with a live coding demo of his amazing DJ set at the VIP opening night. If you haven’t ever seen him, check out Andrew here.

Live coding in C and C#.
Live DJ coding in C and C#.

Celebrating Collaboration

Did you know that there are over thirty co-working spaces in Melbourne? Probably not, but many of them were open for the co-working demo day on Tuesday. The CBD featured Collective Campus, NAB Village, The Cluster, York Butter Factory and more. Most of you have already seen Inspire9 and LaunchPad out in the City of Yarra, but also Port Phillip, Maribyrong, and Stonnington all have co-working spaces. Plenty of places also opened their doors for talks and panels throughout the week.

The co-working day was about showcasing these fantastic working environments around Melbourne and demonstrating their flexibility as well as how they can help businesses grow. It’s not all about startups, but corporates can also benefit from these spaces. Diversity, networking, and sharing are just some of the opportunities available to people who work in these fantastic places… this could be a great topic for another blog…

Didn't get a chance to see all the co-working places? Here's the MKW list.
Didn’t get a chance to see all the co-working places? Here’s the MKW list.

Celebrating Failure

Carlton Connect and the University of Melbourne hosted a panel on failure… kinda ironic at a university, but here’s where it really gets interesting. This was definitely one of the big highlights for me. Such a talented panel; Jacyl Shaw, Clare Harding, Jamie Green, and Paul Fenwick, hosted by the awesome Chris KP. Science performer Chris, set the scene by talking about what success looks like, in sport, in music, in business, in the military, in science. We all know what success SHOULD look like, but no one really knows how to visualise failure.

Our fail-stars for the evening hit the hard topics!
Our fail-stars for the evening hit the hard topics!

The Good F Word was determined to change this. The “fail stars” of the night came from backgrounds as diverse as acting, science, arts, startups, business, technology, and university. Each described their own life journeys, pointing out where they failed, what they learnt, and how those experiences played a role in their success to date.

Failure is often seen as something to be ashamed of and, as Clare pointed out, it feels really bad when you fail. We have such a “narrow definition of success”, leaving too much room for feelings of failure. So how do we go about not just learning from it, but celebrating failure? If we are collectively less afraid of failure, more compassionate, more kind, then perhaps this might lead to less failure, or less feeling like a failure, or at least, better failure.

Paul had a slightly different take on failure than Clare, saying that “success” could lead to the failure of humanity… just look at self-driving cars, self-driving trucks, the industrial revolution, you name it. Every time people innovate, jobs are lost. We are living longer, working less, have more leisure time and therefore more time to innovative. But does this in itself lead to a vicious cycle of: innovation –> job loss, until there is nothing people can do anymore? I dunno, I’m asking the question.

Jamie described his experiences with failure. A school drop out at year 10, big time business entrepreneur by 24, Jamie has some life experiences he can draw on. Finally, Jacyl read out a letter to her “brain crush” Carol Dweck. Jacyl calls failure – the First Attempt In Learning (FAIL). She says rather than saying “I didn’t get to that stage”, we should we saying “I haven’t got there, yet!”. Keep trying and don’t give up.

Finally, the panel called out that the right kind of failure should be celebrated. Some failures are NOT okay, for moral, humanitarian, or ethical reasons. Fail the right way and learn from it.

hackathons, Hackathons, HACKATHONS!!!

There were four hackathons this weekend… FOUR I tell you. Three of them were for Melbourne Knowledge Week and the fourth was still within the confines of MKW. There’s the run down:

  • Melbourne Datathon
  • UX Hack for Change
  • China and the Knowledge Economy
  • Startup Weekend

I only went to two of these, so I will mainly talk about the UX Hack and Startup Weekend. Firstly, the Melbourne Datathon hosted its pitch night on Friday evening at NAB Village as part of Melbourne Knowledge Week. How do you see data? This was a question pitched by the talent Melbourne had to offer.

Saturday morning kicked off with both the UX Hack, and the Knowledge Economy workshop. Both these hackathons were super-lightning-quick, running for a mere seven hours each. As such, they were more ideation workshops, but some fantastic prototypes and mock-ups were presented at these hackathons.

There's no such thing as a hackathon without sticky notes involved.
There’s no such thing as a hackathon without sticky notes involved.

I was one of the judges for the UX Hack for Change, presented by General Assembly, a hackathon focusing on aiding the homeless community of Melbourne, especially during environmental extremes. The winning team came up with a great cross-platform app (web, mobile, print) to alert people about extreme weather conditions and suggestions on what to do. They presented a nice design on what the product would look like, which they can hopefully continue to build their idea.

The Startup Weekend featured a sustainable angle. Not officially part of MKW, but hosted at York Butter, over 50 students and professionals came together to build businesses around sustainable enterprises. With inspiration from Keep Cup and Frank Green (yeah those peeps who make the smart coffee cups), teams had just over 30 hours to come up with an idea and business model. Some had fully working products, whilst others had a design template. Congrats to everyone who presented. The ideas that came through on the Twitter feed looked amazing – scan your product to see if you can recycle it, yes please!

Look out for more hackathons coming up soon.

We went to space – kinda

Melbourne hosted the NASA Space Apps Challenge along with over 200 other countries around the world

LAB-14 and the Carlton Connect Initiative became home to over a hundred hackers as participants descended onto the Former Royal Women’s hospital for a weekend of space themed challenges.

As is becoming custom with hackathons around Melbourne, we kicked off the weekend with a drinks function on the Friday evening. Participants, judges, mentors, and VIPs came together to talk space and discuss what ideas they were planning to work on.

After a super fast opening, introduction of the mentors, and explanation of the challenges, teams were formed and hacking began. It was interesting to see how keen people were to stay the night, with around three teams doing the full stint. One group even had all their concept images rendered on Friday night.

Opening the 2016 NASA Space Apps Challenge for Melbourne. Photo thanks to Myles Tehan
Opening the 2016 NASA Space Apps Challenge for Melbourne. Photo thanks to Myles Tehan

Whilst teams were hacking away, I thought we’d get into the space spirit and screen a interplanetary movie. The Martian was a feature hit that night, with popcorn and red frogs in abundance. Participants enjoyed the time away from their projects and relished in the opportunity to get their minds in the zone.

Saturday kicked off with an amazing breakfast provided by 130 degrees at Melbourne uni. “This is the best food I’ve had in ages!” were the comments floating around the room as muffins, yogurts, and “the fanciest croissants ever” were served to those willing to get up early and make the trip to LAB-14.

VR and Unity get their say

We were treated to two fantastic talks on Saturday morning. Warwick from Loke Digital talked about Unity and how useful it can be as a tool for creating 3D video games. The crowd also congratulated him on releasing his new Unity Assit to the store just that morning! Pretty cool right?

Next up we had Leon from IBM Bluemix, who talked about the use of the Bluemix platform and how Watson can be integrated into people’s projects. Participants were wowed when Leon stepped back and bought out the new HTC Vive – a huge hit for the weekend. This awesome VR experience was set up for the weekend where almost everyone had a crack at a number of games. Leon and his team went on to use the Vive to create a fully immerse Mars experience in a gaming environment.

Teams giving VR game development a crack thanks to Leon's HTC Vive. Photo thanks to Steven Cooper
Teams giving VR game development a crack thanks to Leon’s HTC Vive. Photo thanks to Steven Cooper

“The best I have eaten… forever”

Lunch. Now there is something to be said about food at hackathons. Mostly it is an abundance of pizza, Subway food, and whatever else happens to be on special at the time. Whilst pizzas featured on Saturday night (you can’t have a hackathon without pizza!) most of the food was a spread of delicious brain food… and when I say brain food, I mean real food, food that is actually nourishing and not just full of cholesterol.

Thanks to the amazing Hot Dish team, a beautiful Mediterranean buffet kept our participants well fed for Saturday. An abundance of fresh homemade dips, salads, and lavish ensured people had the best source of nutrition. The afternoon even saw banana bread, chocolate logs, and muffins grace the stage.

I think it’s safe to say it was one of the better catered hackathons. If I can give a tip to anyone running these events, it’s have good food… especially at a hackathon! People are awake for long hours, have their brains working in overtime, and the last thing they need is to be bombarded with pizza – have some pizza, but not for EVERY MEAL.

Back to the hack

It was really interesting to see how far our hackers had come in a day. By Saturday afternoon, the 3D printers were running hot (thanks to Mike Kuiper of VLSCI), experiments were being conducted from the first floor, sticky notes covered the windows, and games were coming together. Speaking of games… dance battle anyone?

It’s dance time

If anyone has ever been to one of the hackathons at LAB-14, you’d know I like to get everyone up and moving after a busy day at the desk. The Space Challenge was no exception, and on Saturday evening, the Kinect was dragged out, and it was dance time! Dance Central was so popular this time around that is was on for a good three or four hours. This may have been due to the fact that a competition was announced, which saw pairs of people battling it out for the highest score on “Hot Stuff”.

Breaking it down in Dance Central 2. Photo thanks to @Holoverse
Breaking it down in Dance Central 2. Photo thanks to @Holoverse

We had five people get over a million points (on the hard setting too might I add), but our winner Karen beat rival Max by a mere 10,000 points with a score of 1,700,000! One extra correct move would have seen Max take out number one, highlighting the competitiveness of our tournament. All five dancers received prizes, but Karen walked away with some sweet tech thanks to Palette.

This was such a hit, that I think I’ll continue to use it at more hackathons…

Sunday Pitching

Whilst some people spend their Sundays driving, we spend it pitching! Thanks to Marcus, hot-shot entrepreneur in Melbourne, our space hackers had a great session on how to master your pitch. Make it sharp, make it snappy, hit the right points, show off some energy, and most importantly, have a call to action. Don’t just leave your audience with a “that was awesome, but now what?” Give them something to do. Even if it’s as simple as “support us”, although the more specific your call-to-action, the more receptive people will be.

So after the pitch masterclass, some more great food, a visit from the Minister of Innovation and Small Business (thanks for all the support Phil), we finally came to the big finale… pitching.

With a fantastic line up of diverse judges – Iven from School of Engineering, Developer Steve, Atlanta from Signal Ventures, Ren from Blue Chilli, and Marcus our pitch master – and a great mix of projects, this hackathon ensured it wouldn’t be quite like any other… and it wasn’t! The incredible range of ideas presented were a testament to both the array of challenges available, but also the assortment of our participants. We had both first time and veteran hackers, science students and business people, hardware projects and software solutions. I was so impressed at the level of these ideas and the variety of what was showcased.

Our judges were awed by the a array of 3D printing prototypes, fully built games, drone apps, a bucket of sand and a skateboard, holographic technology, origami, and a Twitter favourite – a Jet Pack running on dry ice.

Luckily, the diversity of ideas presented was matched by the range of prizes on offer, with someone commenting that “almost half the people in the room walked out with a prize”. I think the easiest way the show the multitude of prizes which were given away are to list them here.

Judges prizes

  • 1st Place: Oh-Ree-Ga-Mee; “Ikea for Space” origami solution
  • 2nd Place: Breaking New Ground; Machine learning and asteroid mining
  • Best use of data: Zurkon; hazard identification
  • Best use of Hardware: NASA Space Monkies; jet pack
  • Best Mission Concept: Flight CheckR; drone security
  • Galactic Impact: Space Naps; is your plane on time?
  • Most Inspirational: Mirror Stairs; explore space with 3D gaming

Other prizes

  • People’s Choice: Drone Guard; know your no fly zone
  • Registration Competition: Steven de Salas
  • Best Tweeter: Jason Lee @jasonleecj
  • Dance Award: Karen Zhang
  • Best Mentor: Mike Kuiper
NASA Space Monkies. Photo thanks to Steven Cooper
NASA Space Monkies. Photo thanks to Steven Cooper

I think diversity has been a hot topic of this hackathon, and the prizes were no exception. The winners above received goodies from Microsoft, Zendesk, Razer, and Lifx, plus sweet tech from Nvidia (Jetsons), SCANN3D (Google cardboard), Sphero (BB-8), Palette (Cube)… and combine this with office space at York Butter Factory, and VIP tickets to both Future Assembly and Melbourne Knowledge Week and you have an awesome pool of SWAG!

What do you do with leftover dry ice? Make a show of it! Photo thanks to Steven Cooper
What do you do with leftover dry ice? Make a show of it! Photo thanks to Steven Cooper

Our 1st place winners were lucky enough to win a spot for their tech on a space flight to the International Space Station thanks to Quberider. Ironically, the solution developed by Oh-Ree-Ga-Mee was a storage unit for the ISS, so luckily they can now send their idea to space!

Thanks for an epic weekend

I want to again thank everyone for their efforts over this amazing hackathon. It literally was an out-of-this-world experience. Everyone contributed to making the NASA Space Apps Challenge in Melbourne a massive success… from the participants, to mentors, judges, sponsors, and everyone from the startup community in Melbourne who helped promote this event. I hope to do more awesome events like this so keep an eye out for the next big thing!

Thanks again to Developer Steve who took fantastic photos which can be found here.

Hackathons galore

We keep talking about all the hackathons happening around Melbourne, so here’s a wrap on two I just finished

First up the Science Hackfest Melbourne

What’s better than coming along to a hackathon with open source API? Coming along to a hackathon with open data! Who would have thought? ANDS, CSIRO, NeCTAR, TERN, ALA, AURIN, RDS, AuScope and IMOS opened up their datasets for the weekend so participants can play around with it. This comes at a key point in time as the Australian Government has recently committed to making “data openly available to the public” through their new National Innovation and Science Agenda.

I like to see this hackathon as one of the first steps to making that data available. When government say they are making data freely and openly available, does that mean they are building the platform to access this data? Well have no fear, as some of the hackathon participants came up with creative ways to access, visualise and use data.

Networking is a must at a hackathon and the hackfest was no exception. Over drinks and nibbles, participants had the chance to meet each other, the mentors, and even have a play around with AURIN’s tech board, a cool device which shows real-time data from a variety of sources projected into Google Maps; neat right?

Networking is a must at a hackathon - it allows participants to relax, get in the right head space and meet potential team members.
Networking is a must at a hackathon – it allows participants to relax, get in the right head space and meet potential team members.

The event kicked off with an address by Charlie Day, the fantastic director of the Carlton Connect Initiative. He spoke about how excited he was to host the hackathon here in a building with such innovative history and scientific significance. Charlie added that he hopes these types of events will encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs, thinkers and creatives to carry on the innovative culture that started with the Women’s Hospital. Jens from CSIRO officially opened the hackfest and added his excitement to the pool. Next up was an inspiring and humorous talk from the German National Library of Science and Technology’s own Dr Peter Löwe. Dr Löwe focused on software libraries and the diversity of them around.

Next was the ever nerve racking (for some) team building!

Before going on, shout out to all the first time hackers! Around 90% of people in the room were here for their first hackathon which is fantastic to see (judging by the number of hands that went up – albeit shyly – when I asked who hadn’t been at a hackathon). Everyone had a chance to hear from one another, what their strengths and skill-sets were, teams were formed then it was off to hacking!

Unlike many of the other hackathons I’ve run this was a slightly different crowd of people. Instead of the usual suspects in the form of undergrad student developers and IT grads, we had a lot of data scientists, plenty of PhD students, a few business peeps and a multitude of computer science analysts including cosmologists, physicists and neurologists. It is brilliant to see the diversity at hackathons increasing and breaking out from the traditional student coders. With this crowd in mind, it became a much more relaxed, laid back hack. Teams trekked home fairly early on the Friday night leaving plenty of time for some much needed sleep (for some of us at least).

Saturday was back to coding and a morning talk on data science security from Dr Steve Richard (Arizona Geological Survey), gearing everyone up for a day of hacking.  Whilst running back and forth making sure the hackathon went smoothly, we also had a visit from the German Ambassador; pretty cool to have German speakers at the hackathon and then German coming to visit the German college all at once! Back to hacking, and between Red Bull, Subway and Dominos, we had the typical food covered to keep everyone going throughout the day and into the night.

Sunday is my favourite part – pitching! Before I go into this I might add that LAB-14 (home of the Carlton Connect Initiative and safe haven for the hackfest over the weekend) was a pretty happening place. Not only did we have the hackfest and the visit from the German politicians I mentioned above, but some of our MAPers were here throughout the weekend, joined by our entrepreneurs in residence, plus some staff from VLSCI stopped by, and even our artists from Creative Spaces were working away in the studio. It was amazing to see this great mix of people come to together for a variety of reasons within one building.

Anyways, back to pitching, and we opened with Wildfire (great way to spark the audience) who had a way to show real time data from fires spreading around Australia – very important considering our hot and dry summers. Other applications for pitches included using data to find livable suburbs based on your priorities, using cross-referencing to detect anomalies in data sets, creating pulse readings from data points of stars, finding bird species, automatically classifying images, and easily accessing huge data sets.

It's nearly Easter! Judges were sporting these lovely bunny ears from Haigh's for easy identification.
It’s nearly Easter! Judges were sporting these lovely bunny ears from Haigh’s for easy identification.

It was great to see the diversity of ideas presented. The People’s Choice was the first to be awarded and was super close (only a vote apart). Hackathon veterans, Anomaly, beat their fellow hackers and rivals Vision by Black (automatic image classification) to take out both the People’s Choice award and Overall prize. Pulsar Voices came in second overall and Vision by Black came away with Best Use of Scientific Infrastructure. Guess it goes to show that experience can sometimes beat age (although doesn’t experience come with age? Who knows? – Maybe we can get some more experts at these hackathons and find out).

Hopefully the Science Hackfest inspires more first time hackers to come and share in the joy of battling out a weekend to build something awesome!!!

Well it was one day off for me then into the IBM Watson Hackathon

This was another unusual hackathon since it was a closed corporate, invitation only hack. It was interesting to see a number of IBMers there including many of their corporate clients such as Qantas, NewCrest, Crown, Telstra and tonnes more!

IBM Watson, for those who aren’t familiar, is the cognitive, machine intelligence platform which can analyse huge amounts of unstructured data and provide insights into this data. The gist of this hackathon was to use Watson, and as many APIs as possible to build an application with industry value.

Connie, the first AI concierge. Connie uses Watson to answer questions but also to add emotion and empathy to the system (currently live in some Hilton Hotels)
Connie, the first AI concierge. Connie uses Watson to answer questions but also to add emotion and empathy to the system (currently live in some Hilton Hotels)

Many IBMers spoke about the capabilities and the scope of Watson in order to broaden one’s mind but also to excite everyone into the possibilities of Watson. Machine learning is about using the data we already have in existence and training the systems we build. Take Watson for example; it’s only two years old but people have been building and training it for 20 years! With this in mind, teams scurried to work on their ideas.

I’m actually surprised we managed to fit 100 people hacking away at the LAB-14 building in the one room. Although it was a bit squishy, the atmosphere in the room was dynamic, ecstatic and… innovative! People in the office next door said they could almost feel the ideas flowing through the walls of the building. This is definitely one of the reasons I love hackathons so much. The kind of energy felt is unique and comes from a group of people who normally wouldn’t have gathered together to work away on a common problem.

The Hack is Packed. At least we had highly visible mentors who can double as traffic directors.
The Hack is Packed. At least we had highly visible mentors who can double as traffic directors.

Being a corporate hackathon, the majority of the participants were first timers (wooo, another bunch of newbies). Still, they didn’t lack in experience with a number of designers, problem thinkers, developers, and IBM Watson specialists. The IBMers in the room spread themselves out evenly among the teams, ensuring there was some good, healthy, internal rivalry going on. It was also great to see the corporates mingling around and teaming up with other organisations. This is the kind of collaboration we need to solve our societies’ big issues moving forward.

Whilst everyone seemed to enjoy themselves immensely, one could certainly tell this was a corporate hackathon. When the clock struck 5pm, it was “off the clock” and the room quickly emptied. I thought people would have liked to hang around and get their tech working, but then again there’s often more important things to worry about. Still, given this short period (really only about 15 hours of dev time), it was great to see some fully built solutions (including some hardware at that) during pitching.

Speaking of… pitching! With 130 participants, there ended up being 17 teams pitching (not very good odds if you are looking to win!) The judges were looking at far how the solution had come, how many APIs were used, and the industry application. Interestingly, there was no emphasis on money or revenue models (not too bad for a corporate hackathon, but I guess money doesn’t matter here right?)

Ideas that were pitched included (I’m not going through all of them because there’s too many – just check my Twitter feed for the whole list); emotion tracking, using personality traits to suggest ideal beer varieties, pets, or celebrity matches,
comparing tone of social media (including Twitter and Instagram), fall detection, healthTech solutions, personalised care, and breaking down language barriers. Such a range of great ideas here and so many included the Alchemy API which is pretty awesome.

The winners were Sherlock with their Archangel platform which provided safety tracking for miners and sent instant notifications to the manager if someone was in trouble. They ended up using about 7 different APIs and their solution was mainly targeted towards NewCrest employees; an important industry problem, now with an easy solution. Although their tech was amazing, I really think they won because of their team name… Sherlock, which they very cleverly and clearly stated “Sherlock works with Watson, and we hope to do the same” whilst playing the Sherlock theme song as they walked on stage – nice touch to the presentation!

Winning team Sherlock, because they worked with Watson!
Winning team Sherlock, because they worked with Watson!

After two fantastic hackathons, it was back to the real world… organising more hackathons! Check out my hackathon post for new hackathons which I just announced (more to come today). If you are an avid hacker, I hope this has give you a few ideas and revved you up for next week’s hackathons. If you are newbie, then I hope this has inspired you to take on a hackathon and I hope to see you at one soon.

When’s that Hackathon?

With so many in the pipelines, it’s hard to keep track of them all

Since there’s tonnes of events, hackathons, conferences, meetups and workshops happening, I thought I’d sift out the hackathons and put them in one easy to read post. They’ll be up on the events tab as well (when I get around to that).

These are just the ones in Melbourne at this stage (there’s far too many to do all of Australia right now).

Hackathon in one word? (Image credit to API Evangelist)
Hackathon in one word? (Image credit to API Evangelist)

Global Hunger Hack, 26-28th February

Combining STEM and entrepreneurship, the Hunger Hack (not to be confused with the Hunger Games) is an opportunity to generate ideas and reshape them into real solutions.
Grand Prize – Enrolment to  BlueChilli’s online accelerator program
Location – Monash University, Clayton Campus

Science Hackfest, 4-6th March

Ever wanted to play with some of the biggest data sets? MedTech, FinTech, sports, you name it. If there’s a data set they don’t have bring your own. With a beautiful combination of pure Science mixed with modern computing, this is one not to be missed.
Grand Prize – $2K
Location – LAB-14, Carlton Connect (The University of Melbourne)
DetailsMelbourne Science Hackfest

CodeBrew, 18-20th March

Get together with a bunch of mates and create something awesome for the weekend. It’s right in the middle of the city and easy as to get to… no excuses now with all night weekend public transport.
Grand Prize – $2K + goodies
Location – York Butter Factory

Digital City Hack, 18-19th March

As part of the Future Melbourne 2026 series, come together with a bunch of innovative people and shape the city you love. Think about emerging technologies and how people play, learn and interact with each other.
Grand Prize – $6K + plenty of spot prizes!
Location – The Cube, ACMI
DetailsFuture Melbourne 2026

Telstra Hackathon, 15-17th April

A cloud based hackathon with main themes around FinTech, MedTech and wearables. Run by HackDays, this is sure to be an awesome event.
Grand Prize – TBA
Location – Telstra’s Gurrowa Innovation Lab
DetailsThe Telstra Hackathon

Techfugees Hackathon, 15-17th April

Make a difference! Get together with devs, designers, refugees and entrepreneurs to help and welcome refugees to Australia.
Location – LaunchPad3
DetailsTechfugees Melbourne

Space Apps Challenge, 22nd-24th April

Want to solve some of the biggest challenges in the realm of Space? Then come along. There are six major themes and challenges will be posted soon.
Grand Prize – TBA on Sunday night!
Location – LAB-14
DetailsSpace Apps Challenge

Startup Weekend, 6-8th May

This years’ themes are action, innovaton and education with the overall scope of sustainability. Come together over a weekend, work on a crazy (or generally awesome) idea, and build it into a profitable business.
Grand Prize – TBA
Location – York Butter Factory
DetailsStartup Weekend

UX Design Hackathon, 7th May

The theme for knowledge week this year is innovation, collaboration and creativity. What better way to show this than with a hackathon. Keep your eyes out for when this exciting hack with take place. Official dates for MKW are 2nd-8th May so the hackathon will be sometime here. The challenge you have is to redesign a online experience for the homeless community.
Grand Prize – Tickets to UX conference
Location – General Assembly
DetailsGeneral Assembly

Random Hacks of Kindness, 4-5th June

It’s a hack for humanity! Get stuck into the real issues surrounding communities and strive towards solid social impact. Feel like you’re really part of the team as RHoK happens all over Australia at the same time.
Location – AMDC Building, Swinburne University

Space Hack, 1st-2nd July

Will be run as part of the Final Frontier Space Festival. Space is rapdily becoming a hot topic in the world and Melbourne needs to jump on the bandwagon. Get this in your diaries and get excited, it’s going to be awesome.
Grand Prize – TBA
Location – The University of Melbourne
DetailsSpace Hack

#SheHacks, 22-24th July

The all girl hackathon is back. Running in both Melbourne and Sydney, and calling all girl hackers, hipsters, and hustlers.
Grand Prize – TBA
Location – General Assembly
DetailsGirl Geek Academy

Robot Hackathon, 23rd July

Build new things, explore technology, and have tonnes of fun. Play with JavaScript, Ardunios, Node.js, LEDs, and heaps of other hardware. You can purchase your own bot kit with your ticket too!
Location – Swinburne University
DetailsInternational NodeBots Day

Hacking Health, 25-27th July

Improve health care, solve real problems, and drive real change. Be you a doctor, nurse, hacker, designer, engineer, clinical, patient, investor, entrepreneur, or just generally interested in making a difference, this hackathon is for you.
Grand Prize – TBA
Location – Melbourne
DetailsHIC Conference

UNIHACK, 30th-31st July

Imagine what you can do in one weekend? The Imagination Hackathon that’s what! No challenges, no limits, build whatever you want, however you want (open source only of course). All you have to do is make your thing work.
Grant Prize – TBA
Location – LAB-14, The Carlton Connect Initiative

GovHack, 30th-31st July

It’s on the same weekend as UNIHACK so choose your weapon… I mean… hackathon. GovHack is all about the data. Lots of big government organisations give up their data for the weekend for you to play with. How will you visualise it?
Grand Prize – TBA
Location – TBA

Law Hackathon, 5-7th August

Break the law… in a good way! Hack some of the big corporate law firms and see what you can come up with.
Grant Prize – $5K
Location – LAB-14, The Carlton Connect Initiative

Researcher@Library Hack Day, 26 August

One day hack for social good. Join in the cause!
Grant Prize – $300
Location – LAB-14, The Carlton Connect Initiative
Details – Researcher@Library

VR Hackathon, 12-14th August

A Virtual Reality Hackathon for Sustainable Urban Development. This hackathon seeks to create immersive experiences that help us better connect with the places we live.
Location – General Assembly
Details – The Anthronaut Experience

MEDevice Hackathon, starts 13th September

Interested in medical device innovation and MedTech? Then this is the hackathon for you! This one is run four Tuesday sessions – no weekend required!
Location – ResBaz
Details – MEDevical Device Innovation Hackathon

Smart Cities Hackathon, 8-9th October

Team up with devs, designers, and entrepreneurs and create a new wave of smart city services and solutions. This is all part of the 23rd World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems.
Prizes – more than 20K in prizes!
 – Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre
Details – ITS Smart Cities Hack

Unearthed, 14-16th October <<POSTPONED>>

A bunch of industry challenges, experts in the field and some great minds. Come together over a weekend to solve real problems and make a difference.
Grand Prize – TBA
Location – General Assembly
DetailsUnearthed Solutions

HealthHack, 14-16th October

Another MedTech hackathon focusing on health. This one is run all over Australia at the same time! Get involved in the Melbourne one, otherwise check out the other locations.
Location – ThoughtWorks
Details – HealthHack Melbourne

TADHack, 14-16th October

Run by Telstra and centred around telecommunications, its applications, services, and businesses. It’s Global!
Grand Prize – TBA
 – Gurrowa Innovation Lab
Details – TADHack

Energy Hack, 21st-23rdth October

Join up with Melbourne Uni and Powershop to harness the consumer and technology revolution surrounding energy.
Grand Prize – TBA, see website for sneak preview
 – LAB-14, The Carlton Connect Initiative
Details – Energy Hack 2016

Climathon, 28-29th October

This is a traditional 24 hour hackathon! Running in tandem with every other climate centre around the world, you’ll have the chance to team up with like-minded people and transform Melbourne into a more resilient and sustainable city.
Grand Prize – Chance to be on the global stage during COP22
 – LAB-14, The Carlton Connect Initiative
Details – Melbourne CLIMATHON Challenge

TOM MedTech Makeathon, 28-30th November

Get this one in your diaries, it’s going to be around the medical and health sector and you can make whatever you like.
Grand Prize – TBA
Location – Swinburne University of Technology

Terrible Ideas Makeathon, November

Get away from the regular this-thing-needs-to-solve-a-problem and focus on the process behind taking and idea and making it a reality.
Grand Prize – TBA
Location – TBA
Details – More coming soon

Kingdom Hack, probably later this year!

Be you Developer, Designer, or not even from the world of digital builder, we call upon you faithful internet dweller to accept the challenge. You are tasked to build something the likes of which we have not seen… Not sure about the Melbourne one, but there will be one in Wollongong, so check it out!
Grand Prize – TBA
Location – TBA
DetailsKingdom Hack

There are more to come so keep an eye out for them. Also, just rumours, but word along the grape vine is that there are hackathons around VR, law, and energy coming (just to name a few!) Get excited!!!

Do I have to drink it?

Coffee isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are at a business meeting, do you have to swallow and drink it up? Or is there another alternative?

Follow from my last post on coffee meetings, I thought it’d be a good idea to explore some of the alternatives to drinking coffee. Personally, I don’t like coffee, not one bit! Some of you are probably thinking “how do you get through life?” But if you’ve ever met me, you’ll realise I don’t actually need it. In fact, it would probably be a very scary site if I ever did consume caffeine on this level. Some say it’d be like Hammy from Over the Hedge.

Hammy in Over the Hedge when he takes a sip of caffeine.
Hammy in Over the Hedge when he takes a sip of caffeine.

Yeah that’s right, I’d this crazy! Even just caffeine in general would probably make me nuts. Thus I neither drink Red Bull, black tea nor coke.

Anyways, the point of all this is that if you aren’t a coffee drinker (like me) you can still enjoy coffee dates. Here are some alternates so you can still have that deal-making meeting and enjoy your beverage at the same time (they are all round about the same price as a good coffee so you aren’t going to lose out on your dollars).

  • Chai Latte – these are rapidly becoming more popular. It’s one of my personal favourites. If made properly you receive an incredible mix of spices in a milky blend. Honey is often included to compliment the range of flavours. It’s hard to find a good chai latte and reviewing every café’s chai is similar to the way people scrutinise coffee, it’s a lot of fun. You can try it with a range of different milks. I prefer soy milk since the slightly ‘nutty’ flavour of soy complements the blend of spices. Chai is one of those things that has a whole range of varieties just like coffee. If you want to experiment, try having different blends – some chai adds in pumpkin, mango, vanilla or extra spices; others simply make the chai a certain way.

    Chai Latte (image thanks to gelare)
    Chai Latte (image thanks to gelare)
  • Hot Chocolate – although it might be seen as something a little childish, you definitely can’t go past this on a cold day. There are a tonne of different types from rich Italian hot chocolates to thick Spanish hot chocolates through to flavoured (peanut, mint, chilli, caramel, you name it probably exists) so you can always find something to suit you.

    Who doesn't love a yummy hot chocolate with marshmallows or a dollop of cream? (Image thanks to Bay Side Journal)
    Who doesn’t love a yummy hot chocolate with marshmallows or a dollop of cream? (Image thanks to Bay Side Journal)
  • Tea – hailing from the rich and powerful English aristocracy, tea is a much more refined way to enjoy a coffee date. With stores like T2 however, tea is becoming much more fun. Depending on your meeting, you might want to go for a dainty French Earl Grey, a funky Jade Mountain or a warm and cosy Apple Crumble (yes they are all T2 teas I just mentioned). Pick a tea for your mood, the time of day, the weather, the kind of meeting you are having and the statement you want to make. Ooooo and there is a thing now called tea latte; totally keen to try one of these.

    There are so many different types of teas and lots of them have a range of health benefits (image thanks to Healthista and Bigstock)
    There are so many different types of teas and lots of them have a range of health benefits (image thanks to Healthista and Bigstock)
  • Tea Latte – yes this is new and it’s a thing. Not many places do it but if you find one I encourage you to try it out. It’s just what the name implies, tea with frothed milk (genius!)

    Green Tea Latte (image thanks to Starbucks - yes, believe it or not, even Starbucks has these)
    Green Tea Latte (image thanks to Starbucks – yes, believe it or not, even Starbucks has these)
  • Iced brews – there are many different iced drinks from smoothies to iced teas, frappes and milkshakes. In Australia (and even in Melbourne during the middle of summer) it can become very hot. A coffee catch up might not be the ideal setting to have a meeting. No one will want to listen to anyone else is they are hot, sweaty, and boiling up from the inside. Saying that, not many people will go past a good iced coffee (or iced chocolate) on a hot day.
    Iced Coffee (image thanks to Torani) notice the ice cubes as opposed to the iced blend in the next pic
    Iced Vanilla, Iced Hazelnut and Iced Caramel Lattes (image thanks to Torani) notice the ice cubes as opposed to the iced blend in the next pic

    Iced Frappe (image thanks to Williams & Sonoma)
    Iced Chocolate Frappe (image thanks to Williams & Sonoma)
  • Mocha – okay, so you need caffeine to get you through the day, but you don’t like coffee (again, take me for example… I don’t even like the smell of coffee, let alone its taste). So what do you do? Mix it with chocolate of course. Chocolate makes everything better! Some people pile spoonfuls of sugar into their coffee to make it drinkable. Chocolate is a much better option. It’s cocoa flavour compliments the coffee, making a rich brew of creamy goodness (disclaimer – I am not speaking from experience here, only from what others’ say. One of my friends is a coffee conisewer so I trust his judgement. Combine that with both my brother and sister’s knowledge and expertise on the matter and I say it’s a pretty accurate assessment). Lots of people start by drinking coffee this way and slowly reduce the amount of chocolate. You can do this or you can simply order your mocha and join in the coffee conversations.

    You can put any type of chocolate in a mocha! (image thanks to Cook Diary)
    You can put any type of chocolate in a mocha! (image thanks to Cook Diary)

With the vast number of options available, don’t be afraid to order what you really want. Guaranteed not everyone in your party will be having the same thing. I’ve heard every kind of drink order imaginable, from a Piccolo to a small-skinny-flat-white-double-shot-espresso-no-sugar, a dirty-chai (coffee and chai together), a Magic (what even?), and a take-away-short-black (“grrr the bane of any coffee maker’s existence” in the words of my sister).

One thing I will caution against is trying new drinks at a business meeting. If you are the kind of person who likes to test everything no matter who is around then go for it. If you’re a little fussy then maybe experiment with a friend before taking it to the business realm. You don’t want to be left with a half hour meeting and a drink you can’t down because it’s not nice.

I hope you’ve found this somewhat useful and opened up your mind to the many varieties of “socially acceptable” drinks. But hey, if all this fails, there is always the business-meeting-over-a-beer option; I’ve done this a few times, just make sure no one drinks too much!