GE breaks into the hackathon scene with industry challenges

Firstly, sorry for the delay in this blog post. Unfortunately my various sporting endeavours took a turn for the worse. That along with Christmas festivities meant I was barely online amongst the mountain of food in our house.

All that aside, and without further ado, here’s the low down on the GE hackathon held at LAB-14, hosted by Carlton Connect, The Melbourne Accelerator Program and The University of Melbourne

What an exciting weekend this was. The GE staff was super geared up after having run the same hackathon in Sydney the previous weekend. They were keen to see what Melbourne could produce and whether we say we as good as we are on the startup tech scene.

I think it’s safe to say we didn’t disappoint. Tonnes of people turned up on Saturday morning for what was promised to be a great weekend of food, fun and problem solving… solving problems in one of Australia’s first industrial hackathons.

Getting ready for a great weekend.
Getting ready for a great weekend.

The building was literally full of participants. It was great to feel the buzz, energy and liveliness of LAB-14 on a weekend. Coders were spread out in all directions, every team choosing their own cosy spot. We even had a team from Sydney fly in for the hackathon.

Love the umbrella inside here
Love the umbrella inside here
Working hard... or watching TV?
Working hard… or watching TV?

I’m going to make the winners known right away so I can get into the nitty gritty of this hackathon.

The challenges posed for the weekend included transport, rural isolation, health care and power/water optimisation. The solutions included minimising energy costs, an instantaneous healthcare licensing database, paperless solutions, hands-free tasking, automated maintenance, locating remote workers, analytics for energy and transport automation. There were some amazing ideas, but there can only be one winner… Team Corvis for their application on tracking isolated workers.

Listening to the challenges for the weekend
Listening to the challenges for the weekend

There were a few interesting things that happened at this hackathon, probably for the first time too! One of these were the internal, sidelined, unofficial competition between the mentors. GE came along with an army of mentors, and it was nearly an army. There were so many of them, more than I’d seen at any other hackathon, totally more than 30. They were all from GE Industries, which is great to see so many employees get out on a weekend for a hackathon.

Speaking to some of these experts, it was clear they were excited about what young people in particular can come up with during a weekend. I was told hands flew in the air when GE called for volunteers at both the Melbourne and Sydney hackathons. Since this hack had very set challenges, each problem had its own group of mentors. What was even more impressive was the range in skill sets for each mentor team; business analysts, tech people and marketing mentors were available for each problem. The mentors then had an unofficial competition to see who’s mentees would win. In Sydney, a transport team took out first place with isolation coming in second and third. Melbourne flipped, where worker isolation came first and transport second and third.

It was funny to see the mentors saying “oh yeah my team won”. It’s very similar to the sense of pride I feel when I see teams winning or presenting at a pitch and I’m like, “hey, they used what I said” or “they ran with my idea”. It’s very rewarding and reiterates the fact that these kinds of weekends don’t run without the help of mentors and volunteers.

Another interesting sight from the GE hack was the number of ladies present. I’m not sure what is was about this hackathon but there seemed to be a larger number of women. The ratio for hackathons is usually about 90:10, but this time it was more like 70:30 or even towards 40. It was fantastic to see more girls get involved and take on the boys. Hopefully it continues into 2016 (hint hint girls, come along to more hackathons).

Judging occurred slightly different to your regular hackathon too. Instead of pitching in front of a whole audience, teams were divided into three groups and judged by teams of three judges. The top 2 teams from each went onto the finals where all GE staff were present, a hand-picked panel of judges and some VIPs. With 18 teams all up, this seemed to work fairly well although it would have been fantastic to see everyone’s ideas instead of just six. I still think I like the whole, throw-everyone-in-one-room-and-watch-each-other-pitch style of judging. Perhaps the expo-type judging seen at UNIHACK may have worked here as well – especially considering the amount of working products people had… speaking of…

It was great to see so many solutions that were actually built. Nearly every team had some sort of working prototype and about half of the teams presented an accompanying hardware solution. Hopefully we see more of these hardware solutions in future.

Other highlights from the weekend included:

  • The mentors taking over the boardroom to watch Jessica Jones on the big screen – only once they worked out that the room had an insanely massive TV on the wall (not sure how they missed that one).

    I don't think they knew how to work the TV...
    I don’t think they knew how to work the TV…
  • Everyone will agree with me here (well I hope so) that the food over the weekend was amazing. The crew at Hot Dish kept us mostly fed for the weekend along with some great pizza places. Some even said the “highlight of the hackathon” was the “awesome breakfast” (bacon and egg rolls)
  • I also love seeing our walls plastered with sticky notes. There is something about the sticky note, writing things down and coming up with great ideas!
  • Dance Central was a huge hit. Keeping participants active over the weekend is key. You can’t go wrong with an xbox and dancing (or can you?)

    Dance Central 2 keeps hackers entertained at night
    Dance Central 2 keeps hackers entertained at night
  • Pocket Rails – they created an app to solve rail transport issues, and they built it using Ruby on Rails!

All in all this was a fantastic weekend. Let’s see some more Dance Central, more builds, more hardware and more great food at other hackathons.

As I always say... it takes a team to run a great event!!!
As I always say… it takes a team to run a great event!!!

Looking forward to 2016 ya’ll.

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