Hacks, hacks, and more hackathons

It’s almost the end of the year and the end of weekend gone marks my 50th hackathon! it’s been a wild ride so here’s my take on the past few hacks I’ve been to.

Up North

With all the random Melbourne weather, a couple of weeks ago I headed up to Sydney. The past few weeks I’d been travelling was all bad weather so I was finally happy to have some decent sunshine. I was there for the Australian Council of the Arts Hackathon. This was the first time ACA had done anything like this and they were super excited, albeit a little nervous.

Finally got some good weather. The AFTRS campus is absolutely beautiful!

Nonetheless the event kicked off with a bang. All the participants were very eager to come in and hack their ideas. Tony Grybowski from ACA opened the event by expressing his desire and interest to “merge art and tech”. He talked about how it’s important to bring these two worlds together as we head into the future. The idea of this hackathon, as Zoe McKenzie put it, is to put Australian art on display. Each year ACA spends around $170 million commissioning high quality Australian narratives that don’t go anywhere. Her goal is to see those stories produced into art content; theatre, stage, opera, film, television, and even movies.

With this in mind each of the participants set out to find ways to bring artists and producers together. How does one build a bridge between these two divided worlds? Sticky notes in hand, and armed with creative minds, these talented students, teachers, artists and producers worked together to build something amazing.

One of the teams working through their ideas

Over the two days participants learned how to think about ideas, how to pitch ideas, and gained inspiration from many artists and storytellers. But it all came down to their projects. As presentations began, it was clear there was a range of talent in the room. Ideas presented included digital platforms to bring artists and producers together, online solutions for determining rights and legals, podcasts for artists, platforms for showcasing artwork, machine learning algorithms to find out which content is trending over time, or even a database for organising all the existing stories. Some blockchain and co-working space ideas were presented too.

Participants tweeting out their learnings

In the end, Metamorf, a machine learning algorithm, won out for their potential to grow and predict trending stories in future. Congrats to all the teams involved. ACA were most impressed with the broad range of ideas and how much work teams can do in such a short amount of time. I’m sure ACA will be back for more next year.

Winning team, Metamorf!

Back to the Weather

Down to Melbourne and it was a mix of corporate and community hackathons. A week and a bit ago I was super excited to be part of Cbus’ closed corporate hackathon. This type of hack sees internal employees dropping their usual work for a few days to create on innovative ideas and take their whole company forward. The hackathon or dev sprint took one idea from Cbus’ previous hackathon and ran it through a series of hacks and workshops to get the project to the next stage.

I must say this was one of my favourite hacks. Not only is the idea rather innovative in itself, but it’s great to see employees so passionate about bringing their organisation into the new digital economy. The idea grew over the two days. The most exciting thing was the fact that the teams had a prototype built out and were able to test their assumptions with some of their members who came in over the two days. The inclusion of community members is key to ensuring the solution is tailor made to the audience you are trying to hit.

Taking the participants through ways to think about their solutions

It was great to see this team, comprised of around dozen Cbus employees, take their idea to the next level. They came up with a rigid business case for it and lined up the value proposition with all the existing core values of Cbus. I can’t say much about the idea itself, but it was amazing to see how everyone can pull together over a couple of days and take innovation to the next level. Awesome working with you all!

Another corporate which I was fortunate enough to drop in on was the AFL Accelerator Program. Their corporate day saw their partners come together to work on digital transformation for their consumers. Some very interesting ideas presented and some very cool things happening at Etihad stadium.

Etihad Stadium hosts the accelerator program

I won’t say much more about that because I want to get back into the community hacks. The two hackathons I was very privileged to be a part of last weekend was Melbourne Engineering’s Superhack and the TOM Melbourne Makerthon.


The Melbourne School of Engineering students put on a hackathon for year 10 girls. The idea was to teach these young women skills in coding and engineering and then give them the opportunity to come up with their own ideas. Speaking to some of the girls, there was a mix of careers they wanted to take. Some them were unsure what they wanted to do when they finish school, others wanted to be doctors, some fine artists, and others engineers. No matter what they wanted to be when they grow up, it was great to see them all here for the weekend learning something new.

I was able to provide some advice and bring an element of fun to the party. Wearing my superhero costume to the theme and giving BajaBoard demos made me a pretty popular person by the afternoon. Part of the hackathon however was talking about our own experiences. I told them how I was from the country, went to uni, and eventually started to do the entrepreneur thing. Some of the questions from the mentors was what I was doing. The girls however asked the more important question, and that is WHY. Why do I do what I do? Why do I love it?

Wearing a superhero outfit and riding a BajaBoard is always a fun sight

I was intrigued, not by just these mature questions, but also the manner in which these girls conducted themselves with. They are all so talented… gee I wish I was this smart at their age! Anyways, the answer to their question, was, because I love it! I do what I do because I like to help people. I love to help people take their ideas and bring them to fruition. I love to help people tell others about their ideas, I love to help people to achieve their best. And that’s what I wanted to instil in these young women. The desire to do what they do because they enjoy it. Not because they have to do it, but because they want to. And so should everyone!

Makers come together

And to the final hackathon for the weekend, and I believe my final for the year. The hack that takes me to number 50 is the TOM Makerthon. More about building stuff, but a hackathon nonetheless. The TOM Makerthon sees groups of people working with need knowers to build something they can use. The need knowers are people living with disabilities who want to do something better in their lives. Whether it’s pour a bottle of water, go fishing, hold a video camera, play golf, or walk the dog, each of the need knowers wants to be able to live more independently.

Teams working on projects utilising everything from 3D printing to CNC milling, software development, welding and more

The makerthon brings together a huge range of skills, from engineers to designers, coders, creatives, artists, business people, lawyers and more. In 72 hours, the team must be able to build something their need knower can take home and use. One of the key elements is that it must be scalable in future so others can use it too. Documentation here is important as well as teamwork to get something produced in such a short time.

I had the pleasure of judging all the projects. With diverse criteria, ranging from most innovative, to most inclusive, most scalable, most durable, most replicable, and more. The judging process was a long one, but well worth it. In the end, each team ended up taking home a category win. One of the most amazing things from this hackathon is seeing the need knowers talk about their experience over the two days. They spoke with heart-felt words on how grateful they were to people giving up time to help someone else in need. They talked about how the inventions would help them live every day and they couldn’t be more proud of their teams.

Some of the judges and mentors for TOM Melbourne

2017 marks the 2nd year for TOM in Australia and its success will no doubt continue.

Well that’s a wrap from me… for now. If you’ve been reading my twitter, you’re probably wondering where the esports stuff is and how I managed to slot that in between the hackathons on the same weekend. Well that’s coming! Keep an eye on my blog for the lowdown on the VSR showdown.

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