BDL Accelerate Hackathon in Beirut, Lebanon

A month ago or so, some of my friends told me that there will be a hackathon in Beirut, Lebanon. The hackathon was hosted by Garage48 team and they offered three spots for Kyrgyzstan IT people, all expenses paid! I filled in the form without knowing what criteria they use for the selection. Later I asked Ragnar Sass, the co-founder of Garage48 about it and he told me that it was passion about technology and experience, well, I’m glad I was selected. So, the journey begins.

Day One

Our aircraft landed at 9 pm by the local time and we were kindly met by the SmallVille hotel worker and he took us to the hotel. In the morning we realized that the hackathon starts at 5:30 pm. That was awesome news and we went out to see what Beirut looks like. Well, in a few words, I found Beirut pretty nice city. Loved walking next to the beach and looking at the Mediterranean Sea. The only ouch was that there is a very huge difference between the poor and the rich. At the downtown, there are no people and if you see some, they look not like the poor. When you go further and go out of the downtown, Beirut changes gradually. The traffic of old cars and lots of motorcycles. People cross roads without looking at traffic lights and etc. I saw car stores of very expensive cars and a few of them in the downtown, and non of them in the sides of the city. That made me quite sad.

There were six of us having fun and traveling around. They were awesome guys and we saw lots of thing that day, because everyone had some ideas where to go next.

At 5:30 we were at the de Forum building and the hackathon started. We were listening to pitches that team leaders prepared. After that, the pitchers were in rush to find somebody to join their teams. If a team consists of less than four people, that team is broken and the members should join other teams. I joined Dr.Jones team. It’s team leader wanted to create a platform, very similar to Uber, but in the niche of medical care. I thought that it will be very good product. Other five guys joined us and we were a team of 7 members. It was very promising. After that every team discussed what they will do and what will be on the demo at the end of the day tree.

Day two

At 9 in the morning, I was in the de Forum building with my team and we started the project. Since I am a Python/Django developer, I was responsible for the backend. The other guy (forgotten his name) was responsible for the iPhone app. We platform connects doctors and tourists so that when tourists are far from the home, they can easily find some doctors around and get help. The system implies that the user uses it before the trip and adds some medical and surgical history. That would help the local doctors to know the patient better. Most of the backend was ready at that day and iPhone app needed some little fixes. When we went back to the hotel, we already finished almost everything.

This day was full of new connections and talks. It was my first trip connected with IT, and it was great. I was so glad to see that all the people around are eager to create something new using technology and help the sick. Well, the atmosphere was indescribable.

Well, the hackathon was not standalone by itself. It was a part of the greater event – BDL Accelerate 2016, The biggest conference on the Miditerrenian.  Steve Wozniak, Tony Fadell and many other speakers were there. There were about 20000 people on the conference from more than 50 countries. I’m glad I took participation in such a great event. Unfortunately, The Woz did not impress me. His speech was not something extraordinary. The only thing he was talking about was how he started using transistors. I could read about it on the Internet. I hoped his speech will be something like Steve Jobs’ speech.

Day three

This day was the most important for us – this day determines the winner of the hackathon. This day brought me a very good lesson – do not try to do things with production quality for hackathons, it will steal your time. My mistake was that I was trying to do everything like if I would do it for production. When I was done with backend part on my local machine, for some reasons, I decided to deploy the project on the server using gunicorn and nginx. That would be okay, but I did not have all the permission on that machine and problems came pretty fast. The right solution for this situation was to run the project on Django’s built-in server. It is not production ready, but it would certainly okay for the demo at the end of the day. I killed four hours to be up and running with nginx and gunicorn. Never do this, if there is a small timeframe and a few users of the backend.

When we were done with the project, the presentation began. It was 6 pm already and everybody presented their projects. The projects were awesome. I wish I took participation in all of them.

We did not win. I think that is because the investors always look not only how cool you project is, but also to whether the project is doable by the team that started it. And if not, they are not going to invest money to the project. I think our project was too huge for our project and it would take a couple of year to make this business profitable, which is not the goal of this hackathon.

The winner team developed Android application, that help people with face muscular problems. The app detects your face and shows you how to move your eyebrows and etc. This project is awesome. It is pretty easy to implement, help lots of people and it is possible to make money from it. So, I am not too surprised by the jury decision.

Conclusion

Lesson1: Never write or implement code in hackathon for production use. Do minimum movements to get up and running. Hack it, it is hackathon.

Lesson2: Make new connections. Do not be shy. Meet new people and talk to them, create new connections so that you have somebody after the event is done.

 

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