This week has been a first for me, I participated in my first Hackathon....and won!
If you would have asked me what a hackathon was 2 weeks ago, i'm not sure I would have known what to reply. Last week makers sent around an email detailing that they were organising a 'Hack for Heroes' event, detailed specifically to helping the heroes on the frontline.
As a big believer in the feat the front line are accomplishing, I was more than happy to oblige. It turns out that a hackathon is fundamentally a timed sprint to create the best app possible. The apps are then independently judged and the winner is announced based on set criteria - addressing the problem, solving the problem, and doing it in a cool way.
Monday morning I joined the zoom call and after basic orienteering started to discuss ideas with the 100 participants. Groups were then split based on interest/topic, and that was it - GO! We had 2.5 days to present the best app possible. This was then to be judged by top CTO's/Engineers from fantastic companies around the UK.
I was lucky enough to be joined by my old partners in crime Nic and Asia. Together with team members Bassel, Thomas, Lucian and Ben, we set apart formulating a plan. We decided that the biggest problem facing the frontline staff currently was the extreme mental health stresses they were under. This was unanimously agreed on and we set about brainstorming the idea. We decided on a React Native app (with no one previously using this tech..) so that is was accessible and available to everyone on the go. We decided to use a Node/Express/PostgreSQL backend (my suggestion as i have previously been working with this) and use Expo to run the app locally on our machines.
We ended up with a very nifty mental health tracking app. A user could log in, and then speak to a chatbot that would ask them how they were feeling. A value and comment on this value was logged in the database, and could then be tracked over time to identify trends and patterns. The chatbot would then take the user on a conversation, giving resources and suggestions based on user input.
We also identified the power of positive affirmation and Neural Linguistic Programming, and many group members said first hand how this had helped them. We therefore gave the app preset mantras that could push notifications to the users phone at selected intervals. The user could also add their own mantras.
Overall we worked amazingly well, always having 3 different zoom room open so that pairs could float between parts of the build and ask/contribute to the development. I started to build the RESTful API backend in Node/Express and connect it to the database, I then connected this to Heroku and deployed the PostgreSQL database. Other members built out the framework in the React/Native front end and we connected the two. I then got to work on the Chart.js data, and helped out with the push notifications. Everyone worked around the clock and contributed to all areas - I am genuinely prod of what we achieved. Day 1 we met out MVP and day 2 we finished all the features we set out to complete. Day 3 involved styling and writing and rehearing the presentation. We had a flawless presentation, with everyone being concise and coherent, coupled with a very slick demo of our app (we gave a barcode that could be scanned that allowed everyone watching to download the app and use it themselves.
We were lucky enough to be selected as winners, well done to the team! I learnt so much in a small space of time, and had such a blast collaborating with the team. The time frame/competition element really spurred us on, and collectively we united to give a product we are all proud of.
There are some ideas to enhance the app in the future involving adding a machine learning element to the chatbot, but for now its a beer and some rest!
As always stay safe,