Over the weekend, I was involved in GovHack 2016 in Canberra, which was hosted by Canberra Grammar School. GovHack, if you’ve never heard of it before, is a collaborative international competition sponsored by government and businesses that focuses on how to better use the huge collection of around 10,000 government data sets publicly available. There was a huge range of prizes for different categories of solutions. A cynical view would be that it’s the government finding a cheap way to solve the problems that big departments aren’t agile enough to solve themselves. However, a better view is that the government is serious about reshaping the economy in a way that promotes innovation and understands just how tenacious and innovative Australians are when it comes to building things that do stuff! (Ok, NZ is in the competition as well, but I’m kinda biased).
Friday Kickoff Night
Friday night 6pm was the kick off, with the briefing and the announcement of the various prizes and goals. I was a bit worried when most people appeared to be in well-organized teams and were walking in with huge screens and their own computer servers tucked under their arms! I thought I’d be left to fend for myself and the idea of trying to do a project alone is just plain crazy. It simply doesn’t work! You need a team with a diverse skill set who can imagine, problem solve, build and present! Without unique individual skills to make up the team, you’re going to really struggle with the complexity of this sort of challenge.
Luckily when I went to the team signup area, I met Pin and Alec, who were both tech experts in search of a business/presenter type! Well hey, that’s me! :) a fantastic start to the team challenge. With such friendly people. We were then joined by Will who completed the team with his great technical and problem solving skills. With our team ready to go, now the biggest challenge of all… Working out what to do?
Team Work Space
This is probably one of the hardest things, even for for a team of innovative and creative people. There’s a ton of data sets, all with their own opportunities and own problems. I know my best creativity happens whilst going up ski lifts, but despite the Canberra cold, there was no snow in sight. So plan B! We brainstormed for over an hour trying to work out what to do and what data could be used to do it. Eventually, Will and Alec suggested buses and Pokémon! What? I hear you mumbling. What the hell is that all about? Well it’s a natural mashup! Trust me on this! The idea for the app was to take the live transport data from Canberra’s Action buses and overlay it on the street map so you could see exactly where every bus is and watch it get closer as it approaches your stop. On top of this, we decided to overlay the map with all of the Pokémon Go stops and gyms around Canberra! Makes perfect sense! Pin added the local wildlife habitats as well for an additional tourist element to get more people using our buses.
Buses, Wildlife & Pokémon, Oh My!
The remainder of the evening was spent fleshing out the idea, how it would work and what we needed to do for it. With the idea solidly in hand, we decided to come back to it in the morning to get started on the build.
The next day we got stuck into the project. Each of us worked on a discrete component for which each of us had a special skill. The coding talk for me was understandable, but seeing everyone typing and coding on the screen made my head spin slightly! I spent the day focused on researching ACT buses and the wider social issues surrounding public transport usage in Canberra! I then drew out some statistics and evidence to support the business case for the app and complied it all ready to present it. I also did some mock up images of the Action Pokébus, which was fun!
The Concept Taking Shape
It was a long day and we finished after dinner, which was noodle boxes. I have to say, the catering for the event was awesome. Canberra Grammar did a fantastic job of food, drinks and snacks to keep everyone going the whole weekend. I managed to eat waaaayyy too many Oreos and now I desperately need to go for a run. However, back to the event! We finished for the evening with parts of the platform built and the research complete! We were all ready for a good night’s rest, before the final stretch in the morning.
Sunday morning started with a similar pace to Saturday, with each of us working on our own parts of the project. As the day progressed, it all started to gel together with the software being finalised and my speech almost done. I revised it several times before I was happy with the script and then we quickly shot it as the battery on the camera quickly died. We literally had two takes and that was it. No more battery, no other chance to refine.
The last hour was frantic, stressful and exciting all at the same time! After recording the pitch, Will edited it and threw in all of the info and screenshots to demonstrate the platform in action! I could see the clock ticking down as I typed faster and faster to update each of the details for the submission. Meanwhile, the team finished editing the video and made sure the app was running ready for the submission! Just as we were about to upload everything and submit our project, we got a blank screen… The GovHack server went down! We were literally moments from submission!!! You know that sinking feeling when you’re trying to catch a bus and you see it driving off, well that’s what it felt like. Thankfully, it affected everyone else and we were able to submit our work once they got the server up and running again!
Frantic Final Touches
As we waited for the two umpalumpas somewhere in an unlit basement to restart the government servers, we had a chance to just chat and do a bit of a debrief on the weekend. It was interesting going around the table and finding out what the most challenging and reward parts were for each of the team.
The great thing for me about the weekend was being way outside my comfort zone. Even though I understood in general terms what was going on, I can’t code and this made me feel uncomfortable and totally reliant on the others to build the idea. However, their skills were amazing and the benefit of this was the fact that each member of the team had a strength in a different area. Together, it was a fantastic meshing of skills. So in the end, rather than feeling out of my depth, I was able to contribute through my own unique set of skills and provide the business case and marketing pitch for the platform.
Here it is Pitch: Go Go Bus Pitch
It was a fantastic team with which to work and such an amazing opportunity to have been part of GovHack 2016. The technical skills, mashed up with problem solving, teamwork and presentation skills, make this a must do for any budding problem solver. The atmosphere and energy was great and something I would love to do again.
With the servers up, project done and delivered, all I can say now is that that was one awesome weekend.
Transfeed Team 2016