Getting The Most Out Of A Hackathon

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The Basics:  A hackathon goes by many names – hack day, hackfest or codefest. Essentially, a hackathon is a design, build and demo sprint-like event where you get random people to team up and collaborate intensely, usually for 24 to 72 hours. The skills required are typically in software development, graphics or human centered design; user interface and user experience design, project managers, and domain or subject matter experts.

The organizer will provide some challenges, and the participants will form teams and try to come up with their best ideas/solutions. Eventually, the team(s) who presented the best ideas/solutions will get to win some cool prizes. Prizes can be cash or some gadgets.

Here are some thoughts about how to make the most of your participation in a Hackathon.

Ideate – It’s important! You should be prepared to spend time brainstorming… first defining what you’ll be building. Start with the kind of challenges or problems presented by the organizers. Social or support forums are also a great source of insights into what people are frustrated with, their problems, and what they’re asking for. This way you can be certain that you’ll be developing a solution that provides value and solves a problem.

Do not take on an idea because it sounded the most impressive or tech savvy. Think about the kind of impact your work will have on users. Take time to make sure that your idea is impactful and this should save you time down the line when you need to put all the features together.

Sometimes the idea falls into your lap in a flash, and other times it takes some digging to lock onto a great idea. The hackathon will teach you how to be patient under pressure. Keep in mind that at some point (ideally before the end of the first day), you definitely need to start building.

The All Conquering Team – To win the hackathon, you have to have a dream team. Usually the first thing to do when you get to a hackathon is to scout the registration form to get a sense of who else (and what skill set) is around. Often your team will be random people. Your goal is to locate people for these 3 key roles and ask them to join your team (would be great if you yourself are one of these 3 as well):

  • The Dev/Coder — this is someone with front-end development experience. mobile development is even better. If your team doesn’t have a single person who can code, it’s time to find one.
  • The Presenter/Pitch maker — this is someone who will sell your idea to the judges. You need a good mix of confidence and empathetic charisma. If your team can’t sell, it won’t matter how great the idea is.
  • The Designer — this person understands Human Centered Design – they know how to start with people, and then add technology to the problem. It would be great if they are good with user interface and user experience design. This role is a strong recommendation.

A hackathon is very short. Time flies when you are having fun, 4-5 people are trying to break the ice, pitch ideas, win over team-mates, and still get working. This is the time to communicate openly about what you think (and know) is incredibly helpful. If you have a question, ask for clarification. If you think of a better way to solve a problem, tell your teammates. Don’t hope that someone will see it the way you see it. Make sure that everyone is on the same page – this will save you time down the line.

An important part of finding a good team is determining to be a great team member. Hackathons are high stress, so you want to make sure you can rely on your teammates and they want to feel the same way about you. There is no time to worry about how or whether you will get along with a teammate. Going into a hackathon with people you have worked with before can save you the mental stress and energy of figuring things out during the hackathon, but you won’t always have this opportunity.

Figure The Heart and Soul – Figure out what your hackathon host and sponsor are looking for. Some hackathons will be more impact driven while others may be more technology focused. Knowing the focus of the organizers will help you decide how to narrow down your project idea. If they have organized previous editions of the hackathon, research the winning ideas. See what ideas were accepted to participate. Researching each judge’s background before the pitch can also make a difference on how well you do in the competition. Without a direction, you won’t be able to get to where you want to go.

During the event, make time to talk to the organizers and sponsors – figure out if there are products you will have access to which may help you overcome roadblocks. Talk to them about the idea you are building and the problem it solves, as well as your approach. The advice you will get ranges from which pathways to not tackle, or how you can do it more efficiently, which will save you lots of time.

If you are a developer/coder prepare by reading all about the APIs you are expected to work with and researching libraries you can use. This way, on the actual day you can focus solely on building your prototype and every team member will be on the same page.

Also, leverage the opportunity to network and find out about what other features or even different integrations their customers are asking for. You might just get your next great product idea from them! Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice.

Learn, Unlearn and Re Learn
Get prepared – there’s going to be a lot of learning that happens in such a short time. I have been to a few and it’s clear that even in such a short time you can learn anything if you really want to. You will likely encounter tools you have never used, get insights into domains other than yours. A hackathon is a great place to learn how to learn. Although winning is nice, learning and appreciating the unique experience that a hackathon offers is something I’ve always enjoyed.

Probably the most important life lesson you will get at a hackathon is how to fail fast, and fail often. You will face some uncomfortable moments such as you are not the only expert in the room, but if you learn to deal with simple and small failures, you will muster the power of persistence, endurance and teamwork. Most importantly, that it’s okay to fail. Every failure will lead to a new insight about yourself and the world. Challenge yourself, and apply for hackathons for areas you know nothing about. You will walk away with newfound knowledge.

Coding – How Deep Should You Prototype?
So you have this cool idea – doing many awesome things – the tricky part is stripping it down to its core and focusing on building only what’s essential to deliver it’s value proposition. After all, you have to make it real. It’s time for the coder and designer in your team to start shining – by building a Proof-Of-Concept (POC). We are not looking for a bug-free solution, infact, you can even have zero functionality. Your audience wants to see, so visualize the solution, help them understand how your idea works. Try to make it look really good. Judges can easily be impressed when they see your team coming up with such a beautifully designed product in a short time.

A good technique is mapping the entire user flow you have in mind. This activity is best done along the product, design, and the dev team so everybody brings their perspective to the conversation. Techniques like Story Mapping should get you started.

After mapping, review the flow with the dev team and make them estimate how much it would take to accomplish that. If it requires more time than the hackathon allows, you’ll have to prioritize features and build only those essential to the core value of the product. If you can, work on everything that’s not code beforehand. It is of top priority that you define the specs of what will be built and that the design team gets mocks ready.

The Pitch – Your 3 Minutes Of Fame.
Your presenter needs to prepare for the presentation. Do not wait till the end to put this together, start working on it while the POC is being built. If the presenter is also the coder, prioritize the POC and then get to the presentation. You will need about 2~3 hours preparing for the presentation. 6 slides, 5 bullets on each. The slides are complimenting your own charm and charisma as you interest the audience enough to buy your idea. There’s no hard and fast rule on slide content, but generally make sure you get this across:

  • The problem statement — Prepare a few slides telling people about the background of the problem that you are trying to solve. Remember we are trying to solve a problem using technology.
  • Demo — People get bored easily. After telling people what the problem is, straight away tell them how you are going to solve it. Quickly show them your demo and WOW them. (Please make sure your demo works!)
  • Compare — Do a comparison. Is there already an existing solution to the problem, if there is, how is your idea better?
  • Hidden Slides — Always prepare some hidden slides that discuss potential future enhancements of the idea, business model, and what are some difficulties you faced during the hackathon. These can be useful during the Q&A.

The presentation is the only chance where you can sell your idea to the judges, the only time you can tell them: “my(give) idea(me) is(the) brilliant(prize)!”.

And Finally…
The most meaningful hackathons and experiences revolve around the people you meet, and not just what you build together. Your teammates can turn into future coworkers, collaborators, and friends. You get to know someone very quickly when you have to problem solve together in a compressed time and place – think of it as the perfect relationship icebreaker!

Hackathons are not just pizza, soda and free high speed wi-fi all day (and night) long – they are intense! You will not do much good for your team if you are not in a better shape physically and mentally. You’ll have a much happier and more productive experience if you take care of yourself along the way. Drink water. Take care of potential distractions like small errands – get up and walk down a flight of stairs – do whatever you need to make your hackathon a fun and happy experience, whether that means going home to sleep or taking breaks to get some air and some salad.

Prepare for the prize. Of course it’s not guaranteed, but if you work diligently, and follow the guidance above, most likely you will win something. Plan for what to do with tricky prizes like mentorship and incubation – which might require you to set up a business entity. Decide if a cash prize will go to developing the idea further or not.

Not all hackathons are the same, but when it comes to experiences preparation and good team communication will get you through. Many teams think the best outcome of a hackathon is winning the prize, but the better goal is to build the prototype of a product for which there is a proven market need.

Good luck in your next hackathon!

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I Had A Dream – A Digitally Empowered Community Health Worker

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In 2008, I worked for Uganda Chartered HealthNet, deploying PDAs to health workers, so that health records could be transferred to the Ministry of Health using a gprs-enabled access point mounted at a wall in the health facility. We were leaders in the work to digitize health records. OpenMRS was in its infancy while DHIS2 had just been released. The platform that would change the way we support frontline health workers was named GATHERdata. Meanwhile another company, FrontlineSMS was threatening to move our cheese. Frankly the writing had been on the wall. SMS was gaining traction. Essentially, any health worker anywhere, could send in a report without needing a central place to “sync” data. (Can you imagine we did that over an infrared beam??). Here you can see Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, rally community health workers.

In the same year, i joined an africa-wide advocacy association, the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa – FOSSFA. People always wonder, what is the difference between Free Software, and Open Source software. According to the Free Software Foundation, for a piece of software to be considered truly “free,” its license must guarantee four essential freedoms to its users:

  • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. (Again, access to the source code is a precondition for this).

When you make access to the source code possible, you make it open. When you allow modifications to come right back in, and also be available to everyone else, you become truly open, and truly free. By this time, you are going to need a community, as you will no-longer retain the capacity to work on the tools alone.

First it was hardware – PDAs to Smartphones, and then delivery (from infrared beams, to SMS, to native apps) now the shift (4IR) is to think platform (OpenMRS, DHIS2 and, gladly, Community Health Management System). But can a platform for healthcare tools be free, and open source?

———

Since 2010, Medic Mobile (formerly FrontlineSMS:Medic) has supported community health systems in more than 23 countries and is one of the largest implementer of digital health systems in lower-income settings. Medic builds mobile applications for community health workers (CHWs), household caregivers, and patients. We see communication gaps through the eyes of health workers and patients, and employ a human-centered design approach to co-designing health care delivery systems with local implementing partners. Medic Mobile has worked with over 60 partners across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the US. Based in San Francisco with regional offices in Africa and Asia, Medic Mobile’s technology supports over 25,000 front-line health workers, workers as they coordinate care for over 14 million families in some of the worlds hardest-to-reach communities.

The open-source software that Medic Mobile stewards, contributes to, and deploys is called the Community Health Toolkit. The CHT, a global public good to advance Universal Health Coverage (UHC), can be configured in each health system to serve the needs of that health system.

The CHT has been designed as a care-first platform, solving problems for CHWs and families. Care guides allow health workers to confidently treat at the doorstep and build credibility in their community. Tasks help direct health workers back to the right homes at the right times. Making work visible enables fair pay. It’s obvious, but this utility to people has been key to its adoption and use. Tools can be set out to collect data. Platforms, on the other hand, are set out to solve people’s problems. System owners get high-quality, longitudinal data as a by-product.

We have designed for and developed tools for Improving child health (Immunization, Nutrition, Integrated community case management), Reducing maternal and neonatal mortality (Antenatal care (ANC), Postnatal care (PNC), Family planning) and Strengthening community health systems (Health worker performance, Health system performance, Outbreak surveillance, Direct to Client Communication, Supervision). The platform includes analytics for more complex data visualization and analysis (including geospatial data and map-based visualizations). Medic Mobile’s web-based dashboard pulls data automatically, and can be accessed securely through a web-based login.

The questions for digital tools for the future are going to be beyond just measuring and managing towards quantity at the provider, manager, and health system levels; and we start to look at  performance in regards to speed of care (after onset of first symptom), (universal health) coverage, quality of care, and equity (getting care today, to the family that needs it the most today). Platforms in healthcare should extend to allowing patients to provide feedback on services provided at the home and in health facilities.


The well manicured grass felt bouncy as we queued up to share President Obama’s hand, and take a picture. It was when he saw the sticker on the back of my phone, “We Are All health Workers” – that he got interested, arranged for us to meet separately, so I could share with him what that was all about. This is how I got to share the story of my work.

The alarm always rings, at the best part of the dream. Time check, 515am.

 

Raising Andela’s Pocket Change

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How do you fix a thing that isnt broken?

John Doe was terrific at Java. John left the university, worked for a software company here, and even found time to lecture at the University. A USAID project came looking and John was the natural fit – top and exceptional Java talent to run a mega IT project. Soon, the project came to a wrap. John – now accustomed to an 8-figure salary and great perks couldn’t get rehired by regular companies. John couldn’t find gigs small enough to sustain his life. Also, there weren’t many Java projects in town – the tech stacks were fast and fluid, the specialist left feeling jurrassic! After a while, John landed an opportunity – but he had to relocate abroad. His skill, though precious and top-notch, is now fit only in specific markets, for people who are ready to pay 8 figures (I know, wait, I mean Ugx). You could say, John is not a fit for this Ugandan “ecosystem” anymore.

Andela is currently being vilified for what smaller software companies are now calling “a drain of the ecosystem” – of all the top developer talent. Junior developers are not spared, they even run a teen-code club (by the way its an excellent free program!). What happens to this talent? The simple version – Get in, get a mac, get trained, and for 4 years develop, as part of a team, world class software, for a global market! Surely what’s evil about this?

Until you start to see the net (and unintended) effects on the ecosystem. Andela requires that developers work in teams, on solutions that are not born of your neighborhood, for a client that stays in a city you only see in the movies. You get a world class education in software development techniques and a great office to work in (Kampala, Kigali, Lagos, Nairobi, New York, Austin, San Fransisco with HQ on the Internet!). Moreover, soon enough, you start earning a really great 7 figure salary. For some of our impressionable young people, its hard to look back. The problems you solve for clients in the global market are so big.  Its like tasting the fruit of the garden… Your eyes are opened, you are wiser, so much more – and now, your peers are in Mumbai, San Francisco, Barcelona and Toronto!

Again – you have to ask, what is wrong with all this?

Andela believes that while brilliance is evenly distributed, opportunity is not. Their mission is to make available opportunities to brilliant talent on the African continent. (Strong Applause Here).

Here’s what I think Andela should consider, in repairing the unintended consequences of its brilliantly executed model:

1 – Reconsider hiring talent straight from the University – because such impressionable kids will loose an opportunity to exercise their skill locally, before it becomes available globally. Moreover on the back of holistic development, Andela would benefit from hiring great software development talent that has actually experienced industry – Education, Agriculture, Health, Finance etc.

2 – Ask your Devs to Develop Others – as part of their full-time contract. We already know that training others supports mastery of any skill. Holding 2-3 mandatory community training sessions by 15 senior devs will create a give-back attitude, strengthen mentor-coach skills and add to the soft skills needed to produce a great Andelan. Just their tee and mac is sufficient branding. Moreover, the social capital one gains from that tends to be invaluable a few years later. Where its happening, take the ALC away from the building.

3 – Give Devs back to the industry – without turning your own lights off. Andela is perfectly positioned to support devs – in partnership with carefully selected local non-profit partners – to work on local technology solutions. This partnership model would be available to companies below a certain budget threshold. Carefully managed, this model has every opportunity to use local problems as the sandbox for training and development – a much added value.

4 – Some people are not cut out for working away from home – or relocation, or working in 4 time-zones. Some people are  perfectly fit for the local market. Andela can create a pricing model that makes such talent available for the local recruitment needs. Yes, they wont be paid top dollar relative to their colleagues, but that’s the opportunity cost of choosing to enjoy all 12 hours of the equatorial sun! And there’s nothing wrong with that.

This morning when I went over to the Andela breakfast, it was to honor an invitation to hear President and Co-founder Christina Sass. I enjoyed listening to her passion, but mostly to her compassion. I agree, we needn’t attach intention where there is none. Andela is not evil, and no they are not snatching the top 1%. Andela have a model, that works. Kampala has talent, that’s brilliant. The world has opportunities, ready to be filled.

Let’s not fail to feed the very ecosystem on which this model thrives.

 

john & hellen burns- Marriage Encounter

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know what works  for your spouse

the best way to be heard is to liste

just because am quiet doesn’t mean am okay

always create a safe place, your children cannot handle your fights

give each other time to process hard conversations, pray, re-evaluate

prov 5:18 – his heart is toward you only, her heart is toward you only.

sexual frustration can be an indicator of lack of trust.

we must develop habits that build trust again.

develop a habit of investing in your sexual relationship.

behave your way into success in your marriage.

 

building habits – with trust.

trust is the ability to lean on each other.

1-Language

language of grace. i fell in love with your future. grace abounds in trust but trust has to be earned. grace is a free gift, and you can give it all the time. grace takes the fear out of failure.

grace allows us to build the confidence that we need to succeed and excel.

in marriage, we need to get over the fact that if someone saw us for who we really are then its over. no. its not dependent on performance. instead learn to pray the prayer of grace about your spouse and children.

2- Rekindle the sizzle

sex is the celebration of love. the more you discover how amazing your spouse is, the more you will enjoy sex.

make it a habit to be best friends. make your spouse the person you want to be with the most. make friendship grow.

An Experience for My Education

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reBlogged from Amplify

My dearly beloved late mother desired that I should become a medical doctor. As it were, I gravitated to computers instead. In my short professional career, I have found my place using computers — and information systems — to improve health outcomes. From the linux based African access point, to becoming part of the Uganda EMR Society, I have marveled at the way information technology is utilized in the Ugandan health system. Suffice it to say, progress has been slower than my liking. But that’s another story.

When I realised I would not attend medical school, I decided that I would pursue something closely connected. A computer science graduate, my work experience experience has spanned Netmark Nigeria household surveys to telling the story of pediatric HIV in Uganda. Along this journey, my colleagues have included architects, designers, communications specialists, and data scientists, to name a few.

Find the rest of this post on GHC’s Amplify publication.

About Uganda, Here’s where I stand

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At the end of the day, there is a line to draw, and a side to be on. I have daughters, brothers, cousins, friends and a large extended family. I am a Muganda, born and raised in Kampala, I am Ugandan. I am personally invested in the future of my country, and I need it to be safe, sound and sober.
I stand for strong leadership, backed by strong laws.
I stand for accountability, not based on the wishful thinking that a man – any man – will be as good as his word, but rather with the law written on his heart, and surrounded by a strong and supportive community, such a man will be encouraged to right standing, day by day.
I would like our constitution amended to include term limits and to have an age limit. But most importantly, I would like the law of my country to be designed to set up our leaders for success.
I would not like, and do not support the idea that a constitution be amended to give 18 yo’s a chance to leadership – this is a country of 35 million people, not a whatsapp group. Heck, the responsibility to tick a box cannot be compared, on any spectrum, to the weighted responsibility to rally a nation. So no, let’s not get petty.
I would not like, and do not support the idea that our constitution be amended to give a person aged 60+ yo a chance at the presidency (or indeed a high ranking public office), because your best years are long gone – and that’s a fact of life. We don’t just want good leaders, we must desire to have the best, in their prime.
I too will one day be 60, and I know i will not be useless to the younger generations, but to claim to energetically hold the flag and lead the charge, that would be pretentious. I will lead, but I will lead from the back.
This is the line i draw, what do you stand for?
For a country that has largely young people, it is time to start filing the bank of our elders.
For all those who are 60 and above, if you do not have a group of young people in their 30’s who you have mentored for the last 10+ years, then its time for you to correct the most selfish act of your public life – step down, get out of there, find some young people to mentor (assuming your legacy and profile are still attractive as you hope). Its time to have you serve on boards and foundations where your true experience and legacy (if you have any left) can be used for what it truly is.
Do not fall into the trap of tokenism – the fallacy of “Youth MPs” or “Young People” – instead, create junior boards for younger leaders to begin to know what really happens in the corridors of power. For our country demographic, every public board should have a junior board, heck every junior minister should be below 35 – yes, its daring and ambitious, but the future of this country has got to be worth much more.
If you are in your 30’s – and have never considered standing for public office, you are perpetuating the rationale that you will only do so (serve your community and country) when you are older. That is a lie. You can serve now. We can serve now. Consider now, to stand for office. You do not need to be perfect, but with great mentors, and on-the-job-training, in an environment of protection by good strong laws, you will flourish. Remember, there are teenagers about to become your mentees – start now to build and set a profile that will be attractive to them. Start now to learn what you will pass on. In case you didn’t hear me, its time to grow up!
If you are of voting age, now is the time for us all to sober up. If indeed we want to secure the future of this nation, its time to face the reality – a country that is 80% 35yo and below cannot be led, and adequately run by the last 15%. They have to be fulfilling elder/advisor/mentor responsibilities – and therefore someone else has to stand up and lead/manage/inspire. And you are empowered, by the law, to give them that opportunity. But you have to want to do it. So you are going to find, not the most perfect young leader, but the one who has shown promise. Give them a chance, hold them accountable, place safeguards around them that allow them to flourish, learn, grow, lead and then pass the baton. You can do this, you can set the stage, it always starts with you.
Leadership is a significant lever of change, and in young democracies, you can set about doing this with a great constitution – there are far too many countries in the world for us to cherry pick the best, and no, we do not have enough able bodied Ugandans to pay a bloodied price. So no, let’s not even think about it.
Leadership has got to be learned, practiced and experienced. And a young country has got to train and develop (educate, commit to service, mentor) its young people into great leaders so that they can earn the social capital to be entrusted with the public and heavier responsibilities of a national scale.
Let us start now. No, Yesterday.

Your Dead Child’s (or Spouse’) Facebook

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Every piece of your life, can potentially be found on Facebook. Your child’s birth photos, from right in the womb, to their sweet 16th birthday are all there. Trips to Antigua and check-ins to the Mall, everything freely shared with that sneaky prompt, “What’s on your mind?”

And then, if you live in Kampala, as I do, chances are a boda-boda, or some other necessary evil, will take the life of your innocent child or spouse or parent or sibling.

Then… Whats on your mind? Well, why not review (and maybe even re-live) the online life of your dearly departed.

Not so fast – last week, a Berlin Court issued an order that barred parents of a deceased gal from obtaining access to her Facebook profile and its records. Facebook accounts, by their very nature, are personal. As this Reuters article notes, the secrecy of correspondence protects not just the child, but also the people who she spoke with, and their privacy must be protected.

The child’s Facebook account  must be a relic of sorts, and rightly so the parents probably want to lock this away or perhaps search it for their own closure. But the people she communicated with, if they are still alive, have their own right of communication privacy. Should familial curiosity override this? I am sure this was a difficult decision for the court to make, but I think their ruling is reasonable.

I remember growing up when dairies had not just yet been replaced by blogs that the given notion was: never read one that isn’t yours. If you are the parent of a young person, you know what it means to know less than 1% of their life. And that was when you lived on a ranch and wrote in diaries. In the information age, that life is spread thinner on at least 3 different social platforms, many of them allowing digital photography.

As a parent of a soon-to-become-teenager, I know that I should be involved in and educating their digital life. I don’t mean to be intrusive, but present. I need to know and be aware of online dangers and things like cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking, or abusive/dangerous/suspicious messages. I need to educate my kids about these dangers, and even advocate for such education/training in their schools. At home, of course it helps to create an environment of trust and dialogue where my children will feel comfortable telling me about their challenges.
On the other hand, when we go to a medical professional to better treat our ailments, sometimes we give up very personal details, stuff that might even be considered evil in the regular (or cultural) domain. One would argue that to this extent parents should consider entering into the privacy of our children in order to prescribe the best remedies.
I agree. Parents should be allowed to go into the privacy of their children precisely and only in a framework of prevention, counseling.
Well, what’s on your mind?