Making trouble: A recap of MxHacks, the Mendix World 24-hour hacking frenzy
Throughout history, people with new ideas—who think differently and try to change things—have always been called troublemakers.” – Richelle Mead, “Vampire Academy” novel Shadow Kiss
It’s not every day you get to start a blog post with a quote from a young adult novel, but I thought it relevant.
In light of our new “Go make it” movement, we live in a world where people are making and creating things that, even just a decade ago, would’ve been unthinkable. But making goes beyond producing a physical object or digital artifact. You can make all sorts of things. You can make a difference, make an impact, make change, and – as Mead suggests – make some trouble.
The troublemakers that gathered for MxHacks, the Mendix World 2019 hackathon, create the good sort of trouble. The kind of “trouble” that upsets the status quo, bucks trends, inspires. The kind of “trouble” that has the potential to change the world.
Read on for my recap of MxHacks, and see the amazing, potentially life-altering applications these so-called “troublemakers” dreamed up with low-code.
An electric start
The excitement of MxHacks started at a low thrum. Registration started at 8AM, and there were already developers lining up, eager to get building. By the time Mendix Platform Evangelist Jeff Goldberg hit the stage to kick off the event, the excitement had grown into a near-audible buzz as the 30 teams set up their work stations, doled out roles and responsibilities, and (most importantly) prepared to have some fun.
Goldberg’s introduction set the tone for the day. He shredded a guitar solo on a Lego Mindstorms guitar that he built himself, and this made clear two things: 1) that he is a terrible guitarist, and 2) that MxHacks was all about making the impossible possible.
The rules were simple: Teams had 24 hours to develop an original app using Mendix. And that was it. The attendees could build to their hearts’ content.
Making a change
Of course, what would a hackathon be without a little challenge? A few of our sponsors presented three challenges, based on integrating some amazing technologies into the apps. Between FlowFabric’s speech-to-text challenge, Siemens’ Bluetooth challenge, and Software Improvement Group’s application quality management (AQM) challenge, participants were not left wanting.
While the rules were simple, the use case was anything but. As Goldberg put it in his introduction, “We all have the opportunity to change lives.”
While the hackers could use whatever use case they wanted, Goldberg proposed that the participants create apps that assisted people displaced by war or natural disasters and the aid workers that provide those people the basic necessities they need to survive in a new home. With the use case set and the challenges laid down, the excitement turned palpable. Developers from all over the world, across myriad different industries, and with a range of programming and Mendix expertise got to work.
We all have the opportunity to change lives.
The use case clearly struck a chord with most participants. Teams developed apps aimed at helping refugees finding their families, requesting basic necessities, organizing their community, managing their finances, and translating questions they may have for aid workers. Teams set out to design systems that would help volunteers and aid workers give and find the best care for refugees, make the registration time faster, and predict and allocate the right sources.
For those that didn’t go with the MxHacks use case, they were still clearly inspired to do social good. Teams designed apps that help reduce high-emission cars, help nurses and doctors better care for their patients, build communities, and make technology more accessible.
One developer from Incentro summed up the output from MxHacks best when he said the goal of his team’s app was to “create a light in the darkness.” Embracing a low-code platform like Mendix gives users confidence that they can change the world for the better.
The goal of his team’s app was to create a light in the darkness.
The teams consisted of builders from different disciplines with different skillsets and subject matter expertise. Some teams didn’t even know each other before the hackathon kicked off. The members of one such team, properly named Bytes, came from all over the globe – Dubai, the Netherlands, South Africa – with all sorts of experience. Jito Koma, a developer lead at STS Africa, did what developer leads do best and took the reins of this team and guided them toward arriving at an idea that would help aid workers with short resources and limited knowledge of the area or the people tackle real-world disasters.
What one would think would be the biggest hurdle — a team formed at the last minute — turned out to be a non-issue, because, according to Koma, the hackers all arrived with the same goal: “We all wanted to be here. To learn. And engage with each other.”
Bytes’s app would work with wearables or other technology that store various aspects of a refugee’s health to help aids and volunteers quickly discern how the person should be treated. If that wasn’t a big enough task, Bytes took on the AQM challenge to make sure that their application maintained a level of quality that matched its use case.
It’s all fun and games
Apparently, people love puns, because a majority of the team names at MxHacks were plays on words. Take Halfathon, for instance, the team that challenged themselves to make a working app in just 12 hours. There was It’s About TimeSeries, a group of developers from Mendix partner, TimeSeries; The CAPEdCrusaders, a team of Batman fans from the company Cape Groep; Incentro, focused on winning the entire hackathon, dubbed themselves WINcentro. Another team, also focused on taking home the first prize Lego Mindstorms kit, simply called themselves… wait for it… First. (Possibly done in by their hubris, First did not come in first.) Given the artistry behind the team names, there was no doubt that these apps were going to be nothing if not creative and innovative.
The names were fun, and so were the day’s events. When the hackers needed a break, they found relief in the aptly named “Chill Zone,” an area that came replete with arcade machines, ping-pong tables, SNES Classics, and a lounge area. It also played host to a Super Mario Kart tournament.
The tournament, set up as a crude Kanban board, divided up the winners (Backlog), the current racers (Doing) and the losers (fittingly, Done).
There were 36 competitors, each ready to make the other eat their 16-bit dust. The tournament, while grueling and blister-inducing, was a nice change of pace from the day’s exhausting hacking. The winner, Sonny Pouwer, a Managing Consultant at Incentro, used Yoshi as his racer to take home bragging rights and a Raspberry Pi starter pack.
Taking a break
Throughout the day, hackers had the opportunity to take a break from their apps and go to workshops to get two things: a change of pace and some valuable information. The workshops, which covered best practices for integrating different technologies and tips for pitching apps, were held beyond the Chill Zone, in a quiet area perfect for soaking in all that education.
Exhaustion sets in
After the tournament ended, the fatigue set in for some.
Along with the exhaustion came the frustration. Teams that thought they were well on their way to completing their app ended up hitting some roadblocks.
The team Against All O(d)ds from Mendix partner, Ordina, were working well together throughout the day, but as weariness took over, mistakes were made. The team started miscommunicating what they were doing, and they weren’t building some crucial parts of their car emissions-monitoring app. At one point, the team decided it’d be best for their app, and themselves, if they all went back to their hotel rooms to get some well-deserved rest.
Perseverance was the name of the game though. Teams refused to give up despite the technical challenges they found themselves in. They found workarounds, used the coaches that were available for advice, and pushed through.
By sunrise, teams were rousing from their sleep, putting the finishing touches on their apps, and working on their pitches to the judges.
The judging was simple. Each team had to elect a pitch person who would explain what the app did, the value it brought to its users, and then demonstrate the technology used to build it. Judges evaluated the teams on their vision, execution, innovation, completion, and pitch. Scoring was based on a 1-10 scale, but teams could, like a Spinal Tap amp, go one louder and turn it up to 11.
So, who took it up to 11?
With their app that allowed aide workers to check in refugees and help them find their families with photo recognition, Zurich took home the Community Award, an applause-measured award taken at the end of the hackathon.
During the early stages of MxHacks, Zurich took Goldberg’s intro to heart. They are all members of a seven-person DevOps team at the large UK-based insurance company, where the IT team has been historically traditional with their approach to development.
“Some people see us as troublemakers,” said Renita Furtado, DevOps Business Engineer at Zurich. Team Zurich came to MxHacks to have fun and prove that their productivity and energy can be an impetus for a cultural shift at Zurich, and that rapid application development can be that catalyst. Tired but elated about their win, these troublemakers were excited to go home and continue their culture-shifting work.
Some people see us as troublemakers.
In second place came HackSystems, a team of developers from Mansystems. The judges rewarded HackSystems because of the technical depths their app went. They used language and facial recognition, speech-to-text, voice-guided navigation, and swipe technologies to build a very visual, easy-to-use app that helps find the right jobs and work for displaced people.
Jeroen Appel, Mendix Consultant at Mansystems, had been to other hackathons before and knew two key components of winning: keep it simple and have a clear idea of what you want to develop. Clearly, the advice he gave to his teammates paid off, as they each got to take home a Makeblock mBot Ranger.
The first place team’s app was recognized for the real user stories that it was addressing. AuraQ took home the top prize for their app that helped refugees manage finances. The app used voice authentication. The use case spoke to them on a personal and professional level. As Arthur Goujon, Head of Digital at AuraQ put it: “I was quite happy with the topic. We’ve been working in the past on the themes of microfinance and financial inclusion and refugees. It was a topic we knew well, myself and the organization.”
The team took to the main stage at the end of Mendix World’s Day 1 to accept their award, a Lego Mindstorms kits.
After receiving their award, Goujon said, “We just want to do another one now. As a team and an organization, we’re really full of energy now. I think we’re ready for the next one.”
We are too.
See what others are doing with Mendix and check out our Maker Stories.