Last month I was invited to participate to a Hackathon through universities in the UK. Hackathons normally take around 24 hours and you and your team need to solve a specific problem during this time, eating sweeties and working like crazy – with not too much sleep. Technically is not very different from working hours in a newspaper to get your project done before the news are published to the public. But well, this was different.

It was like playing a new game for hours. However sometimes it’s difficult to know what to expect from it. How do I find people to do this with me? Am I that good? What am I going to do? How can I help?

For this post I will highlight my experience (from the perspective of an UI/UX designer) and how we managed to get a prize in the end of the competition. Yay! /o/

The world can end while you are coding. Grab some really nice food!
Some people prefer to study and work with coffee. Oh well, that could be that case as we were doing this for 24 hours. But water and brain food as nuts and dried fruits could help. For me, what helped was chocolate and the idea of finishing the project with a very good result (why not?).

You can sleep. This will let your friends to take pictures like that:

Also, things like that could happen:

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What about your skills?
First of all I got a little bit insecure about my skills and those very experienced “coders” around the team. What can I do being as I was not a “coder”? I knew I could do something around interface design or UX design. And there is where I put all my energy in. I tried everything I could till get the best wait to present our idea to the rest of the other teams. But the greatest thing I’ve learnt was: trust your skills and go for it!

In the end it doesn’t matter if you can’t code as quick as your colleagues. Just have fun!

Choose one idea and defend that till the end
The theme of this project was about collecting data from different areas regarding transportation, roads, weather conditions, floods and so on in order to build a good maintenance plan for streets. The event, created by SmartStreetsHub had a lot of good references about the internet of things, sensors and the “internet of places”, which is about context and people. For this theme, we had the idea to create the tool called CycleSport.

The main idea was to transform the data into something meaningful to people. In that case, our target was cyclists that use roads and streets everyday and need to know which route is the safest. The main idea should be always the creation of relevant things for people. That’s why we are here.

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Work with people that make you laugh and don’t go alone!
Spending 24 hours with people that are boring is not that good. For the team you need to combine skills and analyse the possibility to have fun with those people. This is a very big challenge and in the end, it will be what really matters. Imagine if you start doing what you think it’s the best, and other people from your team are doing another thing? Or imagine that you start coding in one language and then the team is working with other language. It doesn’t work like that. You need to have fun, learn and do what you like the most (that could be programming, planning, testing or even buying some chocolate for the members of the team).

In the end, this experience could open the doors for more projects with the same team in the future. Why not?

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In the end…
I can talk about my role in this project. I was the one designing understandable interfaces to people. In other words, I combined UI with UX into the main idea, creating an identity for the project and a website.

As a result, I must admit that I’ve learnt a lot. Combining the concept of internet of places and contextual data, it was possible to draw significant experiences to people and help cyclists to get safe routes. In this situation and working as a team in a small amount of time made me feel responsible for the design field as much as my other colleagues felt responsible for their areas.

In the end, we’ve managed to win a prize in the competition. But for me, this reward was more than just a few pounds. The final reward was to work with an amazing team of talented people, which I hope to stay in touch and keep doing projects like that.

I can’t wait for the next hackathon. There is nothing best than teamwork. :)

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And thanks for the brilliant team:

@CaryDing

@SimonBox

Gary Wills: gb@soton.ac.uk

Cherrett T.J.: T.J.Cherrett@soton.ac.uk

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