What happens at a TADHack?

TADHack Global 2017We are really excited about all the new locations this year at TADHack Global, including Sofia and Varna in Bulgaria, Aukland in New Zealand, Sydney in Australia, Belfast in the UK, The Hague in the Netherlands, St Petersburg in Russia, Seattle in the USA, and more in the pipeline. For some of the locations, hackathons are not that common. The purpose of this weblog is to explain what happens at a TADHack, and hopefully answer some of your questions. Each location will have its own schedule, so treat this weblog as a guide only.

TADHacks normally run over a weekend. This is so people in full-time jobs can take part. We have run hackathons on weekdays, but most people prefer to not take time off work. TADHacks normally last 2 days, starting around 10AM on Saturday (occasionally Friday) and wrapping up by about 5-6PM on Sunday (occasionally Saturday).

A TADHack is an event in which people (e.g. students, graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, product managers, IT Managers, computer programmers, interested individuals, and subject-matter-experts) collaborate on a software project focused on programmable telecoms. Occasionally, there is a hardware component, for example we’ve had some impressive IoT (Internet of Things) hacks over the years, including a dancing robot.

Some important points in the above paragraph are:

  • You do not need to be a coding expert to take part, TADHack is for everyone.
  • We encourage teams to form at the start of the event, especially diverse teams of different skills. But its OK if you want to work individually.
  • The focus is on programmable telecoms. What we mean by programmable telecoms is that calling, sending text messages (SMS and IM), sending audio and video messages, video calling, faxing (yep, fax still exists), secure communications, decentralized communications, mobile payments, and much much more is possible through easy to use APIs/SDKs, and an even easier to use GUIs.
  • Telecoms is behind communications between people and things, its fundamental to most of the services we use today. Things can include web applications, we’ve had hacks where people call/text Alexa, or where a chat group / conference call can add in experts or bots to a conversation. We’ve had irrigation equipment texting farmers; we’ve had people using their voice to control robots. Check out all the hacks over the years on the TADHack weblog and Youtube channel.
  • A hack, is a software project. Its an idea (we’ll come back to how to get ideas later in this weblog), a demonstration of part of that idea, and as importantly a presentation – a pitch of the hack. You do not need to have a complete demonstration, just a bit of it. The idea and its presentation is just as important as the demonstration.
  • We have few technical restrictions, the formal hackathon rules are here, you can use whatever language and APIs you like, and your preferred development tools. We only ask the hack includes at least one of the sponsors’ resources. The more sponsor’s you mash-up the more chances to win.

How do you get an idea? This is the question that puts most people off taking part in a hackathon. Some people are fortunate to just be constantly having ideas. For most of us however, the act of trying to come up with an idea chases them all away from our mind. The secret for a successful hack is to think about all the problems you see in your life and those of friends, family, colleagues, and community. We all have problems in our lives and thinking about them is easy. As you’re thinking about those problems, have a think about how the sponsors’ capabilities can help you solve those problems. I guarantee after you do this a few times, you’ll have several ideas to choose from. And best of all they will be ideas you care about, check out this one from Justin at TADHack-mini Orlando, it was a personal challenge he faced in his life so it mattered intensely to him.

Here is an interview with a well-known uber-geek, Tim Panton, on how to approach hackathons for more guidance.

The usual flow of a TADHack on Day One is:

  • 10AM people start arriving and getting to know everyone. Note you location make have different timings. Note some locations start at 9AM, and are much more strict on getting going so check your local schedule.
  • 11AM most people have arrived, the ice is broken, people are discussing ideas, understanding the sponsors’ technologies, and the noise level jumps up considerably. We usually have a few short videos to introduce TADHack, some celebrity speakers (we were lucky to have Mark Shuttleworth last year), and the sponsors’ resources. You must include at least one of those resources to win a prize. This year the keynotes will include:
  • Craig Walker (CEO Dialpad, UberConference, Google, Grand Central, Yahoo!…)
  • Karel Bourgois (CEO and Founder Voxist) and Ruwan Dissanayaka (Co–Founder and CEO at Extrogene Software) who have built companies based on their hacks from TADHack.
  • Global sponsors present their technologies.
  • Local sponsors present their technologies.
  • Q&A
  • Noon – Lunch
  • 1-6PM – quiet, people are settling into turning their ideas into reality, getting to know the APIs, SDKs, GUIs, and setting up environments.
  • 6-8PM people start to break, relax as they can see what is required to complete their hack, and start to network again while others continue in quiet concentration.
  • 8PM wrap-up, some leave with the look of a long night ahead of them, while others are ready for a drink. I remember at TADHack Lisbon in June 2015 coming back to the hotel we were staying at and seeing one dedicated hacker at a table in the bar with their computer, Intel Edison board, several other devices, and a drink on the table while hacking away (it was Sam Machin!).

Then on Day Two:

  • Slow ramp up through the morning, by lunch everyone is there and the noise level rises.
  • We kick off the pitches normally by 2PM. Usually most people want to go later in the running order, usually there are a few that are ready to go first.
  • Pitches are the great reveal, the ideas and applications are always interesting and stimulating. We stream the pitches live and record them for later viewing. You are can give your pitch in your local language and have someone repeat every couple of sentences into English. You can see how this works at TADHack-mini Japan last year.
  • We try to spread the prizes as widely as possible, even if you do not win a prize there are lots of other benefits, see below.
  • We then wrap-up the weekend with some drinks and snacks to congratulate everyone, and the discussions move onto next steps, as we encourage everyone involved to take their hack into a real service and perhaps even build a business around it.

Who gets involved in TADHack:

  • Web developers discovering what programmable telecoms means to them;
  • Non-coders (students, graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, product managers, IT Managers, interested individuals) discovering how easy its become – TADHack really is for everyone;
  • Enterprise IT – some basic scripting skills and cut ‘n’ paste is enough these days to build impressive hacks. This is why programmable telecoms is now possible by tens to hundreds of millions of people, rather than a few thousand SIP/SS7 (overly complex telecom technologies) geeks.
  • Analysts and other business types, people interested to experience the journey of discovery that is a TADHack weekend.
  • First-timers coming in to chat, learn and see what a hackathon is all about. Building confidence to hack at their next event. We have the highest return ratio of any hackathon as people enjoy being part of TADHack.
  • We also have young teenagers with their parent(s) take part, learning and building confidence to hack next year.

The benefits of being involved in TADHack include:

  • Hiring – its a great place to discover impressive talent, and for students to find exciting local start-ups. Adding to your resume pitch video links showcases your creativity, development and presentation skills. People get great jobs through being involved in TADHack;
  • Business development – often people, teams, and sponsors discover they have common business interests with the people attending;
  • Learning – its a great opportunity to learn not only the sponsors’ technologies, but also tools and services you’ve discovered but simply not have time to play with;
  • Prizes and global recognition are always nice :)
  • Networking –  You’ll make new friends.
  • Have fun! We’re friendly, I know this may sound a little odd, but it is important to make people feel comfortable. Coming to an event, where there is no one you know is daunting. Here is a quote from one of the winners from TADHack-mini Orlando, ” I wanted to thank you again for organizing this event. I really enjoyed it and I felt very comfortable being there. “

Below are some Q&A from an old weblog I include here as well.

Q) Who should participate in TADHack?
A) TADHack is for everyone, from hackers (coders), through hustlers (business people) to hipsters (designers). Communications is a fundamental need of all humans and many ’things’, telecoms is now programmable and democratized so anyone can use the capabilities. Its become very easy, and its incredibly powerful.

Q) I’m not a telecoms developer, why should I join, what will I learn?
A) The focus of TADHack is developing with telecom capabilities: adding calling, messaging, video, conferencing, identity, location, payments and more to your applications, services and business processes. You’ll learn how people and things can use your applications from any device anywhere in the world, even that old rotary phone at your grandma’s house!

Q) What tools can I use? Who do I talk to about them?
A) Check out the sponsor’s developer resources (I’ll be adding the link soon). You can use your preferred programming language / environments. You can also use webhooks and a graphical user interface (GUI) with some of the resources to avoid coding all together.

Q) Can my hack be something we are working on ahead of the weekend?
A) Yes, just let the sponsors know in your pitch.

Q) I am an individual, but want to find others to collaborate with. How do I do that?
A) Come to TADHack, chat with people at the event, most people find others in the same situation. Even if you do not find some collaborators the sponsors will happily help you realize your ideas. TADHack is all about learning, sharing, coding (you can even avoid this with some of the GUIs), creating, and most importantly having fun.

Q) When and where is TADHack Global?
A) TADHack Global runs over two weekend 22-24 September and 29 Sept – 1 October. Normally we try to keep to one weekend, but because of different location needs we will run over 2 weekends this year. Check out all the 30+ locations – you’ll be taking part in the largest global hackathon over one (well two this year) weekend. And the largest telecom hackathon. If you can not find a location close by you can enter remotely.

Q) What are Local and Global Prizes? How are they awarded?
A) Each location has $1k in prize money from TADHack, plus some locations have additional prizes from local sponsors and partners, we’ll have updates on the local prizes soon. Hacks produced at a location are judged for the local prizes, those prizes are awarded at the end of that local event. BUT that is not all! Each of the global sponsors has $2k+ in global prize money they can allocate to any hack.

Q) How are the prizes awarded?
The people running each location decide who wins the local prizes, the global sponsors decide who wins their prizes. Their decisions are final. We recommend you review this weblog from Tim Panton on how to approach hackathons. Its a recipe for success. We allow prizes to be split, for example a local prize could be split between 2 or 3 winners.

Q) When are all the winners announced?
A) The location winners are announced at the end of that location event. Then the global prizes are decided after all the locations have completed. We will have a live streamed event announcing all the local and all the global winners for everyone around the world to know, your moment of fame :) We will do this on Monday October 2nd at 8PM CET – this is to ensure the global judges based in the Bay Area have time to finalize their decisions.

Q) I plan to submit a remote entry, where am I judged?
A) All remote entries are judged for the global prizes. You’ll find out if you’ve won when we do the live stream announcement on Monday October 2nd evening.

Q) What is a pitch at TADHack?
A) Its where you explain and demonstrate your hack. Either one person or the whole team can give the pitch. The only strict limit is its 5 minutes maximum, unless you’re giving the pitch in your local language and its being translated in step to English. By in-step we mean you speak a few sentences, then someone else repeats in English. The recommended structure is:

  • Introduce you / the team (and team name if you have one)
  • Introduce the hack / showcase name and a brief description
  • List the sponsor’s resources used in the hack (which sponsors should judge your hack)
  • Explain the hack, can be done through a simple presentation / a little acting, whatever you / the team wants to do.
  • And, of course, a demo of what you created.

Q) How do I collect my prize if I win?
A) Do not worry, we’ll be in touch :)

Q) What if I have other questions?
A) Just add them in the comments section and we’ll answer them.