Marquis de Geek’s TADHack Global 2021 Review

Thank you to Steve Goodwin for the excellent feedback. The original weblog is here, this is a copy.

I’m writing this the week after TADHack finished, and all the prizes have been cashed. However, all these thoughts were had during the hackathon itself, before even the local prizes were announced, so the results have not coloured or bias my opinions.

Things that were good

  • Sponsors had thought about what a hackathon entails. That is, empowering hackers to use their tech to do interesting and creative things. This means that we didn’t need to spend Saturday morning writing a Node library, reverse engineering a broken Swagger file, or re-inventing some other necessary tooling, before we can write the obligatory “Hello SMS” code. (On the down-side, there was no easy money to be made by doing so!)
  • The docs were, on the whole, better this year as it looks like the PMs are realising that documentation needs to be treated with the same respect as the (code) product.
  • The chat and support channels were staffed. This might seem strange to mention, but on previous years there have been sponsors who simply neglected to turn up. (I really don’t understand that!) A remote hackathon will never have the immediacy of a real-world event, so knowing that support is on-hand makes things a lot better.
  • New sponsors arrived to throw their tech (and money!) into the mix. This is a sign that the field is not stagnating, and innovation is still possible at the infrastructure level.
  • It produced some wonderful hacks, including ones where sponsor code was being fixed, improved, and given back to the community during the event.
  • And finally, it’s still going! For many folk, comms is not an attractive technology, and doing a hackathon in lockdown is not necessarily the best way to spend a weekend. But Alan and the organisers have put in the effort to make it happen, and were rewarded with over 1,000 sign-ups, so I’m hopefully for more events.

The less good

  • Some sponsors are still a little tone deaf. Hackers want docs, examples, and immediate gratification from their tech. So not sharing details about your product ahead of time, or requiring onboarding phone calls, are going to limit the uptake. (I’m sure sponsors could write great docs, or make videos, in the time it takes to have ten, 30 minute, identical conversations.) At least those devs are rewarded for that time and effort by being very likely to win a prize.
  • As a corollary to the above, some consider the attendees as invisible, since they’ll send emails the week after asking “can we help you get started” having not realised that they’re emailing the folk who have already started using it, entered TADHack with it, finished using it, and (in some cases) already won their prize!
  • The telecoms tech stack is become increasingly involved (notably with tools like Symbl.ai) making it more difficult to work on the software, as opposed to with it. Consequently, anyone looking for a job in the field might find themselves out of luck. (FWIW, I’ve created 12 prize-winning hacks over the years, and not even been offered a job!)
  • It was mostly remote. Nuff said.

My advice

Do it for the fun! You get to mess with tech and APIs you never normally would. It won’t necessarily get you a job with the sponsors (see above) but it’s a nice CV booster, and a way to focus your skills.

Do it for the future! Hackathons are better in a venue, period. Even if you work alone, or in a predetermined team, just having other hackers around to talk with over crisps/beer/cola is a wonderful experience. So, to ensure TADHack can continue to exist for another year, and return to physical meetings, it needs our support.

Do it for the lulz! The field might appear large, and full of experienced hackers, but that doesn’t exclude a good idea, and a keenness to experiment, from winning. One of our team’s little projects managed to win out over those by professional telecoms engineers! And if I can do it – anyone can!

Personally speaking

This started out as my worst experience, but quickly became the best.

Worst, because I couldn’t spend any time in the preceding week(s) investigating the tech. So everything was an uphill struggle. In fact, even at the half way stage, the only code that worked was a hacked sample to send and receive SMS! That’s so elementary that it’s not even worthy of being called a “hack”.

And best, because our team won both a local prize, and a global prize, becoming the overall winner in terms of prize money won.

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