As a Techlab member, this year I had the chance to assist in the organization of the IT Hackathon 2023 - CUSTOM3R HACKIN3SS, which was exclusive to the IT department. This event sparked the idea for an Essent-wide hackathon which was open to everyone who would be interested in participating. Myself and another Techlab member were asked to help out with the organization.
The organizing team for this hackathon consisted of nine individuals with diverse backgrounds, which was great as our aim was to attract a broad audience. Naturally, one of the crucial initial tasks was to brainstorm a theme. Quite quickly, the theme "One-Stop Energy Shop" was suggested due to its active and significant relevance to Essent. Following several meetings and weeks of discussions, a key question emerged: how can we not only encourage individuals from diverse backgrounds to participate but also ensure the formation of multi-disciplinary teams?
We considered it a missed opportunity if we didn't leverage the diverse knowledge at our disposal, so we took the initiative to create a Wiki page for people to sign up and participate. We soon noticed a positive shift as project ideas were shared on the Wiki page, leading to the formation of groups. People were actively engaged in seeking out knowledge that was missing within their teams and reaching out to others who could contribute that knowledge. In total, we had about 60 participants for this hackathon.
Aside from helping with the organizing I was also a participant. I joined a team called Happy Hour which consisted of 10 people. I joined this group because I found the idea great. Our idea was:
“Fixed energy price with a few blocks of cheap/free electricity. Combining low/negative prices with the certainty of fixed rates. We only give a discount on electricity when it is cheaper.”
As the hackathon drew closer, final preparations and arrangements were made to ensure everything was in order.
The morning of the hackathon kicked off with a briefing on the next two days' agenda and the expected activities, this also including the times for each team to pitch their ideas. Additionally, to energize everyone for the busy day ahead, there was a refreshing Yoga session to get everyone ready.
Our team began by gathering everyone together to discuss the necessary steps to turn our idea into a proposal. It was great to hear insights from the business side on what factors must be considered to transform an idea into an actionable project.
After aligning our thoughts, we divided into smaller teams to be more efficient. Each team focused on their area of expertise, ensuring that similar skills worked together. Nonetheless, working in parallel required frequent alignment, and having all capabilities within reach proved to be very beneficial.
As a DevOps engineer, my role comes into play once the idea has been processed and is ready to be investigated for the technical implementation. We decided to explore something new, utilizing AWS Figma to code, despite not having prior experience with it. Although it turned out to be less practical as we couldn't get it to function properly, the experience from this was enjoyable and we still gained valuable knowledge from the experiment.
Moreover, having a UX team member as part of our group proved to be highly valuable, showing that such close collaboration could be beneficial in a DevOps team as well.
During the hackathon, we were treated to a great lunch, and additional activities such as table- football and ping-pong, which served as a good change and allowed us to bond with the team. Time flies by quickly when you're having fun and before I realized it, dinner was served. The weather was fantastic, enabling us to dine outside, adding to the pleasant atmosphere.
After dinner, we resumed our hacking until around 21:30. Interestingly, many participants remained enthusiastic about their projects, choosing to stay back and continue their work even after dinner.
The theme of the second day had to do with final presentations. We kicked off the day at 9:00 at the office with a brief explanation of how the presentations would be judged. There were two different prizes up for grabs. The first prize was to be awarded by a jury and would be based on the business value of the ideas presented. The second prize would go to the overall winner of the hackathon and would be determined by votes from all the participants.
Each team had the opportunity to vote for the other teams, and the evaluation was based on five categories:
- Originality – How original is it?
- Solution – Do you like the solution?
- Innovativeness – How innovative is the idea?
- Presentation – How creatively was it presented?
- Link to theme: One-Stop Energy Shop
After the presentation, we had until 11:00 to finalize our project and prepare for the project presentation. It was a nice experience to put everything together and see the results of our work. The two hours passed by quickly and before we knew it, it was time for all the teams to present their work within a 5-minute timeframe.
Around noon, after the presentations, the award ceremony commenced, and the team REC+OPSMENDERS won first place with their idea of building a recommender system for Essent. They successfully brought anonymized data together to develop a draft version of a machine learning algorithm that could identify customer attributes linked to specific products, such as contract types, acquisition of solar panels etcetera.
For my team, we were happy to receive the jury award for the idea with the highest business value.
After the award ceremony, the hackathon officially concluded around 12:30, and we were all relieved to finally get some well-earned rest.
In closing, the hackathon was a fun event, and it was nice to see so many colleagues from different business units come together and create ideas around the One-Stop Energy Shop.