What I Learned From Malaysia Developers’ Day Hackathon

KL Hack Army

At 7th September, MCMC (SKMM) and AT&T organized a hackathon at Westin Hotel, KL. This is the first AT&T hackathon in Asia and the support they gain from the community just awes. Developers and hackers from all over came together to this one tiny hotel basement and started churning out apps in the hope of winning the huge sum of USD 10,000.

My team consist of Hafi the designer, Siang the biz dev and me the developer. We used Phonegap and made a book review aggregating app. Users that shop in physical bookstores can find out whether a book is pop or flop, by just whip out their phone, tap on the app icon and scan the barcode. It’s that easy.

Despite our god-awesome pitch and ultra-simplistic user interface, we didn’t win. However, I have learned a couple of things from the hackathon, which may come across less surprising to most.

Business ideas don’t count

Despite on how judges emphasized on how important it is for the participating apps to solve a problem in world-changing way, they never really live up to the promise. As far as I know, the 3 winning apps are not solving any actual problem. The 1st place and 3rd place are just prettier version of a local app called Baucar. They solve duplicated problems.

The 2nd place app is a joke. The app is called Pronto Speed Alert. The team sets out to solve the bus driver speeding problem, inspired by the accident that killed 30+ couple of weeks ago. Their solution? An app that lets you shake the phone and it will tweet about the speeding bus to ministers’ and user’s family members’ Twitter accounts.

Mockups are accepted

Continuing the Pronto Speed Alert fiasco, the app didn’t even work.

What they have showed everybody is just a flashing screen, alternating between red and green. We didn’t get to see the tweets in action. In short, what they showed is just a stupid GIF animation.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me right?” No. I am fucking serious, their app is the least prepared in the hackathon, and they won.

Developers are being taken for granted

So before I begin, lemme clarify who developers are. Developers are idea people, PLUS we actually learned how to code to execute our idea.

That’s not what the lazy idea people think. What I notice is, they hire developers on the spot, thinking developers are slaves that are freely available for them to execute their idea. They think that developers are people who have no dream, no ambition and no app ideas. This is grossing me out.

So a message to non-dev idea people, please stop thinking developers are gonna work for you for free, nobody cares about you splitting the prize, your idea is NOT unique, your idea is NOT special, and you need to work to gain the respect and attention from developers to devote their time into your venture.

Further reading: No I won’t be your chief technical officer

Developers don’t really think how their apps are going to solve people’s problem

What we can see is that, most developers in the hackathon make apps that provide no value to the society.

What I am saying is that, the developers focused TOO MUCH on the app itself, TOO MUCH on their stack of choice, they felt like taking full advantage of the techs not to solve problems, but for the sake of using the techs.

What we have are apps that incorporate cool new features such as GPS, maps, native UI navigations yada yada, but the focus on solving the problem is lost. We end up having apps that the developers are not proud pushing them market, apps that we won’t use daily, apps that bound to be buried right after Hackathon. And this is really sad.

Usage of version control softwares need to be promoted

When the organizers announce that the participants are required to submit their app codes onto Github, the students behind me are confused. They have never used Git before.

This is a serious problem. IT and computer science students are supposed to learn these essential toolkits in their first lectures. And our higher education institutes are ignoring them. The students gonna suffer from something what I called, Programmer’s Dropbox Dilemma.

I feel so sorry and at the same time, I feel so so so obliged to lecture them on this. I did demo it to two of them, and I hope that they will use it and promote the use of Git among their peers and schoolmates.

Further reading: Version Control and Higher Education

And that’s a bit of it…

There are so many things that we can learn from a Hackathon, sometimes it’s not just about the downsides, but the people, the network that you can gain from taking part in such events. You get to make new friends, new contacts, new connections, and new found gaps of technical knowledge that are yet to fill. All of these, I believe, are making me a better developer, a better contributor to the society in the future.

P/S: Next round of Hackathon

Winning or not, let’s make it right.

I am going to work with designer (looks impressive) and business developer (sounds impressive). There is no point having 4 developers in a team.

Designers make the app look way more presentable than ordinary developers able to. And business developer can come up with sound business plans, that if investors/VCs are there, even if you don’t win the hackathon, there is chance that you can turn a mere Hackathon app into a real business, now that’s what I called WIN.

Author: Anonoz Chong

Web Developer in Kuala Lumpur. Computer Science student in MMU Cyberjaya. President of IT Society MMU Cyberjaya. Rubyist.

2 thoughts on “What I Learned From Malaysia Developers’ Day Hackathon”

  1. Yes, I was there too. Anyway I wonder what happen to the winning apps? I’ve been to two hackathons last year and I hardly seen or heard anything about those winners.

What do you think?