Hacker Support

, Alexander Goedde

Crossbar.io was used as the connectivity solution for a hackathon run by Continental, with Tobias and me providing support for the hacking teams.

Hackathons are fun

I like hackathons - the rapid-fire ideation at the beginning, the rush of getting code done, the necessity to reduce things to the bare essentials, the clear focus on short-term delivery of something working. I also like participating as a tutor, where I get to a lot of the excitement without any of the stress.

photo of the hackathon participants, sitting and listening to the initial instructions
The Hackers

This past September I had the opportunity to be part of the second run of the automotive app hackathon by Continental (one of the world's biggest automotive suppliers, not just a tire producer) as a tutor. The first run was at IAA (International Automotive Exhibition) Frankfurt last year, and got attention up to the Continental board level.

In each case Crossbar.io was used to provide the connectivity between the microservices that participants built for their applications, the backend services that Continental provided for use and the frontend running in a demonstrator head unit. I tutored a total of three teams across the two hackathons, and Tobias provided support as a technical expert for all things connectivity.

The September run took place in Regensburg, close to our office. Here the automotive app challenge was part of a larger set of challenges. All of these ran in parallel across the entirety of a new conference center, the majority in the big hall, and it was fun seeing people drive model cars (finding ways to extend their reach with a fixed amount of energy), finding security issues in (mock) automotive controllers and creating tools for the mobile office.

A great team

It was even more fun working with the team I was assigned to. A large part of tutoring is holding back - nudging the team, being there for their questions, but resisting the urge to just create things which are missing, or correct things you see as mistakes yourself. "My" team made that easy. They were focused from the beginning to the end, a project manager emerged naturally, they distributed tasks efficiently, and they set the right priorities across the board. It was a joy to watch, with the odd bit of giving support. (They also ended up winning as plainly delivering the best overall package.)

photo of team participants sitting at their laptops and coding
"My" team in action

Continental spared no expenses for the event. I was glad for the great catering, ignored the event app (does anybody ever use these things?), and had the space to get away from all the speeches (my tolerance for these seems to drop with age).

Making life better (for drivers)

The challenge itself was to develop a (prototype) app for one of several provided driver personas. The team I tutored chose a student who drives to university, with the lecture halls spread across town.

Since students are always pressed for time, they built an integration between the student's schedule and navigation, with added parking recommendations. Money is also always an issue, so the app also allowed other students to request a pickup on the way.

I thought this was a nice feature set (with the ride-sharing functionality as a stretch goal), and they got a great presentation and prototype UI working during the 36 hours of the challenge. Using Crossbar.io was simple for the participants. After a bit of initial learning curve about basic concepts, most challenges where of the "mistyped URL" type!

image of two speech bubbles containing the phrase 'blah blah blah' done in pencil
Not much of this during the hackathon
image of a car and a ride-sharing passenger encountering each other - done in pencil
Being social just for gas money?

The team mocked services where appropriate, concentrated on the basic mechanics and UI - and gave their presentation without usage of presentation software. You can see some of the hand-drawn cards used above. Something different - and having so few elements for the presentation forced a clearly structured and concise delivery. There's something to be said for going no-tech at times!

Overall a great couple of days - and something I look forward to hopefully doing more next year!

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