Experience at AngelHack Chennai 2015

Was at the AngelHack Chennai event on Sunday… My thoughts.

Firstly, it was the first hackathon I went to. Was great to connect with a lot of people including college students, other working professionals, those who had quit job at an early age to startup and the experts from IBM, HP, ThoughtWorks and ClusterPoint.

With a list of 30 teams from across India that competed, it was a good event. I am sure there would be events with a lot more experienced teams happening elsewhere though but its important to have teams coming in early. I am sure it would have been a good learning for them too.

The trends I saw are these.

  • Many ideas revolved around building platforms. Only point though is that its easy to under-estimate what it takes to get a platform successful business wise.
  • Multiple ideas that targeted the emergency response / accident / safety scenario (on roads / in house for elders etc). Thats a good thing. Important problems to solve but again interfacing with multiple parties and trying to solve too many things in one shot is tough. Keeping the whole scenario in mind and starting with one focussed device / solution would be great. Over time, can expand to solve more parts of the problem.
  • One thought process to possibly avoid is to start thinking from the point of what tools I have and what problems can I use it to solve. I believe its a wrong approach. We do need tools to solve problems but just because I have a tool, like an API that HP provides on sentiment analysis, trying to use it to solve a problem leads us to try and manufacture problems or see them in wrong light. Very often, we tend to under-estimate the need for domain knowledge. I cant stress it enough. Businesses are successful because they understand how things work on the ground and how they are able to help the players adopt new behaviours / tools which are beneficial. Not because we have tools. So, starting from the problem is the right direction.
  • In a sort of continuation of the thought above, its important to know that we have the right solution to the problem. Implementation is secondary. We cannot use sentiment analysis to judge behavioural traits of people. We cannot use signature based unlocking of phone without having the algorithm to compare it reliably and authenticate. Sometime, some things are not possible and thats why they are not done as yet.
  • Not hitting at bold ideas. I totally realise that its a hackathon and 24 hrs is no time to solve a big problem. Even then, its important to start picking the real big problems that society around us faces. That’s one reason the winners were the winners. The social impact of having a tool to tell us about safe / relatively unsafe areas in a city is great. Its not innovation that always matters. Using existing ideas / solutions to solve a problem which exists where we live is good enough. Also, not-for-profit is a perfectly valid business model. That does not mean its not fundable. Foundations can fund, govt can fund, we can crowd source, run by donations etc. Is it valuable to people? Thats all matters. Means can be worked out. So, would be great to see more technology being focused on solving real problems which exist at the social level. (I am also guilty of the same but have some plans for the future)
  • On the technology front, it was good to see that teams were able to pick up IBM Bluemix, HP On demand, Cluster point etc in a short time and use. Also, good to see frameworks like Angular, Ionic being used. Few ideas on Internet of Things (IoT), those involving hardware, were good to see.
  • Safety / interoperability. When we design hardware that goes along with other existing devices in the market, we need to know that they will play along well and that safety is not compromised. Addressing specifically a team which attempted to enhance efficiency of water heaters, its important to address safety concerns first. It cannot be an after thought. I am not commenting on whether the solution was safe. 5 minutes is not enough to judge that but in such attempts, safety must be explicitly addressed as one of the key areas for which design is done. Also, interoperability is primary when our solution is not complete in itself. That is critical to address.
  • Lastly, one point on Privacy concerns. I saw a fair number of them looking to use GPS sensor from the phones to use location and build location aware applications. Its great but again addressing privacy concerns is important. We cant take the user for granted. Just because a sensor exists, we cant use it. Also, it drains the battery. So, apps which expect GPS to be on all the time are not welcome from user perspective. I am all for using all sensors on the smart phones. This is what allows phones to do things that we cant do with laptops but care and concern for user needs primacy.

I wont be doing justice if I were not to mention that there were more than 3 good ideas and implementations. Events have certain specific requirements as success criteria. We need to respect that but that does not mean that the ideas which didnt win are not worthy of pursuit.

Please feel free to weigh in.

Hope to attend more events in time…. Cheers 🙂

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