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Hack Manchester 2018 - Runner up for GCHQ challenge

Me and a couple of guys from the office entered HackManchester (me for the third year running). We also gained an additional member of the team, Jon was looking to join a team.

We got to MOSI at around about 12, found a good table and awaited the challenges.

One of the things I noticed this year, was a lack of prizes compared to previous years. Did not put us off though, we wanted to go for best company or the GCHQ challenge, it would be great to win two years in a row!!

We took the brief and dismantled it.

To celebrate GCHQ opening a new office in Manchester, we wanted to challenge Hack Manchester participants to think locally. There are lots of fantastic open data sources available about Greater Manchester – we want to see how you can utilise this data to improve the safety of the general public.

The main things we aimed to do were

  • Test ourselves with tech that will stretch us
  • Build something to Improve Safety of public
  • Use Open Data Sources as mentioned in the brief
  • Have fun, and make something that is serious, yet not too much so

The idea we came up was

  • A native Android app, GraphQL, DotNetCore WebApi, AWS, React.js, ElasticSearch, TwitterApi, Google Maps Api
  • Which plots the safest route from A to B, helping to keep the user safe
  • By checking open data sets (Police Stop and Search data, TFGM traffic data, Ufo Sightings, Ghost Sightings) and live real time data by scraping twitter for certain keywords
  • With the fun element being a dark mode, which flipped the idea, allowing the user to participate in crime.

What we ended up building was this:

We felt like we had targeted the brief well, and that we had a good chance at winning!

An hour before we were due to attend the awards ceremony, we saw a message on the HackManchester channel, saying that we had been disqualified due to not submitting a video.

Above is the message we got (which has since been deleted from slack, I guess because its such a massive mess up, they don’t want people to know publicly what happened)

As you can imagine, after 25 hours (yes we didn’t get much sleep at all, and put our best into this idea) you can sense the frustration. I didn’t want to go to the awards ceremony, but was convinced to at least have a word with the judges to find out what is happening.

I did speak with the judge, and they failed to convince me that we were not disqualified. I was told our video was judged, but it sounded more like they didn’t want to annoy me with such a mix up.

After the judging, it annoyed me a bit that we saw judges during the day, but they were not even at the awards ceremony, and our category seemed to be overlooked compared to the rest. GCHQ did not even attend the awards ceremony, and instead the category was awarded by the coop instead.

The winner of our category, I can honestly say I did not see the code, or understand the challenges they faced, but it seemed so far off brief that it made no sense that they won. The other runner up in our category I would say was on par with our idea in terms of brief, funny video, good choice of tech, and would have been a worthy winner if selected.

For the next bit, you need to understand that I found this blog post probably one of the most difficult I have ever had to write, which is why it has taken me so long to, there are as few points in here that I’ve tried my best to be as sensitive and professional as possible.

I feel like we were not the only team who deserved something more than they got, it felt very much like the theme this year was not skill or achievement. Don’t get me wrong, a few ideas won this year which were promoted as women in tech, which I whole heartedly support, its a great inititive! But it cheapens the cause when its obvious other projects were better, as it feels like you are lowering the bar to entry by promoting it in this way, and surely this goes against what you are trying to achieve in the first place. It creates something people cannot aspire to, especially when equality is what people want.

I feel this year the decision for best in show was a very clear nod to a worthy inititive, but at the expense of the time and effort the majority of teams put in to enter what should have been an equal playing field competition.

I know it probably makes me look like a sore loser, but honestly, it took a lot for me to speak out about this, something I put a lot of time and effort in and was very passionate about, and it made me feel like the competition is just a PR stunt, and not a breeding ground for innovation, a place to meet like-minded developers, and something to have a laugh and build something crazy for 25 hours.

If you are entering next year, you should ask the judging panel to make their data open, even if its finding out how many votes each team got. I now feel like I won’t support hack manchester, and if you know me, it’s all I talk about, and look forward to, and I usually tell everyone I know who is a dev about it, because it was awesome at one point.

If you want to enter a competition for fun, thats all good, but don’t enter expecting it to be a competition with fair rules, a place to build something unique that pushes the boundaries and tests your skills.

Written on November 13, 2018.