The past few months have kept me super busy with a little development but a LOT of other duties. I will try to go back and write some posts related to some of that after Summit. For now, let’s focus on Hackathon 2023 coming up in Las Vegas!
What is the Hackathon?
For those that may be new to the community, Acumatica hosts an annual conference called the Acumatica Summit. The days leading up to the Summit include a special event over the weekend to help various players in the community, not just developers, to meet and develop amazing projects related to Acumatica. The top teams receive prizes, but everyone wins the prize of networking with amazingly talented individuals.
My favorite project that I have participated on, hands down, is the one that won first place last year… The Acumatica Centurion. We intercepted file uploads to evaluate the files, use AI to provide a description of pictures, and notify HR if someone were to upload an image that is classified as NSFA (Not safe for Acumatica). Read more about it in the 2-part blog post on the Acumatica website.
How does the Hackathon Work?
If you are reading this before the Hackathon starts this year, it is NOT too late to get in on the fun. Just update your Acumatica Summit registration in include the Hackathon and contact Mark Franks (MFranks@acumatica.com) to get added to a team!
Mark divides up the participants into teams. While a company that sends a lot of people can have them all on a team together, the best practice is to divide everyone up so that each person gets to work with others outside their normal circle. This is how the team thinks outside the box to do something innovative while learning and connecting with others.
Once the teams are established on paper, Mark holds a Teams meeting which is scheduled for today, actually. This meeting will explain the hackathon and disclose the teams to all the participants. Each team typically consists of at least two developers (one of which is a Developer MVP) and a subject matter expert (SME) from Acumatica or the community. All other participants are distributed across these teams to add an array of other experiences which help with everything from the end user experience perspective to polished sales presentations for judging on Sunday. Everyone is welcome, and everyone gets something out of it.
Leading up to the Hackathon, the teams meet (virtually) to plan what the project should be. In some cases, external web services and other tools are researched and explored to ensure those tools will support the project. My teams have had two meetings and various emails in the past, but every team is different.
On Saturday before the Summit, everyone descends on the Hackathon room to find the team table, and the teams work feverishly following a quick welcome and announcements. Some teams finish early, but most teams work until 11 pm to midnight. After a good night’s sleep, everyone returns to the hackathon room to finish up the projects, polish presentations, and prepare for judging.
Judging is simple. Each team is given a few minutes to explain the project, provide a quick demo, and answer questions. This time is critical as the more polished the presentation, the higher the team tends to score. If I recall, the difference between first and third place last year was two points! Judging tends to be close… REAL close. After all, some of the brightest minds in the Acumatica community around the world are involved!
Why is the Hackathon Important to ME?
To set the stage, let’s just say I have a few years on me. I had about 20 years of experience as a developer of a “top down” character-based system when my employer decided to switch to Acumatica. This turned my development world upside down as I had never done any event-driven programming. We had two developers at the time, but we needed to split the work between the sys admin roles and the developer roles. My counterpart took the admin role and left me learning something new.
I loved the idea of learning something new. However, doing that in a vacuum as a lone developer on a new system was challenging, to put it mildly. I asked my VAR for help, and he connected me with Mark Franks who encouraged me to attend the upcoming Hackathon. I was writing customizations for our company, but I wasn’t strong by any measure and resisted going. My boss was open to sending me even though I wasn’t too sure, and my first year seemed like I was a penalty for my team. However, my teammate, Josh, was kind and gracious and helped me find a way to participate. I still think I was a net drain on the team that year, but I made connections, got some life-changing developer tips, and our team won a prize!
Fast forward a few years… Last year, I was teamed up with a great set of non-technical and somewhat technical resources as well as a solid developer. For the first time, my team was done early. We had our presentation framed up, and our project was solid. At judging, we stumbled a little, but we opted for PowerPoint slides to explain the project and a super short demo to see it work. We included a little humor about HR showing up if the Acumatica exec at the judging table were to upload any NSFA pictures of his trip to Vegas, and the crowd seemed to enjoy the humor. My goal was to just manage to complete the project. That’s all I could possibly hope for. Instead, we won. First place and immortalized on the Hackathon trophy. At the end of the month, I will get to take a phone of the trophy with my name engraved on it.
What do I believe to be the life-changing difference for me from year 1 to last year? Simple. The Hackathon.
Don’t Let the Fun End with Hackathon
If you attend Summit, you will have the opportunity to see a glimpse of a new community project. Friends and connections that I made at previous Hackathons have joined me on a new adventure in creating the second Acumatica community project. It is like a long-running hackathon project, and like the hackathon, it has given everyone on the team the opportunity to learn new things while we create something useful for the community. The connections made with others at the Hackathon and the exposure to new ideas and new ways of thinking open doors that can bring you more than you imagined. At the Hackathon, make connections, and you might even find yourself going home with insights and friendships that boost your skills to the next level like me.