I’m sure everybody was incredibly concerned why I wasn’t at the office nor reachable by most work related channels last Friday.
You weren’t? Well, I’ll still tell you where I was and what I was doing. Better grab a snack or something, this is going to take a while.
One wild ride
I spent my weekend taking part in a hackathon organized by Elsevier and AMEE. To those who do not know these organizations (like me before the hack), they are medical associations. More specifically, Elsevier was the organizing party and AMEE, or the International Association for Medical Education to its friends, was the driving force behind the event. The goal of the hackathon was to come up with an idea to somehow improve the life of medical students, be it something to help them study better, have better access to a variety of information sources or perhaps help them transition from their studies to actual working life. You can read a better description of the event from its webpage here
Anyone who has ever participated in a hackathon can probably tell you approximately what went on during the 48 hours of the event. We met up at the event venue, got to know the other people, listened to idea pitches, selected our project teams and then spent most of the weekend trying to breathe life into our ideas in any way we saw fit. All of the ideas were meant to have digital applications and demos and that’s why, in addition to the 20 medical students flown in from all over the world, the organizers had gathered a whole bunch of developers and designers for the event as well. On Sunday afternoon everybody gathered at Messukeskus (Convention center) where AMEE was organizing a conference and made their final pitches to international judges, who then selected the three best ideas and rewarded them.
I have participated in hackathons before, mainly game development ones, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. What really blew my mind all throughout the event was that the 20 medical students really… didn’t. I’ve been living in an IT bubble ever since I started my studies at the Tampere university of technology where everyone I met had a basic understanding of software development principles, ways of working and the terminology that goes along with them. Getting to meet and work with medical students introduced a huge and extremely pointy needle to my bubble. Watching most of them listen to a workshop about MVPs, or minimum viable products, made me realize that all of this is brand new to them. Their expertise lies in a whole different field. You don’t need to know what wireframing means or how software is built when you are treating patients and saving lives. While the hackathon was a very enjoyable event in and of itself, it gave me this brand new perspective on things that I’d lost somewhere along my own educational road that perhaps I DO know something and have learned a thing or two to get to where I am today. I’m very grateful for that perspective.
The start of something beautiful
Now, I listened to a lot of great pitches at the start of the event. Most of the ideas were brought in by the medical students which makes perfect sense as they are the ones we are hoping to help and they are the ones who know what they need. While I had a tough time in deciding which idea I wanted to work on as there were multiple that piqued my curiosity, I ended up sticking with what I know and hopped on board a gamified solution meant to help senior medical students to transfer their theoretical knowledge into practice by solving actual patient cases on their phones.
Our team consisted of 4 medical students, 1 developer and me, a designer. While most hackathons are very code-intensive, half of the participants here were non-IT professionals so naturally the focus was also a little bit more on other aspects than coding something from scratch. I found this to be a good thing as quite often in hackathons the ideas are not thought out well enough in the beginning as everybody just wants to get to the actual coding part, which often leads to complete trainwrecks further down the road.
We had a solid idea which we then spent almost the entire Friday refining. Once we had aligned our vision of what we wanted to do, I sketched up a first draft of the flowchart for the game as I had previous experience in game development (and, well, the title DESIGNER isn’t just for show, you know?). Once everybody understood how it could approximately work, we all started improving on our initial steps and creating drafts for the views of each step in the flowchart. At the end of Friday, we had barely touched our computers or the technical side of anything, but we had a detailed plan of what to do and what our game would include.
All of this ideation and refining bore fruit the next day, as everyone excelled in their assigned duties. While myself and our developer worked on creating the views in our chosen platform (Marvel app, great tool, link at the end), our medical students worked on the content, the documentation and the pitch. Later in the day, we started putting everything together and our game started to actually arise from the ashes and sketches. For the first time in any hackathon I felt that we hadn’t bitten off more than we could chew as almost everything we wanted to include in our game actually made it in and was polished enough to show off as well. When I left for some rest at the end of Saturday, I did so with a good conscience as our project was in excellent state.
Sunday morning and day were mostly spent on rehearsing the pitch, moving to the main event venue and performing technical tests so that everything would work. Despite the day not containing a whole lot of actual development work or strict deadlines in terms of content creation, it was still perhaps the most stressful of the event’s 3 days as now was the time we had to present our brainchild to the rest of the participants and see what everyone else thought about it. Fortunately, we delivered a solid pitch and our team was very happy with the result. At the end of the day, we managed to land 2nd place in the event and everyone went home a lot richer from the experiences of the weekend. By the time I got home and had something to eat, I was quite exhausted and it didn’t take me too long to succumb to the siren call of my ever-so-alluring bed.
Captain Hindsight, at your service
In retrospect, this hackathon might have been the most enlightening one of them all for me personally. Seeing people brought together from such different fields of life and how they manage to work so well together really broadened my horizons on what I thought was reasonable or even feasible. By the end of the event, my team’s medical students were happily wireframing away in Marvel app and I felt a certain kind of parental pride in knowing that I was part of the reason they had picked it up and were now initiated into the world of software development, no matter how small a part of it. I wish I could say something similar about me learning about medicine, but the way I just stared blankly into the distance every time I was supposed to type in some medical jargon until one of our med students came to my rescue continually proved otherwise. More than that, I have a newfound respect for medical professionals and doctors everywhere. They really have to cram an incredible amount of information into their brains during their studies and their ability and motivation to retain that information is what you and me will call upon when we’re injured or our lives are at risk. Now if only somebody taught them handwriting that wasn’t completely illegible then they’d truly be something else!
Getting the chance to participate in this event was a great opportunity for me for which I’m very thankful. It was a real pleasure to meet different kinds of people from all around the world and see what they can accomplish when they really put their minds into something, even if they have almost no previous experience in a particular subject. If anyone reading this has a chance to take part in similar endeavors, I highly recommend you to make time for them and go for it, you never know who you’ll meet, what you’ll learn or what you could end up creating!
Projects page of the event