It was the middle of September that I received a call from Dr. Mohammad Motahar about something interesting. He invited me to be part of their team to participate in the GRAVITY Challenge in Australia. For those of you who know me, Challenge is in my DNA. So, I asked only one question, Is GRAVITY Challenge a hackathon? And he said yes. And I said I am in! Although later on, I realized that it goes beyond the typical hackathon you might be used to!

How long was GRAVITY Challenge program

GRAVITY Challenge was a six-week-long program to help innovators to develop new products by leveraging space data and to address a number of real challenges in the industry.

GRAVITY Challenge kicked off in Adelaide during the 8th Space Forum on Monday 30 September 2019. Our development team was based in Melbourne and our drone pilot was in Perth. However, our team’s presence at the opening event was not mandatory. To allow the team to participate remotely hosted online for all the sessions.

In another post in evoila, my colleague Christian Brinker has a great post on how to win a hackathon and I invite you to read his experience of attending when it comes to hackathons.

“Hackathons are fun. They bring new ideas and expansion projects for the cloud foundry community. Working in a team with people from all over the world and from different companies on one project has always enriched me a lot. I hope my tips will help you. I am convinced that everyone has the chance to win. Keep my fingers crossed for you in any case and look forward to the next Hackathon.”

I fully agree with Christian Brinker! First of all, it was fun. When you design a solution and a minute after you find yourself criticizing your own design to improve it! It’s a great feeling of designing a solution with a strong team with different backgrounds and expertise. It helps you make sure every feature is validated for its marketability, usability for end-user, financially viable to invest and of course technologically viable to implement.

It was a wonderful six weeks of rapid iterative system and idea design and validation and prototyping. Experience of collaborating with top AWS experts to validate the architecture was amazing. We were in direct contact with the head of innovation at Deloitte Australia. To receive feedback about the idea of patentability, commercialization and product development. We did not sleep during the last 48 hours of submission in order to complete our pitching presentation.

Who were Judges in GRAVITY Challenge

Judges were invited from the Australian space agency NASA, Deloitte and Amazon AWS. The judging panel assessed all submissions and pitching presentations.

Our team became one of the finalists among other top brands for the great contribution of building autopilot APIs. The objective was to provide drones as a service solution and to let customers order Aerial Photography on-demand without human intervention. The full implementation allowed end-users to manage drone photography directly without the need for a licensed pilot to fly it.
We did great work on advanced drone simulation and programming as well as designing a scalable architecture to bring it into the cloud. One can say that such developments aren’t achievable without a talented team, who are technically very competent. Yes, It’s true. It wasn’t the first time for us to participate in such competitions and we won a few in the past.

However, I believe what helped us to stand out from the crowd is just beyond that technical capability. There are other dimensions and in particular, some dimensions that I think many other teams (despite being technically competent) are lacking.
In this post, I would like to share with you just a few of my secret (but simple) keys which I think are related to other dimensions and hope it can help you build and manage your team.

Learn How to Surf

Australia is famous as one of the world’s premier surfing destinations, but I am talking about surfing for the Hackathon.

If I want to formulate a secret recipe to be used as a guide in Hackathon competitions, it’s all about learning how to surf. A professional surfer knows the waves and she paddles to catch the big waves. These waves are hot technology of the year. If you want to be able to build the next Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, you first need to understand emerging technology trends that are hot, and we can expect to see more applications of them in the next year.

Internet of Things (IoT), AI and Machine Learning, Drones, Serverless Computing, Blockchain, 3D printing, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are just a few major ones on the list.

So, the idea here is to work on your NPD (New product development) by catching one of these big waves to make your own niche. Take for example Augmented Reality. A big wave is coming and if you are a surfer you might have some ideas to catch this wave.

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If you have watched the video, you might start thinking about building applications for it. Don’t forget that there are other surfers who are waiting for these waves So better be quick! Look for example what a surfer can do with these technologies by integrating them with operational dashboards.

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Don’t think outside the box

It’s interesting that there are still job ads with the requirements to have a candidate to think “outside of the box”. Although thinking outside of the box has a positive meaning that you don’t limit your creativity to that box, but I tend to think that there are more complex challenges to solve in today’s market that needs a better approach.

The way I try to contribute to the problem-solving approach in our team is usually following another principle that I share here.

There are just no boxes…

Yes, I encourage you to think about it. If you see a box, Start asking some fundamental questions. Who defined this box? What are the rules? Can they be broken if we limit our product features? Brainstorming sessions are an essential part of any Hackathons and you will have plenty of it during the competition. Brainstorming is one of the best ways to encourage creativity. However, don’t forget to bring your secret glasses when looking at the problem.

Bend your mind

I know that the common understanding is that one must be technically a top expert in hackathons to be able to address a real challenge. The way, I always try to think to solve the challenges in Hackathons (And also at work) is just based on my father’s first advice, when I chose to study computer science 14 years ago (my father is a highly educated serial entrepreneur).

He said, “In your career in the future, you will meet genius software engineers they can even write a code that can bend a spoon. If you want to be one of them do not just try to write your advanced code to bend the spoon because you won’t get there. Instead, try to bend your mind first and you will see the magic”.

Cheetah Programming

There is no time to waste. We used a method called Cheetah Development and we kept on telling everyone to follow this so-called our methodology. For those of you who may not know, Cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world. The philosophy behind this is to follow some sort of super agile methodology. Where Cheetah master defines micro tasks for all cheetahs (Team members) and work with them to help them maintain their speed in delivering the output. Tasks are ranging from prototyping, programming to nonprogramming. To provide an example, when we needed to buy advanced drone equipment, The entire searching process for a grant until submitting the application took just three hours thanks to our friends at Linux Australia for a quick approval process.

You can read the project progress report in the annual report document for Linux Australia in the following link. To find our section here, just search my name, Shiva Mostafavi or our company name, evoila.

https://linux.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/annual-report-2020-hires-combined.pdf

Conclusion

I think there are many ways, that we can improve our technical skills in order to prepare ourselves to attend such competitions or even to take it further to manage a startup team to develop our new product. However, I believe a true success in these scenarios requires someone, who can develop and improve her skills and abilities in other dimensions too. Someone, who is not just technically competent but has a clear vision and determination to achieve it. Someone, who believes in her principles and works hard toward success and never gives up.

Above is just about a few principles from a team member of a small team to shed light for you in your mission, whether it is at work or life, should you choose to accept it.

Happy inventing.