Three days into joining the TrueLayer team, in a Biz Ops role, I participated in my first ever internal hackathon! To me, a hackathon conjured up images of groups of tech kids hunched over their laptops, drinking Red Bull and frantically typing numbers and symbols on their laptops trying to “hack” (!?) something.
As a non-coder, it was a world I knew little about and I was frankly terrified — I didn’t know how to code (3 free group Python coding classes at Oxford had not prepared me for this, neither had the MBA!)
Turns out, however, an internal hackathon is actually about letting your imagination run wild and coming up with creative, cool, fun ideas which will hopefully improve current business processes. We were encouraged to experiment with something new, improve something existing, learn new skills and build something that could be useful for TrueLayer or the wider fintech scene.
Once I had an idea, I was able to embrace the spirit of the hackathon!
The broad theme for the second TrueLayer hackathon was:
Automation and data visualisation
Code, design, sketch, write or imagine something cool
30 hours (can camp out in the office overnight!)
Everyone participates — work in teams of two or as a lone wolf
5min presentation of the project
Everyone votes on the best 3 projects (who win awesome prizes!)
Have fun :)
Ready, set, GO!
We started the countdown clock at 2pm on Wednesday and the energy in the office changed. I felt like I could literally see the light bulbs going off in peoples heads as they brainstormed ideas and switched into hackathon mode.
Snacks were provided. Music was played. This was exciting!
Competition and teamwork
I teamed up with Shefali and we brainstormed ideas. Even though I had no coding experience and had only been part of the business for a minute, I realised I could draw on my recent experience of the new hire onboarding process and try to incorporate an element of automation through a chatbot.
Some people were in it to win it and stayed in the office overnight working on bringing their ideas to life. Our #truehack Slack channel was filled with supportive messages, funny memes and competitive banter.
With 2 hours left on the clock the next day, I felt the pressure (especially with the extremely competitive duo of Jarvis and Mirta working opposite me, looking like they were about to take over the world).
I tried to raise my game by attempting to code a simple chatbot using Python.
Turns out it’s not that simple!
With a bit of googling and help from my more tech-savvy colleagues (Thanks, Vedika and Riccardo), I was able to at least get some code down that provided a greeting and welcome to new hires.
What the rest of the team came up with however was mind-blowing to me! From blockchain to live streams to squids - everyone set ambitious goals and went for it wholeheartedly. What really impressed me, besides the obvious technical complexity, was that there wasn’t a fear of “failure”.
TrueHire — A candidate sourcing web-app able to filter and visualize characteristics such as programming languages, experience, seniority and a holistic TrueLayer fit.
TransparentSupport — A connector status view within our customer console for them to see our API performance (i.e. 90%+ non-downtime).
Y.O.D.A — Take client meeting notes without writing a word. Built using voice, speech and language APIs from Twilio, Google Cloud Platform and Google docs.
TrueStream — A Live Stream graphic mockup of our Data API.
TheManInTheMiddle — Using squid in Kubernetes: how to utilise an SSL proxy cache in a sidecar to improve main application performance.
TrueScore — Your credit score on the blockchain.
GhostKube — Using PKCS#11 HSM to securely connect to Kubernetes cluster.
TrueChat — Text-based chat over faster payments rail allowing for a pay-to-access communication protocol.
ROYbot — A prototype for an AI-enabled chatbot that will automate and personalise the onboarding experience for new hires.
Overall: Transparent Support - this was also my favourite with Raluca and Naomi presenting a really cool demo of their hack which brought data visualisation to life with regards to our API performance.
Most useful: ManInTheMiddle - Neil’s “squid stuff” definitely went over my head but I could tell how good it was from Luca’s excited exclamations when he saw how it worked.
Most creative: TrueScore - Riccardo was one of those who stayed in the office overnight. He attempted to build a complex product that calculated a credit score for an individual and then encrypted that credit score on the blockchain!
Learnings and future hacks
So what did I learn from this experience?
Hackathons are awesome and not something to fear!
It’s important to get outside of your comfort zone and think outside the box.
Giving people the freedom to imagine and create new things boosts morale, brings a team closer together and can improve your business.
I’m unbelievably lucky to be surrounded by a fantastic, passionate and talented group of individuals who are all excited about what we are doing at TrueLayer.