Truehack #3 — Battle Royale
Wol, a newish engineer and Gerisha, an oldie in biz ops, take you into TrueLayer’s hackathon #3!
As an employee at TrueLayer, you should expect to do things you haven’t done before. In my first three months here as an engineer, I’ve gotten to grips with Kubernetes, dived deep into microservice instrumentation, and much more. I recently had the opportunity to check off another first — participating in a hackathon. Having read about previous TrueLayer hackathons on the blog, I was super excited to be involved in the Battle Royale, and eager to build something awesome!
Battle Royale traditionally refers to a fight involving many combatants that is fought until only one fighter remains standing! A fitting theme for what was to come… ⚔️
So, this hackathon I felt like a seasoned veteran after being a complete (non-coder) newbie to the ! One thing that had changed however was that we had upped the ante on the competition and this Battle Royale was going to be EPIC.
In a way, it felt like a metaphor for the business as a whole over the past year. We were no longer about 10 people in a co-working space focusing on one product and region, we now had a team of 40 strong 💪 in an office of our own with expanding products and horizons. It was time to step up!
And step up we did — everyone was absolutely blown away by the creativity, ambition and drive brought to this hackathon!
The premise for our third hackathon was simple — teams would have 36 hours to create something useful, cool, disruptive or just downright hilarious. At the end, teams would give 5-minute presentations and everyone would then vote on a winner in each of three categories — solo, duo, or squads of four. We were encouraged to do something unusual, try something different, use a new tool and work with people we don’t usually work with.
The week leading up to the Battle Royale was marked by trash talk at lunchtimes and top-secret team meetings. Old scores needed to be settled and alliances formed. On the eve of the hackathon, the most competitive among us made sure to get enough kip, ready to get their hack on the next day (while the rest of us headed to the local pub 🍺).
Our Battle Royale theme was inspired by an online game sometimes played by TrueLayeristas in their spare time — PUBG! Our amazing design team got us into the spirit on Day 1 with shiny new swag on our desks including custom t-shirts and PUBG-style beanies 😎. We were provided with “crates” of food supplies dropped at random throughout the competition. And of course, there was the addition of the “secret weapon” for this hackathon — Nerf guns! 🔫🔫
Our mission: Don’t merge to master. Don’t push to prod. SURVIVE!
I was in a team with two other engineers and a product manager, suffice to say we had no shortage of engineering resources. We realised early on that our challenges would be making sure our goals were achievable within the timeframe, and making sure that we could utilise all three engineers effectively. We could see many different ways that we could architect our project (e.g fully event-driven system using Kakfa), but decided to KISS (keep it simple stupid), and scaled back our architecture to a few simple microservices.
This approach meant that we could split work easily, which is extremely important when racing against the clock. Another advantage was that we could use whatever technologies we were comfortable with; we ended up using Python, Typescript, Lambda and Postgres.
I competed in a squad, RetroPiggy 🐖, with Nicki (visual designer) and Joao (client care) however we lost our only engineer at the last minute and needed a fourth team member in order to compete. With the future of our team on the line — our CEO, Francesco, came to the rescue offering his (limited) time and promising to try his best.
Given that we had no engineering resources, my team had to “pivot” our 8bit online game idea halfway into Day 1 of the hackathon! We decided to adapt a DC Comics superhero card game to TrueLayer-specific content based on the fintech industry, business functions, inside jokes, and more! (My first hackathon idea, ROYbot, even made a comeback!)
We were doing something completely different to the rest of the teams and one which didn’t use any coding but did play to our individual strengths. We weren’t sure how we would fare in the competition but knew that we:
loved the creativity of the idea
were going to have FUN
had set ourselves a challenge!
Most importantly, it felt like we were still embracing the spirit of what a hackathon is all about: 💡!
Everyone was working flat out for the hackathon and the ambition of the ideas meant that we were up against the clock from the start. My team camped out in a meeting room and worked on our “TrueNiverse” card game. We were sporadically pulled back into the office, however, as Nerf gun bullets whizzed into the room 🎯. This signalled the start of (many) full out Nerf Wars!
It felt like we were in a real battle (Royale) at these points, with people donning their TrueHack beanies and manoeuvring around the office to get the best aim. I loved that it brought all the different teams together and gave us a short break and energy boost from the intensity of our hacks!
The Battle Royale ended with presentations from each team. Although we were all exhausted at this point (a handful of diehard hackers had even pulled all-nighters in the office ⛺), we were super excited to see what other teams had been working on, and we were not disappointed! The presentations were captivating, mind-blowing and often hilarious — showcasing the blood, sweat and tears each contender had brought to the game.
💻 Friday — An easy to use deployment tool (great for Friday deployments)
💸 TruePay — Payments made simple
🕴️ TheLonelyCTO — Cloning our services into a local Kubernetes cluster for development
🔗 Neil — Deep dive into Open Banking deeper links
📊 Mc_hammer — OpenTracing. Trace call graphs across distributed service
👫 Twins — Two Slackbots (Salesbot and JenniferBOT) to improve workflow efficiency as well as TrueLayer employee’s work-life quality
🎮 Three is the Magic Number — Making compliance fun again, with a Star Wars themed platform game
📈 Team Sean — Dashboard (made with Python dash) for potential lender-focused SaaS product around income/rent estimation + discretionary/non-discretionary spending analysis
🌌 RetroPiggy — A ready to play TrueLayer themed deck game called “TrueNiverse” consisting of over 200 cards
🎭 Project Venice — Banking data as a stream
🏦 JaRaDeSt — A framework to allow for crowd-sourcing of global bank connectivity by non-technical users.
Everyone brought their A-game and the standard in each category was so high that it was difficult to know who to vote for! Our overall winners were TruePay, Pay Up, B! and JaRaDeSt. They were awarded coveted TrueLayer Battle Royale backpacks, generous Amazon gift vouchers, custom winner (winner chicken dinner) laptop stickers and most importantly, glory. 🏆
Good job, guys! 👏
The Battle Royale was great fun, here are the things we took away from the experience:
Wol and Gerisha:
🧘 Be flexible — Ambitious hacks will inevitably result in weird and wonderful problems along the way. Be ready to pivot and change as many times as necessary to get it done. What can sometimes feel like a setback could bring an even better end result!
💻 Hack every day — bring the hacker culture with you every day; we rarely get 36 hours set aside to work on whatever we want, but challenging conventional thought helps us grow not only as individuals but also as a company.
🚶You don’t have to follow the crowd — Those with original, clever, funny ideas (even ones that required no coding!) did really well in the competition. So, don’t be afraid to play to your unique strengths even if they’re different.
👥 Surround yourself with good people — We work with a bunch of diverse, super smart and talented people. The hacks produced were incredible, and showcased the creativity, humour and intelligence of our colleagues, making us confident that we can achieve whatever we set out to accomplish.