AEC Hackathon – A participants perspective

AEC Hackathon – 19th July 2015

Last weekend I attended the AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) Hackathon at the Future Cities Catapult’s Urban Innovation Centre in London. The dust has now settled so the time is now right to pen a few lines on what the experience was like, whether it’s good use of time and what I learnt.

What was the experience like?

AEC is designed to be a clash of cultures where techies / programmers join forces with architects, engineers and construction professionals to solve problems a typically technophobic / conservative AEC industry is facing.

Interestingly before I attended the hack I wasn’t sure whether I was in the AEC camp or the techie camp?

Very quickly I discovered that knowing programming languages and being able to apply them to solve problems put me in the techie camp. In general the AEC camp seemed to be largely composed of open-minded problem owners looking for opportunities to use technology without the hands-on skills / time to do it themselves. This mixture was great since this fostered an culture of openness, sharing and exploration of ideas. It didn’t matter what your job title was, or how many grey hairs you’ve got, people that talked sense were listened to and people that talked bs were quickly found out due to the demands of rapidly developing prototypes within the time allotted.

From my recollection the hackathon began in earnest with lightning talks where people advertised the problem they wanted to work on and/or the skills that they were offering. This quickly allowed people to get a sense of who wanted to do what and what skills were available in the room. This resulted in rapid team formation for people with aligned interests and horse-trading for those wanting to develop an idea that had not immediately resonated with the attendees or their skill sets. Following this teams rapidly formed and initial ideas were generated from which work and products emerged.

The team that I co-created with my participants (Team Gapath0n) focused on a data challenge that consisting of analysing a brand new dataset on building performance, reviewing what was in there and extracting new intelligence. As a team we were very lucky to have a great blend of skill-sets (front-end developers, back-end developers, data analysts, architect), as well as some really talented individuals which helped massively in getting our work done against the clock. Thankfully thanks to the hard work and dedication we had something great to present to our fellow AEC hackers.

At the time we were not sure whether our peers were going to be impressed or not so there was a whole bunch of nervous moments prior to our presentation but in the end we communicated well and a lot of people got our idea.

Team Gapathon receiving prizes 🙂

Was it good use of my time?

Absolutely! There are not very many opportunities in life where you can surround yourself with open-minded and highly motivated individuals and focus on solving a problem. Since time is of the essence there is no room for time wasting or individualism / impressing the boss. Everyone needs to be clear on what they can offer, what they will need help with and how they can bring the vision into life. For me this is perfect because you get fast feedback on your own skills as well as fast feedback on whether your idea has legs or not. For self-development purposes there is nothing better than a hackathon to see whether you have useful skills and what you need to learn to improve on.

What did I learn?

Hackathons are a great place to network because you meet people that are driven by new ideas and want to change the world. The self-selection process of attending / not attending means that everyone in attendance is serious, motivated and wanting to do something innovative. Another great aspect is that their partners also show up so you end up meeting people from a diverse range of backgrounds that you may not normally exchange ideas with – I met an amazing guy (Peter Wiegold Club Inegales) and we talked about the parallels between composition of social space and music.

I also identified opportunities for self-improvement and also learnt a lot from my peers particularly with respect to web-development. As a result of this – next hackathon I hope to be even more useful and clued up.


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