Techfugee Hackathon: 29 hours hacking at trivago

The third trivago hackathon, this year in collaboration with Techfugees, took place from 18th to 19th November 2017 at the trivago headquarters in Düsseldorf. Creative and innovative devs and designers were invited to form teams and compete for cash prizes. More than 50 participants spent 29 hours developing products and services to help refugees with a technical background re-enter the tech industry. Our team included developers Robin and Christoph, in this article they talk about their experiences.

This post was originally published on Me & Company. The article was translated from German for Life at trivago. You can read the original here.

Jan (Me & Company): How did you hear about the trivago hackathon, and why did you apply?

Robin: I’ve been to trivago’s hackathons for the past two years, and I’ve always found them pretty good. You get to learn a little bit, meet new people and socialize. trivago is around the corner with me, that’s really handy. The participants came from all over Germany and even from abroad. Why should not you go there? That’s why I asked Christoph if he would not like to participate this year.

Christoph: That was my first hackathon, and I just felt like it. I found the idea very interesting to go through the night and to program all the time in a group that you have just met. I thought I could learn something and meet new people.

Jan: How were the first hours?

Christoph: At 8.30 in the morning we met at trivago HQ in Dusseldorf. We checked in at reception and got our lanyards. Then we went up to the office. There was a breakfast buffet prepared, where we could serve ourselves. So we got into conversation with the first people. At about nine o’clock the welcome presentation started. There was also a cool care package featuring overnight swag. 

Robin: The care package was really a nice touch. That did not exist the last two times. There were things that we could use really well. Not only did someone really think about the design of the merchandise, but they really thought about what the participants could need over the weekend.

Jan: How were the projects presented and how did the teams form?

Robin: In the presentation, the organizers first explained what Techfugees do, and what their problems are. Then everyone could go forward, introduce their idea within a minute, and say what kind of people they need for the project. For example; if a back-end developer introduces an idea, he usually needs someone to look after the front-end, or a designer at least. The ideas were not completely worked out, just rough designs. Something like; “I’d like to do LinkedIn for refugees.” If an idea inspired you, you went to the people and together formed a group of (maximum) six people. The elaboration then took place in these groups.

Jan: What was your project idea? And who did you collaborate with?

Christoph: Joschka had introduced the idea of a shop where tech companies could donate their old hardware for refugees. Robin had had a similar idea a few days before. So I said, come on, let’s go there with you. Joschka was already paired with Sebastian, they already knew each other. Marvin was into the idea so the five of us then formed a group.

Jan: How did you first approach the project as a team?

Robin: At first we brainstormed a bit and talked about the basic idea of setting up UX, Wireframes and Flowcharts. In this process, we considered that it would be useful to expand the idea even further. Instead of just developing a site where companies can donate their hardware, we wanted to combine it with small challenges. A kind of small challenge or task from the companies to the refugees. Like a little mini online hackathon. We had not designed that yet.

The idea was that the refugees are not only there to take the challenge and get the hardware, but also to get in touch with the companies and present themselves and their skills and projects, like a job interview. Quite a win-win situation for refugees and companies: The Techfugees get a job, get hardware and can get a little further education. Companies, on the other hand, can find new applicants and get ideas from people who usually have a very different background than the usual employees.

Jan: Who in the team took care of what areas?

Christoph: Joschka took care of the backend. Marvin set up the server, ordered the domain and later also worked on the backend. Sebastian, Robin and I worked on the frontend. Robin also built wireframes and the presentation. At the beginning, we three front-end developers did a bit of a pairing and roughly built everything up. After that we could split up. One said, I do that, and the other, I can do that. We sat in the same room all the time and talked constantly. Of course questions came up again and again. That was a bit of a mess sometimes: push it, damn it, I forgot something, there is still a mistake in it. It was also always very fun.

Jan: What problems did you solve differently during the hackathon than in your usual routine?

Robin: The thing is, during a Hackathon, because you work so quick, you end up writing bad code that you could never reuse. Suppose you want to continue to build it, you need to actually throw away the code completely and start again because you wouldn’t be able to find anything. But that’s normal when you have a time-frame of two days. Everything is quickly clapped somewhere and, mainly, it works. In hackathons, nobody has the right to write a nice code.

Jan: How did you present your project to other participants and the jury?

Robin: We started with a PowerPoint presentation of our project, in which we addressed problems of both the refugees and the companies. We presented our solutions and the benefits for both parties. We also created a demo to show the login process and go through all the functions. That worked great too.

Christoph: We gave a small “RPG” (role playing game) in our presentation. Sebastian was the Techfugee and I was the company. I found it interesting to present in English. In general, I do not speak so much English and then to present directly, was already a challenge.

Robin: The demo went something like this: First, Christoph had to register as a company. After that he could create a challenge. For this, he had to specify what the content was and what resources are provided. In addition to the hardware, software could also be offered. Initially, we focused on online courses such as code academy.

After Christoph filled everything, the pages were changed. Sebastian came to the site on behalf of the Techfugee and was able to see what challenges there were at the moment – including the ones we had just created. If he wanted to participate, he had to register for it. The registration process looked a bit different. For example, since we wanted to make sure that he was indeed a “Techfugee” (a refugee with a technical background) we asked some fun tech questions.

After Sebastian successfully completed the process, he was able to sign up for the challenge. The company then got the application and could say, okay, I think that’s cool, and accept. After that it was between the company and the Techfugee to connect and to pick up the hardware, or to arrange a job interview.

Jan: How did you feel to accept the prize for third place?

Robin: We presented fourth. I actually had a very good feeling right up until our presentation. However, the groups that came after us showed really good things. They also won in the end. The organizers had already informed us in advance about the criteria we would be evaluated on. For example, technical implementation and presentation, and ‘innovation potential’ also played an important role. So we knew what to aim for. That’s why I did not expect that we would do so well once I saw some of the other entries.

Christoph: I did not expect us to finish in third place either. We jokingly said we finished fourth. The presentation from the first place winners I found really cool. They also presented a role-play, but really with great acting. A Techfugee introduced himself to the app and took a selfie. He then had to say his name and where he came from. Everything was immediately entered in the application, which was automatically translated into all languages. The features were really not bad. The group had many APIs involved. That looks impressive, of course.

Jan: What were your main takeaways from the two days?

Robin: In the frontend we used Vue.js; which is a JavaScript framework. I did not have that much experience with that before. It was really good to reuse the framework and also to see how other people are working with it. Sebastian, for example, set up the project and did it a bit differently than we did. It really helped to see how other project structures can be built in the same framework. What I also noticed: If you have a strong team, you can do a lot very quickly. Specifically, I refer to Sepp and Joschka, who are both colleagues that work together. They were really fast together. Having a working team, even if it’s only two people, can replace a whole Dev department of five people. In addition, the hackathon once again made clear to me how well you can work in pairing. I want to do that more often in the future. The room always buzzes with the idea that one is then slower, but that is not the case.

Christoph: I’ve seen how fast you can be with the keyboard in the editor. Sebastian was really fixing things fast. I also got to learn a few shortcuts myself. Apart from that, I enjoyed the collaboration and the fact that I could learn a lot from the experience of others.

Jan: Will you be back next year?

Christoph: We definitely have the numbers from the others. We also agreed that if there should be another event, they would tell us or we would tell them. The trivago hackathon is absolutely an option next year!

Thanks a lot The  mechanical eye for providing the photos.

Jan Weddehage
Jan Weddehage

Jan works as a content editor at the customer experience agency Me & Company in Düsseldorf. He has a great passion for audience development and, of course, jalapeños.

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