IW Hack Fest 2019: My experience

On November 7, 2019, an announcement was posted by Shreyata Karmacharya, the Engineering Manager of Insight Workshop, in the official Skype group chat of the company. It was about an internal hackathon, “IW Hack Fest 2019”, that was scheduled for November 23, Saturday. With that announcement, a wave of idea hunt started in each of our minds. However, a group of 3–5 had to be formed before registering, so I went on a lookout for my hackathon mates. Initially, I had thought that it wouldn’t be that difficult to form a group of like-minded individuals for a common goal. But, the reality was different. Even within our team of mobile app developers, each had different plans for the weekend. Sagun was interested but had to attend bhoj, Sushmita was set for Mardi, Sagar was lukewarm, and on the contrary, Ashwin seemed highly interested but couldn’t take part, since he was a part of the organizing committee. Despite all of these, I pushed on to take part as there was a spark in everyone of them.

After convincing Sagar and asking Sagun to make time, we were off to discuss our ideas. Each of us had one, so we poured one after another and there was Ashwin with a bag full of excellent ones. We set following criteria so that the idea didn’t get out of hand and we could deliver what we meant:

  • Could be created with a minimum amount of effort (i.e within 4–5 hours)
  • Had to be catchy or different
  • Could allow us to learn something new

After multiple brainstorming sessions, we narrowed down on Ashwin’s multiple million- dollar ideas (these included keeping a tally of activities of students, digital well-being) and then made it bare-bone with Sagun’s suggestion. And voila! The target set was to develop ‘EduCam’, an analytics tool that would measure how engaged the students were during a particular class. It would do so by calculating the average of the facial expressions of students in a class.

As the day of hackathon was nearing, all of us were busy looking for resources or papers and whatever we could find that could be helpful. Though Ashwin couldn’t take part, he was always there helping out and suggesting. He provided us with links and references that helped us get results faster. Sagar was fully engaged in his journey to find similar applications, while Sagun was arranging his time schedule to make it to the hackathon. By the time the event arrived, it was clear that I and Sagun would be joining the bits and pieces, while Sagar would be looking into feasibility, market and presentation.

THE DAY

The day we had been waiting for so eagerly, finally arrived. We were called upon early at 7 and my team reached on time. But I, who couldn’t ignore my habit of reaching late at events, got there half an hour later. A short briefing was held about how the event would be conducted, the tasks that had to be completed, the amenities available, the deadline for submission and the presentation time.

As soon as the briefing ended, we rushed towards the pantry for warm tea and some light snacks. While munching on the snacks, we planned on what to put forth as our mini proposal, which had to be submitted within 30 minutes. After submitting our mini proposal, we began working on making EduCam happen. By our research, we came to a conclusion that it could be done integrating the following technologies:

  1. Vision framework by Apple, which would enable us to apply computer vision algorithms to perform a variety of tasks on input images and video.
  2. CoreML framework by Apple, which would enable us to integrate machine learning models into our application.
  3. Charts, a library that could generate beautiful graphs and charts in our iOS application.

We planned on developing specifically for the Apple ecosystem as both of us (Sagun and I) are iOS developers and we chose whatever niceties Apple had to offer. That was the sole reason behind choosing Vision framework and leveraging its face-detection API; Core ML for data processing and emotion division; and lastly, a third party library, Charts, to create a pie-chart (’cause we all happened to be pie lovers 😅) based on the data generated. With these things in mind, it was clear that we just needed three screens to present our idea. The first one would be a landing screen; the second, a camera screen, from where the data would be collected; and the third, where our ‘beloved’ pie would be displayed. Sagun started giving life to EduCam by creating a new project and working out on its user interface, while I started making a module, which would take in the data collected using Vision framework’s face-detection API and feed them to CoreML for further processing. Since time was limited, I began searching for reliable emotion detection models. And there came Ashwin to the rescue again, as he sent a plethora of models. I picked the one that suited to our needs and then began integration with Vision framework. Meanwhile, Sagar started making preparations for our presentation starting with a flowchart. By mid-day, we had 60% of our application completed and the presentation slides were already taking shape. And then it was my favourite part of the day — lunch time! Since hunger was at its apex, we rushed to “Fifth Corner” for Thakali meal. (Advertisement time: This post is sponsored by Fifth Corner — The Best Thakali in town! 🤣) Kidding! Thanks to the organizing team for managing such a yummy meal!

We thought our app was nearly complete. But what we didn’t know was that it had major bugs in it that could ruin the whole presentation. Initially, we had a landing screen with a blurred background showing a real-time video being generated by the device’s camera (inspired/copied/”whatever you think we did” from FaceTime app 😂). But every-time we got into data processing by going to the next screen, the UI froze. This was serious issue (and a failed attempt to imitate FaceTime’s home screen 😭) and with a heavy heart Sagun had to revamp the landing page. Hence, we went with much simpler look with an image of a child (because children are cute! 😍) in the background. The camera sessions had more issues as it was causing lag in the overall app. While we were busy squashing bugs, it was Sagar working hard on creating documentation and presentation. He made a proper draft of the presentation ready by the time we were done killing those pesky bugs in our application.

Then came the most difficult part of the day — presentation. Since our application was ready to be showcased, we started working on the draft of the presentation that Sagar had made. We locked ourselves in the meeting room and started preparing for the presentation. From adding a word missing in the presentation, to modifying the flowchart; from assigning titles to describe about to each team member, to making ourselves ready with satisfactory answers to the jury’s possible questions, we were making sure that all the things in our checklist got checked. There was nervousness and tension arising and that was clearly visible in our faces.

5:00pm. It was time. Everyone gathered at the basement for the presentation session. We were just wishing if our turn would come first and we could get the presentation done and put an end to this storm of nervousness. But that didn’t happen. Fate wanted us to suffer! 😭 First, there was a surprise birthday celebration of Dambar Dai. Although the celebration and Dambar Dai’s happy face made us feel better, the presentation session was yet to begin. Ashwin took the lead to create chits containing the names of the seven teams so that they could be drawn to call up the teams for presentation. The presentation session finally began after drawing the first chit. Second chit — third chit — fourth chit drawn, but our chit was still hiding somewhere. And seeing each team go to the stage and present their projects was giving us goosebumps. They showcased awesome ideas and solutions.

As it is said, “You don’t always get what you wish for”, we too didn’t get what we wished for. We were not the first ones to present, but the last ones. I started off the presentation and there was Sagar after me. He seemed quite nervous while we were preparing but at the stage, he did an awesome job. Sagun was confident during the preparations and he remained the same even during the presentation. Overall, the team did well in the presentation. We faced questions from the jury and took turns to reply to their questions. And by analyzing the jury’s expressions, we could say that they liked our solution.

Finally, the presentation session was over and after some minutes, the organizing committee came up with the results. Before announcing the winners, the organizing committee was generous enough to provide a surprise gift to all the attendees. 2 QFX Tickets! Wasn’t that awesome? Everyone got excited. I was too, since I had got an opportunity to take ‘her’ to movies without losing much from my pockets. 😅 I mean, who doesn’t like to go to movies with his/her loved one without spending much from his/her pocket, right? But those tickets turned single people like Sagun and Ashwin anxious. They were totally indecisive about what to do with those tickets. Poor fellas! 😂

Okay, back to the topic! It was time to announce the winners. The “Most Innovative Idea” was to be crowned first. Riwaj, Surya and Prabin had showcased a mockup of a quiz game based on the plot of a shooting game. During the game, for every right answer given to a question, a thief would be shot through the player’s gun, and for a wrong one, the player would be the one to get shot and get his/her life decreased. That was a nice way to make learning fun! And there was no doubt that their idea deserved to be the most innovative idea. Thus, the idea of Riwaj, Surya and Prabin bagged the title of the “Most Innovative Idea” in “IW Hack Fest 2019”. Everyone was cheering for them. The tensed environment suddenly got filled with joy and laughter. But when the time came to announce the winners of “IW Hack Fest 2019”, the room suddenly got silent and everyone started guessing who the winners could be. The names of different teams began to be called by the people, including ours. I looked at the faces of Sagar and Sagun and I could see them silent and nervous. And bang! The announcement was made, “The winners of IW Hack Fest 2019 is Team EduCam.” And we didn’t know how to react to that. 😅 The crowd was cheering and we got invited to the stage. Ashwin looked happier than us but deep down in is heart, we knew how he was feeling for not being able to participate. We took a lot of pictures and it was one of the happiest days of our lives. Sagun was even saying that it was the happiest and the most interesting day at work in his life. It surely was for me too. And Sagar, like a “typical married man”, stayed controlled and calm, but happy. 😂

To conclude, November 23, 2019, was not a day when we bagged a title as the winners of “IW Hack Fest 2019” only. It was a day full of achievements and learning. We learned how the differences between the individuals and their expertise in a team makes it easier to divide work and achieve the goal of delivering a solution quickly. We learned how small things we do are capable to bring positive changes and make our world a better place to live (I know it’s a cliché line 😂). And most importantly, we realized the necessity to believe in ourselves and be confident in what we think and do.

Thanks to Insight Workshop family for everything!
Thanks to the organizing committee for doing such a great job!
Thanks to the company administration for being so kind enough to support the event!
Thanks to Shreyata Karmacharya for continuously poking us and reminding us to write up a blog post!
Thanks to Ashwin Shrestha for being so helpful!
Thanks to Sagar Chapagain and Sagun Raj Lage for being in the team!
Thanks to all the teams for participating and showcasing their awesome solutions!
Thanks to Sagun Raj Lage for editing and spicing up this post!
Thanks to everyone!

Author of Getting Started with WidgetKit (2021) | iOS Developer | Full Stack Web Developer

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