MBAS Hack4Good Hackathon: What I learned and why I’d do it again.

Build cool things – help others!

First things first – I know a lot of my recent posts have been about events I have attended and I promise we’ll get back to the good stuff of Dynamics: CE soon, but I wanted to share my experiences in the hopes that it will inspire others to attend more community events like these! They have been instrumental in my learning journey.

Last weekend I decided to make the two and a half hour drive down to attend and participate in the #TDG Hack4Good Hackathon at the Microsoft BizApps Summit in Atlanta. That’s a mouthful! I had no intention of attending the actual Summit conference, but since this particular event was only a short drive away, I decided to register to see what I could learn. Any opportunity to spend time with others in this community is time well spent in my book.

The wonderful Sarah Critchley kicking the hackathon off with some words of wisdom.

This was my first ever hackathon and I went into it really thinking I would be a liability to my team. I was concerned that my lack of knowledge on the Power Platform side would hinder our final solution and that my teammates would become frustrated that I was slowing them down. I had major imposter syndrome but I saw this as a learning opportunity and to also get a taste for solution development. If anything, I could always contribute with motivational cat pictures. That’s useful, right?

Hacking and Planning

So to set the scene – a hackathon is usually an all day event where teams of (usually) strangers with a common interest and goal get together to solve a problem. This particular event was geared towards the not for profit sector and contained scenarios for companies like The American Red Cross. We decided to tackle a user story called the Facility Information App: when a Red Cross volunteer arrives at a designated facility to provide things from CPR training all the way up to disaster relief, they need to have quick and easy access to the information about that facility. As each facility is so different, we decided to record the information on each site and push that data to the volunteer on arrival.

A map of our data structure

So once we had decided on the scenario, we went to work with planning out the solution. We had heard about the Nonprofit Accelerator in the opening key note and decided to explore our options there. Without going too deep into detail, we loaded the solution into our environment and explored some of the capabilities. We wanted to utilise the Site entity that came with the solution, but we ran into some performance issues and problems with modifying the entity, so we chose to go our own route in the interest of time.

To break down our solution, we implemented the following:

  1. Created entities called Sites and Subsites to hold the information such as Access codes, wifi passwords, total capacity and site contacts. All of this was information that was previously stored in a word document, now the data was housed in Dynamics records.
  2. Created some calculated fields for the area of the subsite. This would calculate the total area in square ft. We then calculated the capacity space for beds in the event of an emergency by dividing the area by 50 to give the max capacity number
  3. The total capacity volume was then rolled up from a Site’s Subsites to show how many people could be housed in case of an emergency.
  4. We then used a flic button to count the number of clicks where each click was a person staying at the facility in the event of an emergency. This number was used to calculate the remaining available capacity by subtracting away from the total capacity. This allowed the volunteer to easily tally up the number of people arriving. A double click of the flic also sent an email to the volunteer’s point of contact to let them know their location and that they had arrived safely.
  5. We then built a canvas app that the volunteer would use on arrival to access all of the above data. The app was able to display previously pulled data in case internet access was an issue during a disaster.
  6. Finally some PowerBI dashboards were built to show various data points back to HQ in real time so they could monitor things like capacity across a specific area.

The finished product came out really well and we were proud of what we had done. If we had had some more time to polish, we would have implemented more functionality such as geofencing, but we wanted to make it simple and build up. We worked well as a team, dividing out the work, discussing potential solutions and hopping in to help one another when one of us ran into a roadblock. What really made our team work well was the diversity of skills. While my Dynamics base is pretty strong, I’m still new to the Power Platform. Others in our team had skills in Power Apps and PowerBI. Overall, each individual contributed in a meaningful way and we all learned something new from the experience.

Presenting our solution

The final task of the day was to present our solution to the judges and the rest of the room. By this time, others attending the conference had heard of the hackathon and had come to see what we had all built. We decided to not build a powerpoint, but instead showed our work processes and our final solution. Our team work really showed when we had some AV issues – I decided to pop out and talk about how we used our Flic button as part of the volunteer services. After all, we only had five minutes to showcase hours of work! I was really happy with how our slot went and as we finished up, we returned to our seats feeling proud of the work we had achieved.

AND IT PAYED OFF!!

Our fantastic little team came second! We were so blown away by everyone else’s solutions and work, we were shocked, surprised and oh so proud when we heard the words “Team Orange” being called out as the runner up! Then when I saw the super cute little awards we were getting, I was even more excited!

Look at my excited little face

To conclude – I went into this hackathon with major imposter syndrome thinking I would be a huge liability and that our team would come dead last because of me. Instead, I found out that I had some knowledge, I was able to share that knowledge and in return I also learned a whole lot. I made five amazing new friends and got to help build something that really could make a difference. The experience has taught me that if you go into an event like this with an open mind and a willingness to learn, you’ll gain so much more that you could have imagined. I gained a new perspective on how the Microsoft stack can really work together and also I learned to look at things from a new angle. If something isn’t working, take a step back and look at the problem from a different viewpoint. As someone who works alone a lot, I learned the value of collaboration. Together people are better.

A huge shout out to Andrew Welch our team lead and to the members of Team Orange: Andrea Pinillos, Marc Hadley-Smith, Eric McKinney and Kathy Joachim. Thank you for being an awesome team! Finally, thank you to the guys and girls of TDG for hosting the event and keeping us going throughout the day. It was fantastic and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

An amazing view of all the teams! Well done to everyone who took part!

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