Experience at InOut 6.0 Hackathon

It all began when I saw the tweets of people, especially some of my college seniors (who I really look up to) registering for InOut Hackathon backed by a strong and well balanced team.

InOut is the India’s biggest community hackathon.

I did not have any experience working with a team and I really wanted to collaborate with people and build a complete application together. I asked many of my geeky friends if they were interested but most of them were preoccupied with something or the other during those days and still others were not so interested.

With some luck, I was able to form a team consisting of a UI/UX Designer + Frontend Developer — Naseem Shah, a sophomore like me, from CUSAT and a Machine Learning Engineer + Backend Developer — Kurian Benoy and myself, a wannabe Fullstack Developer.

Team — Tech Titans : Kurian (left), Pranav (center) and Naseem (right)Team — Tech Titans : Kurian (left), Pranav (center) and Naseem (right)

We registered as a team (individual registration is also possible) as that way we had higher chance of getting accepted. We registered on the third last day of deadline and surprisingly got selected by the next day.

We booked tickets to Bangalore and filled in the required details in the main website for travel reimbursements. (Yes! The best part of InOut is that it is totally free of cost)

We set off to Bangalore at 6pm on 18th October and reached early morning at 8:30 am at the venue — MLR Convention Centre, JP Nagar. We showed our unique QR code and finished the registration procedure. It’s astonishing to know that they built the QR code feature in their website within a single day with the help of their team of just 3 engineers.

We met our fellow MECians Aswin G, Aswin M Prabhu, Joyal A Johney, Joel V Zachariah and Adarsh S at the registration desk and greeted each other. Coincidentally, we MECians (7) had more participation than IIT Roorkee (6) in a Hackathon which is mostly attended by students from top tier colleges.

Team — Syndicate : Aswin M Prabhu (left), Aswin G (center) and Joyal (right)Team — Syndicate : Aswin M Prabhu (left), Aswin G (center) and Joyal (right)

Team — Monks_from_the_south : Ashutosh (IIT, Bombay) (left), Joel (center) and Adarsh S (right)Team — Monks_from_the_south : Ashutosh (IIT, Bombay) (left), Joel (center) and Adarsh S (right)

The event started off with a series of talk sessions on various technical aspects and technologies used in companies. We were tired and bored after a few talks and were desperately in need of an idea for the hackathon. We brainstormed many ideas and tried to cover all the intricacies revolving around each idea and dismissed the ideas which already had a solution or which were impractical to be built in a span of 24 hours with the limited knowledge we had for its implementation.

The hackathon began at sharp 4:30 pm and we were still clueless about what to hack. We walked out and discussed more with each other and also the mentors around there regarding the market value and feasibility of our ideas and their solutions, and finally closed upon the idea of building a travel guide hiring platform codenamed ‘TravelUnravel’ wherein the users would have personalized recommendations on the best places worth visiting, the best guides to hire and more.

The code for our hack can be found in GitHub. The demo video of our hack can be found in Youtube.

By the time we started hacking, 5 hours had already gone by. Under the advice of Kurian, we didn’t rush to build the app right away and took our time to organize the workflow, assign roles to each one of us and update our progress every now and then. It is remarkable how well we supported one another and cooperated with each other from start till end.

We planned on building a web application using Python Django for backend and React JS for frontend. It’s worth noting that we did not waste our time around fixing the stack (a common mistake when starting out) and just went with the tools that all of us were familiar or experienced with.

We discussed how the UI should look and the three of us gave our own suggestions and additions. Naseem built the UI prototype using his favourite set of tools and showed to us. Both Kurian and me were pretty impressed with the outcome and Naseem started off to write the frontend code based on the UI prototype. Meanwhile, Kurian and me sketched out a rough schema and created database models. We took various projects (mainly Kerala Rescue project) as handy references whenever we wanted to recollect our memory on specific concepts, quickly peek at the syntax and find a suitable method for implementing certain sections, say, writing a particular model field.

Before we realized, it was already way past midnight and we were still glued onto our laptop screens trying to debug the errors, finish our tasks and update our progress. We had our midnight snacks and after another round of walk and discussion, Kurian suggested to add and implement ML (Machine Learning) into our app by creating a recommendation engine using some dummy data from either scraping or through some library. We were deeply interested in it. After some more time into coding, I felt groggy and Kurian suggested me to take a nap.

The organisers were kind enough to provide us with comfortable mattresses for sleeping. There were even bedsheets and cushions. I slept like a baby and woke up at 7:30 am sharp without alarm and was starstruck to find that Kurian had built the recommendation engine all by himself within such a short interval of time.

I tried hard to fix the errors concerned with the api calling from frontend but I failed to do so. I was unable to integrate frontend and backend and considering the time that was left (3 hours approximately), we decided to just load some dummy data directly from the frontend and focus on the presentation and the pitching of idea in the remaining hours, after some more debugging and fixing.

We also had 2 small competitions in between the hackathon — a fast typing contest and a ‘Code in the Dart’ challenge (suitable for frontend developers — coding a web page without looking at the outcome). I took part in the former and was surprised at myself for achieving an average speed of 60 wpm (words per minute).

Time almost ran out and we rushed to create a demo video, take screenshots and write the description about our hack. We submitted just on time at around 5:20 pm and exchanged glances excitedly.

Unfortunately, we did not wait for the pitching round and judging as our train back home was at 8:00 pm and we couldn’t afford to miss it.

Overall, it was a great experience. I learnt a lot throughout the day and more importantly I got to know my mistakes and the places where I needed to improve such as learning the more advanced Git concepts, working more on both frontend and backend skills and the communication between the two. I also learnt some team dynamics and essence of team spirit.

I met and talked to a lot of people around there and gathered their insights and views on different technologies. I felt a lot more comfortable when I found that many people like me were on the pursuit of exploring everything and were okay with the little progress they made. In the end, you really want to do something which makes you happy. I made few friends and more importantly strengthened my relationships with the current ones.

Besides, the fact that the expenses for the 2 day journey were close to nil and also that we got free t-shirts, a hoodie, books and some super cool stickers is worth something in itself.

Hackathons are just too good to be missed!Hackathons are just too good to be missed!