Tech For Good – DigitalDNA – Hackathon 2017


Hackathon Success

As part of the DigitalDNA conference in Belfast in early June a hackathon was held in the wee hours around the topic of youth unemployment.

DigitalDNA: Tech Conference Held Annually In Belfast

The challenge was to develop, in teams, a app/service/tool to help alleviate youth unemployment, within 12 hours. The prize? A trip to Dubai to present to a VC firm.

Guess what, our team won, woot!

Domain Experts

At the end of the first day of the conference, while the ‘corporates’ were milling out, the ‘have-a-go techies’ started appearing from the shadows.

Panel Discussions

The hackathon started at 4pm with some invaluable panel discussion from youth workers around the topics involved with youth engagement.

The insight learned from these discussions, and from further engagement with these domain experts, really helped to shape everyone’s thoughts around potential solutions.

Programmer Fwends!

And then, we were ready to go…….almost.

First we needed a team.

Now, I’m a decent programmer, but I know my [many] limitations. Entering a hackathon on my own was not on my radar; I wanted to learn from others experiences and skills in this 12 hour window.

Conor Graham helped to broker team alliances

Luckily, there were others in a similar position, and we quickly formed a team; myself, Luke Roantree & Hussien Elmi (we did have Samir Thapa at the start but unfortunately he had to leave early on and could not return).

From working with Luke’s father at Spatialest and hearing good reports from friends about Hussien at Deloitte, I knew we had a great team.

Loads of Time?

12 hours to bring an idea to life may seem an achievable goal at first sight, that’s only if you have a clear idea in the first place.

Distilling Ideas

Creating and distilling ideas is a time-consuming process, but fortunately the domain experts were on-hand to help. By bouncing ideas off the experts our team managed to agree on an initial direction and set to work.

Ready To Rock

With only about 8 hours to go, we were ready to rock; we were going to build an app.

Hussien Ready To Rock

Myself and Hussien had previously met at an Ionic meetup where I was speaking; using this hybrid mobile app technology was a no-brainer for us. With Ionic you can build cross platform apps very quickly; time was of the essence. Although Luke had not used the technology before we knew he was a whizz at anything he put his mind to.

The Graft

Pumped up on red bull, coffee and pizza all the teams really started getting into their stride around 11pm.

Red Bull (other sleep deprivation agents are available)

After the original chatter in the early evening all the teams were furiously coding away. With the realization rapidly dawning that less than 5 hours were left on the clock, the teams had partitioned out their work and were now working in silos.


Funny thing about coffee and Red Bull, what goes up, must come down.

Around 2am the effects of the long day and caffeine started taking its toll. Dreary eyed developers roamed the conference space and focus started shifting away from computer screens to thoughts of bed.

After 3am very few people were left and eventually even our team decided to call it a ‘day’.

After gathering up as many free cupcakes, cold pizza, beer and crisps as we could humanly carry (admittedly it was a lot!), we started to make our way home on foot. We must have looked a random bunch on the Ormeau Road at 3:30am, but to my surprise, not many people batted an eyelid at 3 geeks laden with that many munchies at that time in the morning, go figure!?!?

Presentation Time

The presentations were to take place in the afternoon of the 2nd day of DigitalDNA conference.

Whats my potential hybrid App

By this stage our app had quite a polished feel. Working with collaboration tools such as Trello, GitHub and Slack we had worked well as a team and had managed to produce an immense amount of output in a short period of time.

I had my daughter’s sports day to attend so it was up to the Luke and Hussien to present. They both knocked it out of the park!

The presentation was flawless and the demo was impressive. The judges were impressed not only with how polished the app was but also that the domain experts views’ had been taken on board.

Luke And Hussien Recognized for their hard work

In the end credit must go to all the teams. Every team worked hard on trying to find ways to alleviate the globally transferable issue of youth unemployment.

Kudos also to everyone involved in making the DigitalDNA conference happen. The conference brought together all that is good about the tech scene in Northern Ireland and beyond.

Big thanks also to the organizers and sponsors of the hackathon; it was really well run and we enjoyed every minute of it (even at 3.30 in the morning).

Hopefully all goes well in Dubai with our presentation to Falcon & Associates in November. However, with such a capable team and great mentors from the HackForGood team, we won’t disappoint.

Why Write This Blog?


I write code for a living, I love doing it, but I want to do it better.

I forget things, really important things.

Birthdays, meetings, anniversaries, names, outstanding bills, all fall victim to my absent-mindedness; nothing is safe. As programmers we have better things to do with our time, right? Why should we have to remember trivial things like anniversaries when there is code in front of us to crank.

Most of us coders don’t have a personal assistant to keep us on track, and most of us don’t conform to the basement-dwelling, cola drinking, RPG playing, colostomy bag wearing, nerdy stereotype (at least not all of the stereotypes). We are ordinary folk who just like as little distraction as possible while engrossed in some code.


So what to do, how can we still keep our heads in code while having as few untimely interruptions from the outside world as possible?

Over the past few years I have been gradually getting better at remembering and organizing things. By using widely available software programs and apps I have able to save face on several occasions now, but things are still not perfect.

This blog chronicles my attempts at learning, from current tools and practices, and from you, about what I am doing wrong and how we can do it better.

Left to my own devices I can be a lazy and unproductive programmer.

I am scatterbrained; forgetting meetings, birthdays and names.

I fret that I will forget important things and so try to deal with them as soon as I encounter them or just sweep them under the carpet.

Procrastination is a habit that I cling onto like a life raft when things start to get difficult.

I like to think of myself as a typical coder 🙂



One redeeming quality that I do have is that I know that I have these flaws and recognize that they stop me from being a better programmer.

Procrastination makes easy things hard, hard things harder.

Mason Cooley


I have been around just long enough to know that there is hope for coders like me. I know there exist tools, practices and tips that will enable me to shake the shackles of these common programmer traits and become a more rounded, confident and productive coder. This blog is about exploring these topics and getting opinions on what works and what doesn’t.

LOL! in the course of writing this post I found myself spending an hour [2 hours]: looking for an avatar, browsing Facebook and looking at a whole host of memes from