Q – Interviewer: How did you guys decide to participate in the hackathon?

Shubhank: In my second year, some of our batchmates participated in the regionals, which happens in our college. So, at that time I did not know any tech stacks. I just knew a little bit of C++ and nothing else. When they qualified the regionals and logged on to their submission, it was like, Oh my god, they are doing such good stuff and I felt like I want to do the same. So, that was kind of my motivation. I wanted to do it in my 4 years and later on I found out what SIH is, how you participate in it,etc. Then in 3rd year, when we were in college, we participated in the regionals, and made it to the Grand finale.

Deepak: We all got our internships, so we were, you know, trying to explore different things. So, we thought of participating in hackathons and other competitions. SIH came in March. It was the perfect time. We were all free. So, we decided to participate.

Q – Interviewer: Tell us a little about your experience from going here to LPU.

Deepak: So, in the regional rounds it was more about idea submissions. We didn’t do a lot of work back then. It was a block chain project and only two of us initially knew blockchain. We were making a back end API. So, we had an end to end prototype and the idea was clear in our mind. During the initial rounds we tried to present our idea properly. We finished first in the regional rounds in college. We didn’t really make any product, just presented our idea and had a good prototype. We were confident that we would do something great, if we got the chance to get to the finals. But, we were not very sure about the selections and then around the end of our internship we got to know that we were qualified for the finals and had to go to LPU. There was one problem at that time – one of the original five members, Abhishek, did not get his internship. He was the person who had written the block chain contract. There was little chance that he would be able to join us. He didn’t come finally. So when we went there, we were not very confident because we were not the original members. However, we had all got our placements. So, we were like okay, we will try and see. We will make the best of whatever we can do. And then we reached there and I’ll be talking more on what exactly we did. We tried whatever we could and presented it properly. And we won, so, no regrets.

Q – Interviewer: What was the problem statement that you guys took up?

Shubhank: First of all we were told to filter the problem statements right. Abhishek, Raghav, and I were already working on projects that use block chain. So we thought of using blockchain on our problem statement. Filtering that out, we found a problem statement which told us to digitally timestamp electronic messages. It’s like in any messenger, let’s say, WhatsApp or any email;  If forwarded multiple times like, I forward it to you, they forward it to someone and the chain continues. So, the government wanted something that they can use to track the origin of those messages. The entire history of those messages, to whom it has been sent and at what timeline. Basically, that was the end goal. And we used block chain technology for the same. We thought of doing something different from others. So the traditional approach would have been to make our own chat app and integrate our own service into it. So that was the first possible approach, but we wanted something unique. We thought of making an API service that could be used for all the chat apps that are present in the market. So if the government uses our service, they let all the apps that provide chat services use our service, i.e, use our API gateway. The government can then track the history of the messages that are going around the world. So, that was the solution.

Q – Interviewer: Would you change anything if you could, about your project after winning the hackathon?

Tanisha: First round of pitching was really, you know, it didn’t go that great. We weren’t able to coordinate very well as a team. As the second round approached, we were almost done with our product. So, we managed to have a good way of structuring our ideas and made a good presentation.

Deepak: Presenting our idea could have been better. We were able to do it properly in the end but I think that was the one thing that could be improved.

Q – Interviewer: How many rounds did you guys have?

Tanisha: We had 3 rounds of pitching with continuous evaluation.

Deepak: First they mentored us, gave us 4-5 hours to work, and then they came and judged us. So we showed them the initial tool that we had built. Initially we were showing how this is the sender, this is the receiver for the message and this is the history. Then they came and said that they also wanted their locations, like the location of the sender and of the receiver. So we integrated that. Initially we were doing it for text messages only, but in the second round, they asked us if it would be possible for images also. So they told us that in the mentoring and in the evaluation part they would come and check whether we were able to achieve what they had asked us to.

Q – Interviewer: I believe this isn’t the first hackathon that you guys participated in? So, can you briefly talk about those experiences?

Deepak: Actually, this is the first time that we are participating. I think Shubhank and Abhishek might have participated in other hackathons. But, as a team this was our first hackathon.

Shubhank: So it was me, Abhishek, Raghav, Ashutosh, and Deepak. Us five were already there. We are very good friends. We have all been into development at some point and so we were building our projects in academics only. So, we have worked on some projects but not a particular hackathon. So we were thinking a lot about working together as a team in a hackathon. And this was the start where we could actually show up. Other than this, I have been into another hackathon as well. One was in Salesforce where we made a machine learning model. I won that one and it was also a good experience.

Q – Interviewer: Winning your first hackathon as a team on such a large scale, how do you feel?

Shubhank: Amazing. Actually, I was bedazzled. We did not even think that this could be won by us and after the rounds of evaluation that we had, on seeing the judges’ faces we could not even imagine that the trophy would be ours.

Q – Interviewer: Let me ask this question for the team. Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses. As you stated, at one point you couldn’t coordinate. Tell us something about that journey; how you won this as a team.

Tanisha: I actually joined the team really late as a replacement member. So, I was not a part of the regional round. I just joined 10 days before they were leaving. So I tried to understand the problem statement and solution’s approach. I obviously was not a part of the implementation because I could not catch up on so much by then. So yeah, I was trying to understand the solution approach in the train. By the time the hackathon started, I knew the approach.

Q – Interviewer: Do you think we need a specific skill-set to participate in the hackathon?

Deepak: Not exactly a skill. The problem statement that you’re working on, the tech stack that it involves: you must have a good grasp over it. For winning the hackathon, two things are very important. The first thing is you need to have a good idea and the idea has to be unique, something you can implement and hasn’t been done before. The second part which we also learned while doing the hackathon and understood better, that creating the tool is only half the work done. The main part is in presenting what you’ve done and selling it. That is very important. You have to sell your product and tell them the unique parts. Throughout the hackathon they wanted us to explain what was unique about the product. We had to convince them that we believe this is different and why. So presenting your idea and convincing them is very important in any hackathon.

Shubhank: I would like to add that if students have some development abilities and know some tech stack, then it’s definitely a boon for them. We were into Web development and that’s why we could pick up the courage to go on to such problem statements and then take it up. That was the first thing that was required and the second thing was team coordination. Even though Tanisha came late, everybody had some role to play that was not only tech-related. Ashutosh managed all the tasks related to the management. Tanisha and Deepak managed all the presentation tasks that were there: ppts, what content was to be put at what part. Abhishek, Raghav, and I were working on the tech part. Everybody was playing their part. So it was not just one person but one TEAM.

Q – Interviewer: On that note, can you give us a ratio on what is required between one’s engineering skills and thinking out of the box or, you know, being creative, in a hackathon?

Tanisha: Initially, creativity is a must. After the idea is accepted or after you’re qualified and the judges approve your idea, then the engineering part comes along.

Q – Interviewer: For many people, participating in their first hackathon is intimidating. So what would you like to tell them?

Deepak: This was our first hackathon as well. Don’t think about winning it. That is the best advice. Enjoy the process. For the hackathon, we actually did not even expect or hope to win. We saw it more as a trip to Amritsar. We thought that we’ll spend two days there and then we’ll travel.

Raghav: In the hackathon, there isn’t only one solution. Keep the idea very unique because it’s the backbone of the project.

Deepak: And enjoy the hackathon. We also did bhangra. We roamed around and did everything. To make it work, you have to present it properly and do your best. It will mostly work. Even if it doesn’t, we learn something.

Shubhank: And actually it was a very different thing. All the teams we saw there were all working throughout the day. Out of 36 hours, I don’t think they were working less than 34 hours but our team was totally chilling. Most of us were sleeping, except Raghav and Deepak. And then we enjoyed all the recreational activities and we were having fun throughout. So yeah, it was good.

Q – Interviewer: About the mentors, did you have anyone to guide you throughout the hackathon? If not, how did you manage without one?

Deepak: We had a mentor on paper but he did not contribute.

Shubhank: No. We had ourselves as the mentor but no one else. We are good friends, so we decided roles among ourselves and went through with it. Raghav did most of the coding. So he suggested whatever edits/changes in the ppt. We used to take ideas from each other and discuss and do it ourselves.

Raghav: Mentors usually guide the team. But, in our team, there was good coordination. We didn’t feel like we lacked mentorship or anything.

Q – Interviewer: To end this interview, I’d like to ask one question. What kind of message would you like to give to the other teams that didn’t win?

Ashutosh: Nothing much. They also worked well. We saw their work. They were working on some different problem statements. They were our juniors and they were constantly asking us doubts and we helped them. They were very ambitious.

Tanisha: They have another year so yeah they can still try.

Ashutosh: To the teams that didn’t qualify, I would suggest, work on your tech stacks. Better luck next time.