Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Herrie Schalekamp about new working relationships between researchers and paratransit operators in South Africa and beyond. Herrie is the ACET Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies. In addition to his research, teaching and consulting in the fields of paratransit and public transport reform he is involved in specialised educational programmes for paratransit operators and government officials. Herrie’s activities form part of a broader endeavour to investigate and contribute to improved public transport operations and regulation in Sub-Saharan African cities under ACET – the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport.
Editor’s Note: Meeting of the Minds organized the first ever Civic Hackathon in Richmond, CA as a precursor to its annual summit. Over the course of October 17th and 18th half a dozen teams competed for the top prize and the opportunity to present their apps in the plenary session at Meeting of the Minds 2015 in front of 375+ VIPs from 25 countries. This year’s winner was Team Stride from the Stride Center in Oakland, CA. They received $5,000 cash from Qualcomm. This blog post summarizes and captures their experience:
Newbies? Yes! Team Stride was definitely new to both coding and hackathons. In fact, they were just introduced to HTML a week prior. As a group of new coding enthusiasts participating in The Stride Center’s new software development and coding course (Coding99), everyone was excited about the opportunity to explore the design aspect of app development at the Meeting of the Minds Hackathon. They were by no means intimidated by the seasoned hackers participating in event hosted by The City of Richmond, California. Sponsored by Qualcomm and supported by Microsoft, this hackathon was the first for Richmond, Team Stride and even their school.
Prior to attending the actual event, the team met a couple of times to brainstorm different ideas based on the requirements for the event. Several ideas for different apps were floated around, contemplated upon and the pros and cons discussed before the team decided to create a health and fitness app proposed by Debrena. This app proved to be the most promising as most residents want to exercise but lack the affordability for a gym membership and/or a trainer. Since it costs nothing to walk, run or cycle in our communities, the idea suddenly came to life. In the quest to fulfill the requirement for the hackathon, encouraging the community to interact with their surroundings became a pivotal part of the storyboard. This app would take advantage of the local landscape to help its citizens become more healthy-minded while allowing them to become more familiar with their city. It was equally as important to get local businesses involved by providing low cost marketing solutions and giving the participating residents an incentive to shop at their establishment via the rewards they’ve earned while exercising. Finally, the new app would provide economic reciprocity between local businesses and Richmond’s residents.
The strength of the team was definitely seen through their ability to effectively work well together, their shared passion for winning, and the organizational skills of their group. Lillie encouraged the team to stay positive and focused and to maintain a determination for winning. With the end results in mind, they set out to create the new application. In addition to the individual diversity, they also represent a community very similar to the one this Hackathon was shedding light on. Team Stride used their personal knowledge of cities like Richmond and conceptualized an engaging and scalable mobile app that would reciprocate benefits to the user, local small businesses, and the City of Richmond. From the criteria set forth based on the Meeting of the Minds 2015 hackathon guidelines. Several ideas were brainstormed from this group of hackers until the name was finally settled on… the Let’s Stride App.
After storyboarding, responsibilities were delegated to each team member and they worked well into Saturday night and the next day knowing that Lillie told them that they could not fall apart until 8 hours after they won. Each team member flowed in an area displaying their strengths and ability to work as a team. Charles Hammer “the Hammer” helped to reel the team back in if they got too far off course. Debrena did a fabulous job creating the PowerPoint presentation. Laura assisted in making sure the team had what it needed and with collecting data with Robyn Shorter and Robyn Mello. Robyn Mello gathered information and wrote the rationale. Lillie, voted project manager and spokesperson by her peers, brought back ideas and information vital to completing the app after mingling with mentors and exhibitors like Scott Mauvais who invited them to his table to share his knowledge and challenge Team Stride to stretch beyond what they had learned. Charles assisted Rolando who created the Let’s Stride website to give us a live demo (the live requirement was a criteria for the hack), the initial storyboard for the App and did the coding to produce the online forms and use the Google Map API for our demo.
Overcoming adversity is an understatement! In addition to their lack of coding experience, the team faced another obstacle–it was discovered the registration through Eventbrite had closed, but that didn’t deter Lillie. Challenged? Yes, but definitely determined to participate, she called and emailed until finally everyone interested in attending the event received a registration confirmation. No one had any idea what these hacking heroes were up against because they kept pushing forward. They set the bar rather high by winning their first hackathon. They came ready to make a difference in spite of not having the proper equipment (including laptops), or even having any real experience in coding to begin with. This diverse group of “HackHeroes” rallied together and used cell phones, two outdated loaner laptops and an iPad to give wings to one of their many ideas.
How the App works: The “Let’s Stride App” improves the livability, sustainability and connectedness of Richmond, California, hoping to bridge the gap between those unable to afford gym membership and those who want and needs the same benefits by using the beautiful city landscape, free parks and the many streets of Richmond, California. The way the app works is very similar to other workout tracking apps. Users can track their walks, runs, or bicycle workouts anytime they workout using the city’s landscape. Users also have the option of choosing pre-determined routes sponsored by small businesses who have designed “missions.” These missions can include check-ins and require the user to share content to their social media accounts in addition to completing the route. When a user has completed the “mission,” they receive a coupon for a discount or free item from the business who sponsored the mission. The coupon is stored in the app and can be accessed until it is used. In addition to earning rewards for completing missions, users can also refer their favorite businesses and give the business a star rating, which would notify the business that users are “favoriting” them on the app. This, in kind, would encourage them to create a free mission but they would also have the option to “opt-out” of receiving notifications of this action. If a business signs up to create a mission, the user who rated and referred the business gets a coupon from the business.
Other features include a workout social media feed, the ability to challenge other users workout times on workouts made public, connection to a user’s social media platforms and an optional ‘find friends’ feature.
Meet Team Stride: Who are the HackHeroes? “Lillie Glasgo: Project Manager/Spokesperson”, “Charles Hammer: Front End Developer”, “Debrena McEwen: User Experience/User Interface” “Laura Meija: Research Assistant,” “Rolando Torres: Front End/ Back End Developer,” “Robyn Shorter: Assistant Project Management,” and “Robyn Mello: Copywriter”. Enthusiastically, the team all came willing to participate in their first hackathon knowing little to nothing about what it meant to be a coder but much of what it means to want to make a difference in their community. One of the team members was even new to the computer world in general but helped to research and collect data using her cell phone. From their own perspective, Team Stride shares their personal thoughts about the Hackathon Event:
Rolando Torres: “To tell everybody the truth, I was not supposed to attend the hackathon because of a previous appointment. Luckily my schedule opened up and I was able to attend. I just wanted to experience a hackathon and snoop around. I do know a little bit of Flash Actionscript, having taught myself when I was working as a work at home Flash developer. I thought the hackathon was the perfect place to see what coding was really about.
During the first day we were thinking of just presenting ideas. However, the ‘live’ requirement made everybody work beyond what they expected to do. I guess we went all beyond our comfort zones. Winning it was beyond anything anyone of us imagined (except Lillie who told us we were in it to win it!). We were representing The Stride Center, which inspired us even more. Everyone had their part to play and contributed what they could. This experience emphasized the skills we need to concentrate on and build in order to compete. Also, it was an opportunity to network and be in the midst of knowledgeable people in the industry itself. All in all it was well and good. Carpe Diem!”
Laura Meija: “While I was cleaning offices in my workplace, I pictured myself working in the IT field. I found a flyer promoting the coding class at The Stride Center. I called, signed up and joined the class. Shortly after the opportunity to participate in The Meeting of the Mind’s Hackathon came up and we took it, regardless of our one week of coding experience competing with UC students. Our main purpose was to learn from others. We gathered together for two consecutive days. I couldn’t believe when they announced that our team had won the hackathon. I felt very enthusiastic because just a few months back I was cleaning not only the office of Cisco, Qualcomm and other tech companies, but now I am a part of the winning hackathon team. What I learned from this experience is that the success obtained was the result of our great team work. It’s never too late to start over. Instead of waiting for an opportunity to come to you, you have to go after the opportunity that is waiting for you!”
Robyn Mello: “There is a big difference between volunteering and participating in a hackathon! The stress level was astronomically higher — even though I didn’t feel like I contributed much, I really felt the pressure. If we participate in another one, I think we need more than two days notice. I think, though, that it might be the kind of pressure we might feel in the real working world. I learned a lot about teamwork, and how we all could learn more about how to delegate. We might need more tools like that in the hackathons we will face down the road.”
Rodney Olden: “I participated in my very first and also Richmond’s very 1st hackathon. It was very exciting to meet some of the minds behind some of the everyday products that I use like my cellphone or computer. I loved it!! I am a very competitive person and I really don’t like to lose but with this being my first hackathon I had no idea we would win. I was just there for the hacking experience.”
Charles Hammer: “The Meeting of the Minds hackathon was a great opportunity for myself and my classmates. We were able to network with representatives from Microsoft and Qualcomm. I enjoyed putting some of my coding skills to use in the Richmond community. We represented the Stride Center, worked as a team, and won first place. I hope to compete in more hackathon events in the future.”
Debrena McEwen: “The Meeting of the Minds Hackathon was a fantastic opportunity. My original intent was to watch and see who does what and how things work, but before I knew it, my app concept was voted the concept that Team Stride would work on. I’d never been involved in a Hackathon before, had only had a week’s experience working with HTML, and I didn’t even have a laptop. The pressure was on. I was able to lean on my team for emotional support, and resources. They gave me food, listened to my ideas, took on delegated duties, gave me space and encouraged me to keep going.
Being a native of Oakland made it easy to focus on the type of community engagement that Richmond might want from its citizens. I knew that most of the low income community that I knew personally, (at times, including myself), had more access to mobile phone technology than to laptops or desktops and that meant that more people would be able to access this application. Because the app concept had a lot of features to it, I decided to trust that most people already used a workout tracker mobile application, this would allow me to only focus on differentiation. With only about 1.5 days to get something live, we decided to focus on the business plan portion and describe how the user experience would work. Rolando worked on building a website that allows businesses to sign up and build a deal.
By the end of day 1, I was exhausted and seriously considered dropping out. Thank goodness our team had to carpool as I got an ear-full of encouragement from a fellow team member that evening. Day 2 started off with our competitors offering us a laptop with access to Photoshop. I wasn’t able to take advantage of the offer due to time constraints, but the generosity of the offer made me feel like I was in community with and respected by professionals in my (soon to be) field. This was the first time I felt like I was a part of the tech community. Winning the Hackathon was the most epic surprise I’ve ever earned. It is something that I will never forget and it has changed my life forever.
I hope to continue working on the mobile app concept and go live with it in the near future, however, in the meantime, I have an upcoming interview for an internship with one of our competitors from MOTM’s hackathon. I know how important it is that women of color are represented in in the tech world and I am very proud that I stuck it out with Team Stride and was able to show proof that investing in technological education for women of color pays off- BIG!”
Robyn Shorter: The Meeting of the Minds Hackathon was a brilliant opportunity for my peers from the Stride Center and for me. This was my first time attending a hackathon let alone participating in one. As a coding student, I found the hackathon to be extremely useful, informative and helpful, my confidence has been Boosted 100% and my knowledge level even more. I look forward to attending the next Hackathon in Las Vegas Nevada.
Lillie Glasgo: Project Manager, spokesperson, team leader, I couldn’t help but wonder how is it that my classmates who I had just met knew that I was capable of taking us to the finish line? Laura asked me “were you born this way, to lead, you do it with such ease.” Well I guess they noticed when I started to encourage everyone to get registered and kept at it until all of us had registered. During the event it was great to be in a space and time where my dream of becoming a coder was taking shape.
I have lost over and over again and again it was time to win. What better way to start a fresh new chapter in my life than to present my idea and win a hackathon. I saw it as a game changer. Having been displaced for years I finally get to show and tell the world at least those in Richmond of my plan to make a difference in the world by developing an app to help folks get out of debt. I did, but we overwhelmingly agreed to go with Debrena’s idea.
No worries, I got the opportunity to present everyone’s idea including my own and we chose the best app for this particular occasion. One of the other finalists said: “You all sure have a lot of courage to be in a hackathon when you are new to coding.” Although I didn’t have a clue what a hackathon event was, much less what happens at one, we were winning. That’s just how I felt from the beginning, therefore, my response reflected just that…We’re in it to win it! Ok, so there wasn’t a tee shirt with “Lillie Made Me DO IT” but we won and we can all do the happy dance!
Though my day started at 4:20 am that Wednesday, it was all worth it to be in the room where I felt like I belonged. A room full of concerned business people looking to make a difference in someone else’s life as well as their community. Where do we go from here? We believe that coding will open the door for economic opportunity for each of us. It will also be an avenue for us to make a difference not just in the communities we live in, but in the world.
Final Thoughts: Whatever the future holds for these HackHeroes, they are all inclined to make a difference in the IT world and the communities they live in; this is evident as they set the bar quite high by winning their first hackathon..
Barrie Hathaway, Executive Director, The Stride Center: Where can employers today find entrepreneurial, hard-working, talented men and women to fill their software development positions? How can they attract a more diverse workforce, more people of color, more women? This group of Stride Center students demonstrated creativity, teamwork, entrepreneurship, intelligence, dedication to their craft and most importantly a willingness to go the extra mile to pursue excellence, all things employers are seeking for their own teams. If employers followed the Meeting of the Minds Hack-a-thon, their search is over. I am ecstatic about the accomplishment of these men and women and thrilled that Stride can say we were there to support them to develop the skills and competencies to start their own careers in the software development field. And, I’m so proud of the way in which they have so eloquently shown the world that Stride students can complete head on with other talented people, including in this case a group of graduate students from UC Berkeley. This is only the beginning and I’m more inspired and excited than ever.
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