Never underestimate the power of a simple idea

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Few months back me and my friend, applied for an Overnight Hackathon by presenting our idea in a 2 mins video clip. This was an International Hackathon competition, so this process was to select top 15 teams from the country and to pitch their ideas in front of a panel of judges. Out of these 15 teams they will be selecting top 3 places and they (all 3 or only the winner - not sure though) will be representing the country in that International competition.

This was mainly judged based on the “INNOVATIVE IDEA”, should be localized as well as it should contain the potential of being globalized as well. We 2 are totally new to this competition and had no clue about all these things and the depth of it to be honest. There was another rule saying that we have to use the sponsor’s platforms provided APIs (which sort of lacked proper documentation imho).

With all the research work and being final year students, we managed to build a web application and a mobile application as solutions for the problem we had presented. The idea was to build an application to provide information regarding whether a fuel station has a particular type of fuel or not at the moment. For past 2 year our country has been facing so many issues related with fuel. There will be mile long queues in front of the fuel sheds if there is a fuel strike, shortage or price changes. Not only that even if a person is travelling to a new place or in night time it will be difficult for them to find the petrol shed which has enough of the type of fuel they are seeking for.

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Further more, the fuel prices are fluctuating time to time. Not all the fuel stations have a fixed prices for each type of fuel. So we though of integrating the current price details of fuel types of each shed as well.

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Considering all these factors we wanted to create a “USEFUL” application, I mean a real useful system to help out the people seeking for fuel and also to help the shed operators in these situations as well.

So when we both entered the competition we saw 13 other teams in that big hall. Unfortunately, one team didn’t show up. Surprisingly all the other teams have actually finished their projects even before coming to the competition. We both were implementing our idea the whole night. We had a web-based system where a fuel station employee will be updating the status if a fuel type is out of stock and that information will be notified to the end users through a mobile application. For those who don’t want to install the app or those who don’t have a smartphone can still access this information through USSD and SMS services. The location details were fetched using a provided Location-based services API.

This was a genuine idea, where we really wanted to find a solution for this recurrently occurring problem in our country. We got some help from the mentors in that place and some how we finished the product. In between they had a mock presentation where we had to present our product. So we presented our idea and even the sponsors were happy with our idea and gave some tips to improve.

After a whole sleepless night we prepared ourselves for the final presentation in that big hall. The panel of judges came into the hall and the presentations started. Then came our turn… I started off the presentation with the problem pitching by stating a scenario where “people will be waiting in mile longed queues in front of the fuel stations to get the fuel” and went on with the presentation. The 2nd part of our presentation was delivered by my friend. Once we finished the presentation then came the most important part, the feedback and the Q&A session. “Your problem pitching itself is a problem” was the very first thing came from one of the judges in the panel. The person was a VIP and holding an important position in a well known brand. Not only us most of the people in that place was shocked to receive such a comment from that person. This was a competition and this is not the way you treat the competitors. This is our idea so as a judge you have the privilege to ask questions about the idea, give feedback but not to insult the idea and the presenters. The other 2 judges maintained their level and politely asked the issues and the doubts they had in our idea.

His main point was that this system is not going to be used frequently and had less business value. Come on guys, in a Hackathon what do you really expect us to do? You want a great developer who is also a great business magnet who can build a business empire over night? Be practical. We are still students who are highly motivated and want to learn the current trends all by ourselves. With the amount of business knowledge we had we presented an idea… If you as a judge don’t like our idea that’s absolutely fine. Because it’s your choice to select us. But there is a proper way to do that, “Professionalism”.

Other 2 judges of course questioned about updating the availability details to the system and they felt that process could be done in a different way so we suggested that using IoT devices it can be done. Since we were not familiar with the technology we couldn’t integrate it to the system. As students and future IT professionals we expect these types of feedback from “Professional People”. But the act of that person really showed his attitude and character which a professional doesn’t have or at least does’t show in public.

Still we didn’t give up on our idea. We still believe that the need for this type of a system will arouse in the country and that day the person will regret for what he did. Touch wood… that actually happened today. When I was coming back from my uni I saw mile longed queues in front of almost all the fuel stations due to the Petroleum Corporation strike.

Image taken on 29.10.2018 in front of a fuel station near Battaramulla
Image taken on 29.10.2018 in front of a fuel station near Battaramulla
Image taken on 29.10.2018 in front of a fuel station near Narahenpita
Image taken on 29.10.2018 in front of a fuel station near Narahenpita

This is one of the use cases we stated. Even after elaborating the use cases in Q&A session the person still didn’t show any attention towards our opinion. It takes time for us to adapt to such competitions and culture, as “Experienced Professionals” they should understand it.

Dear Hackathon judges please show some professionalism towards the participants, because for you, their ideas might be not really impressive or useful but still those ideas have demand in the market. Who knows, you might be one of the end-users who might be using the product in future which you thought had no value and rejected once in a Hackathon competition. If you are so worried about the business value and not the product and the technology then why are you asking us to build a project within 24 hours? You could simply asked the participants to just pitch their ideas with simple presentation slides. Be more clear on your marking criteria. For you it might be a time passing event but for many of us it’s not. It would be really great if you can have some respect towards others ideas and be a great professional role model for future generation.

Dear friends when you go for such competitions don’t expect everyone to understand your idea and appreciate it. Just because 3 people didn’t get what you said doesn’t mean that your idea is of no use. Those people might need some time and broad mind to adapt to those types of new ideas. If you present a typical bus tracking system or some disease identifying systems they will happily agree upon your ideas. Because that’s what they consider as the “INNOVATIVE IDEAS”. Today’s top most successful business industries never had these types of competitions but still they built their own empire after facing so many people like I mentioned earlier. That’s because they believed in their ideas and not in other’s opinion.

Participating in these types of competitions are actually a great experience where you get great experience and you get the chance to see different types of attitudes which will help you to tackle many hurdles on your way. So keep on participating in those events because not all the competitions will have these type of off minds. I have participated in other competitions where you really get the exposure to reach the next level in your ladder and gives so much of space for self improvement. Never ever give up… You are the ruler of your own ideas… Fight it back… Capture the flag… Set it high… and be an inspiration to others!!!

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Inquisitive | Senior Software Engineer @ WSO2

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Saranki Magenthirarajah

Saranki Magenthirarajah

Inquisitive | Senior Software Engineer @ WSO2

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