GlobalHack V Winners Share Their Experience, Lessons Learned

How does it feel to win $30,000 at a hackathon? “It feels mostly like being really tired,” Will Stampley said, somewhat jokingly. Will along with teammates Alex White and Becca Williams won first place at GlobalHack V in St. Louis. I sat down with Alex and Will on Wednesday after the event, and while they were in great spirits, they were still feeling their long weekend.

Will and Alex are part of our Software Architecture and Engineering team at Daugherty St. Louis while Becca is a colleague of theirs at RGA. The competition, GlobalHack, was founded as a non-profit by local entrepreneurs to build a better tech ecosystem through hackathons. For its fifth event, 250 people competed to breathe new life into how you navigate the municipal court systems in St. Louis, particularly how citizens navigate in relation to traffic fines.

Their were several great projects presented, including one from a high school team that took 3rd place overall.

Will, Alex and Becca’s winning platform, named CommuniSee, allows residents to look up and resolve tickets through various methods quickly, easily and securely. They also paid particular attention to how low income citizens can interact with the platform by creating a tool connecting citizens with corporations and non-profit’s community service opportunities to pay off their fines through volunteer work.

“It’s like a backwards Kickstarter,” explained Will on how they thought about this idea. “Instead of payment tiers, you have needs or opportunities. The sponsor is voluntarily offering this opportunity and the person with a ticket can sign up. Since both are opting in, you don’t need a judge.”

Their thinking… This has the potential to alleviate individuals having to take a day off of work to take care of their violations. Will explained that you don’t receive a time with your court date; it’s just a date. You also run the risk of having a continuance, meaning you have to come back the next day, effectively having to take off another day of work.

This is just part of what they created. Alex (pictured left) also thinks their map gave them a bit of an edge, too. Instead of just having a front-end database lookup, they created an interactive map that allows citizens to click on where they received their ticket. St. Louis has 84 municipalities in its county. You may or may not know what municipality you are in when you receive the ticket, but you can select it on their map to find out.

“We allowed for a tolerance,” said Alex. “If you get pulled over, even if right on the edge, it will search multiple municipalities to find your ticket.”

The team received high praise from the judges, including a nice moment with Founder of GlobalHack Gabe Lozano. During the deep dive after the first round of judging took place, Will was showing them more on their prototype. “I was telling him, it’s scalable, works like this, separate projects, all industry accepted, layered architecture, stuff we do for a living,” shared Will. “Gabe was sitting there, and he asked me, ‘How much of what you showed me is all real?’ I said, it’s all real. He said, ‘That’s impressive.’ Coming from Gabe who is always so quiet, it felt really good to have him say that.”

In just over 30 hours, Will, Alex and Becca were able to put together a very thoughtful, working prototype that wowed the judges. Not bad for a team with very little experience in the court system. “We both didn’t feel like we knew a lot about civic courts. Alex has never had a ticket, I’ve never gone to court for a ticket, and here we are trying to put together a system for it,” said Will. “There’s that moment – are they going to laugh at us? I’m a perfectionist, and until I get there I’m like every little thing is driving me nuts. Then you look in and you’re like, oh… that’s better than I thought.”

This was the second GlobalHack the team had attended, and they learned a lot from their previous experience. It was also their motivator for coming back and winning this one. “I stayed through the finals of the last one and saw what the winning teams had done,” said Alex. “I saw third place, and thought, man if we had 2 -3 more hours, we could have placed here. Next one, my weekend is free.”

They didn’t mess around, either. “We hit the ground running this time. We spent 30 minutes identifying what we wanted to do and identified our stretch goals,” said Alex. “It was almost like an agile environment, though not intentionally, we just naturally did that. We had little sprints.”

While winning was ultimately what they wanted to do, it’s about more than just the money for them. These hackathons are helping them be better consultants for Daugherty.

“It’s a really good exercise with no preexisting conditions, no management, to just say, what’s the way you want to build software? How do you want to solve a problem?” said Will. “[After a hackathon], you realize you haven’t been solving problems the best way for people. We can be so much better than this. I watched it happen at GlobalHack. Hackathons are great to get yourself in this mindset. How much can I really accomplish in a work week? How do I solve a problem really well?”

If you’ve never participated in a hackathon, Alex and Will have a few tips for winning…

  • Figure out who is responsible for what early in the hackathon.
  • Make sure you’re well-rested beforehand. Don’t go in tired.
  • There are better uses of your time than staying in your chair. Take walks, go eat dinner somewhere to get your ideas flowing.
  • Don’t be easily offended. Be respectful when you shoot down ideas, but move on quickly.
  • Keep on track to have something that’s viable and push yourself with stretch goals to come back to later.
  • And as for their winnings…

    “I’m going to buy a 3D printer and probably refinish a bathroom in my house,” said Will.

    “I’m going to build a new desktop with liquid cooling,” shared Alex.

    “Can you tell we’re nerdy?” laughed Will.

    Nerdy or not, this winning team was a well-oiled machine, which resulted in a $30,000 check, source code that could eventually help solve a big problem in the St. Louis community, and they learned a lot along the way. Great work Team Daugherty!

    We’ll see you at the next GlobalHack, which is said to feature a million dollar prize in late 2016.

    If you want to take a closer look at the winning prototype, Alex sent along the following information – (The server “sleeps” so if you’re the first one to hit it in a while it might take a bit to load since it’s just a free solution we used.)

    Option 1: Do you have your ticket #?
    Ticket #: 754039581
    DOB: 02/26/1959

    Option 2: Do you have your driver’s license info?
    License #: O250395952
    State: MO
    DOB: 08/02/1996

    Option 3: Where did you get your ticket?
    Last Name: Cook
    City/Municipality: Valley Park (pick from list or select from map pop-up)
    DOB: 12/03/1968

    Under Pay Ticket, take a look at the Alternative Payment Options that could be available via a sponsor.

    Sponsor Login (creates opportunities/needs for alternative payment options)
    Username: DemoCompany
    Password: DemoCompanyPwd

    Photo Credits – GlobalHack Facebook Page