HackWizards: A Guide To The Top
Hackathons are one of the most common terms that one comes across every day. It's no mystery that they are contests where we form a team involved in brainstorming innovative solutions. However, what is it like to be in such an event, to present and implement one’s idea? How can one win these events where there is so much competition? Recently two teams from NIT Rourkela showed emerged with excellent colours in two of the most popular hackathons. Let's go through what they had to say on their wins and how they overcame the aforementioned issues.
Building out Loud- Solana 2021
Team Monday Morning got in touch with Thakur Patel, a final year student from the Department of Mechanical Engineering who along with Parichay Barpanda, an alumnus of NIT Rourkela, won the CRED special prize and a whopping sum of $5000 at Building Out Loud- Solana 2021.
Monday Morning(MM): How did you come to know about this contest and how did you participate in it?
Thakur Patel: Sudhanshu Sekhar, Ashwin Sekhari, and Parichay Bapanda were meant to be a team but Ashwin and Sudhanshu dropped off in the middle as they had other commitments. I met Parichay through Ashwin who is a senior who works at Udaan. Parichay wanted to do something in the web ecosystem. He has a lot of experience in open source and projects and is a very humble and calm guy. So that's how I met my teammate and we both stuck to the project and made it to the end. To know about Parichay, you can read the Monday Morning article on him. (Read here.)
MM: How was your preparation for this Hackathon?
Thakur Patel: I was familar to Ethereum stack. For this we had to learn another tech stack (Solana stack). As it involved new technologies, we learned how the smart contract is different from Ethereum. It's different, and we got to learn that and implement it. It was again another learning experience as it's a new tech stack.
After registering for the Solana Hackathon, everything I learned during the Hackathon. I didn't know anything about it before. I just participated and got to relearn everything, and it was again like the start of the steep slope.
MM: How did you Prepare for the Hackathon?
Thakur Patel: I knew about blockchain technology, and I knew how revolutionizing it can be. It is indeed called Web3, the third evolution of the Web. In my second year, I had read many medium articles on it and had done a course on Coursera by the University of Buffalo.
Other than that, I did some courses at Dapp University, where Greg was my teacher. I just read like whatever I could find that time that and that was when I needed resources, and I believe the Dapp University is one of the good ones when one can find such type of resources. Right now, many people are making tutorial videos and many medium articles on Blockchain. Even I'm going to do some technical writing soon enough. So, that were like two primary sources for me, but there are tons of sources right now.
I suggest participating in a hackathon; even though you might be new or might not have any confidence in yourself, there are people who will guide you in the Hackathon. In the discord, they'll share the link. if there's anything, ask; somebody will come and answer your question. Our goal wasn't to win the Hackathon from the beginning; at least, that wasn't my goal. My goal was to learn as much as I could because I wanted to upskill myself.
Just sticking and learning from YouTube tutorials won’t help I would suggest is to take part in a hackathon, and you're going to learn a lot, especially if your teammates are good. In my case, Ashwin and Sudhanshu were excellent.
MM: Can anyone participate individually, or the participation has to be only in a team?
Thakur Patel: There are options for both. But, I believe participating in teams is crucial because there will someone to help you out and one doesn't have to go through all the hardships alone.
For people who are starting, I suggest you participate in teams. Even if none of your teammates is experienced, you can help each other out like we divided the workload among ourselves. Because of helping each other out, my rate of growth in the Hackathon was just tremendous. At first, even I was going plodding, but once you participate in a hackathon, see things get heated up, and realize you have to learn everything, seriousness pours in.
It was 10 to 14 days, and we were working every night. We used to code from nine to two or three in the morning. It was very intensive, and along with it, you have to learn also. It was the only thing I was doing then, and it was a great learning experience for me to work in a team. I've never done it individually, nor have I done any project individually. So I always prefer working in teams.
MM: What was your project idea in this Hackathon?
Thakur Patel: The project which we made in this Hackathon was called CRED jack. So the idea behind it is basic, is to improve the cred credit system. So, it has a thing called cred coins, and cred coins have a specific use which cred defines. So what we did is we added another use case by linking it to the Solana blockchain. We linked the Solana public address to your cred user profile. There's a trust core in Cred, you have a trusted core and you have cred coins. You can use your Cred coins to play a customized game, 'blackjack'. And based on an algorithm that involves your number of Cred coins staked, your trust score, and a couple of other factors, you get a certain amount of Solana, in return, based on the algorithm. It's like betting; you got to play the game Blackjack, and then we use our custom algorithm, and based on your final score, you get a particular amount of Solana tokens into your Solana public address. So, that's what we did.
MM: What were the things that helped you win this Hackathon? What could have been better, according to you?
Thakur Patel: In CRED, our idea was good, and we executed it well. Parichay is a good developer, so he contributed a lot. I feel I was the one mostly doing the learning part, but we both had our contributions. Other than that, there's a Solana discord group where you got to search for articles on building your tech stack. We didn't have much expectations regarding this project, and to be honest, we did not have any expectations. It was getting very late, and again we procrastinated till the last week, but there was no extension of deadlines, so we had to do everything in a week. And it is what happens, and I don't understand why they give a month. I think it's to register.
They conduct some workshops you have to attend that and get some idea of it. You won't get the whole idea, but you will have an idea of how to start. In the last, only two people, him and me, so we jammed together something. And we didn't have much expectations, so I can't say much of what made us win, but I think our presentation was good. We had to pitch through a YouTube video, and Parichay did an excellent job in that. I mostly made the presentation, and even that was good. I don't know what won us, but I think all of these combined bought the idea and the thing that our product actually worked because many people submit a non-working project in hackathons. Our product had an end-to-end model, which did the functionalities we advertised, and we advertised it well, so I think that's what made us win.
MM: What according to you are the benefits of participating in a Hackathon like this with all the academic burden?
Thakur Patel: From the Hackathons, I learn how I can improve my way of learning things. And I realized that to learn more, you have to go and participate in different hackathons. And it's so fun interacting with people, pitching, and making a presentation. There are many things involved except building. Pitching is fun as you got to prepare what to say, how to say, manage the timing, make a YouTube tutorial video, and think of an idea for the ideation that takes time and develops over that period of the Hackathon.
You get to implement new stuff, and it becomes more enjoyable if you're learning new things. I just learned a lot of things during the Hackathon. I learned a lot from my teammates, the sponsors, the judges, and the Devfolio people about ideation. You just got to participate more; that was my most significant learning, I would say. I learned how good a hackathon could be.
TechGig Code Gladiators 2021
Somya Patra and Debabrata Panda, both from the Department of Ceramic Engineering, emerged as the first runners-up at TechGig Code Gladiators 2021 and won a massive cash prize of nearly 1.25 lakh rupees. Team MM got in contact with them to know about their journeys.
MM: How did you get to know about the hackathon? and how did you form your team?
Debabrata Panda: I got to know about it from a youtube channel and then I researched about it from other platforms. The problem statements were similar to what we had learned. So I talked with Somya to take part in it.
We both knew each other since the first year. There are some things that Somya does better than me and there are certain things that I am good at. So we fit together perfectly.
Somya Patra: It was based on Machine Learning(ML), so it perfectly aligned with our interests. So when he came up with the idea we both signed up for it instantly as it was a great learning experience as well as a fun experience.
MM: Walk us through different stages of the hackathon.
Somya Patra and Debabrata Panda: There were three stages after registration. The first round was an individual round. We can take part as a team but one has to clear this round individually. It was an MCQ-based round consisting of different from ML and data science of varied complexity. After clearing this round one is eligible to form a team and participate.
In the second round, we had to build a model. When we go into any website we make certain clicks to do what we want. These clicks are analogous to calls that the company records to know what one is doing, what one’s goal, etc. We were given a data set that included data about that. But these included several invalid accesses. Sometimes it might happen due to AI or it might be bot-generated. We had to make a model using that data set that can distinguish between a real user and flawed access or anomaly.
They combined scores of rounds 1 and 2 to list the top 11 who will participate in round 3. It was an extension of round 2. But the catch is there were no labels unlike round 2 where our model was trained using the given labels. We had to induce rules to generalize the distinction. We were given a 12-hour window to do it. After completing it we had to present it in front of a jury.
MM: How was your experience in the competition?
Debabrata Panda: The second round was the most crucial for us. I remember when it began Somya started working on it immediately but we ran into a lot of errors. We were given three data sets. We had to use the click log data set and training data set to train our model and predict for the test data set. But after trying a lot we figured out that the target column was inefficient and there were a lot of garbage values in the click log data set. So after a lot of deliberation, we made a new data set and merged it. It was tough to make rules from scratch as we had to run a lot of queries in the last round. It had a lot of grinds but the 2nd round was very crucial.
MM: Where do you think things could have been better in the hackathon?
Somya Patra: I have a stronghold on python which helped me a lot. But I believe I could have done better in analysis and vigilance.
Debabrata Panda: I had to learn advanced Microsoft excel for this because the data set was massive in size and it was difficult to clear, filter, and run queries. I also had to learn new precision and accuracy metrics. I believe we could have done a better literature survey. If we would have been more vigilant about how companies like the one that organized it do such stuff we could have clenched 1st place.
MM: What are your suggestions for a beginner who is is eager to explore this domain?
Somya Patra and Debabrata Panda: For any beginner, we say keep on trying. When you try to learn things you will also explore different platforms like Youtube, Linked In, Hackerank, D2C, TechGig, and HackerEarth. And you will also get to know about contests like this. Then you can go on to choose the content according to yourself on the basis of where you can do well and where you can learn things as per your appetite. And help is always available for those who ask for it. These platforms are always ready to help. And even more the contestants, your seniors will help once you show your interest.
MM: What according to you are the benefits of participating in a Hackathon with all the academic burden?
Somya Patra and Debabrata Panda:
Academics will always be there but if you are trying to learn you will have to find the time. We used the pandemic situation in the best possible way. Once one gets in this habit one’s interest will increase eventually. You will not see your academics and these much differently. Apart from this the hackathons like this give one an objective evaluation of where one stands. One even gets to learn a lot of innovative ideas and solutions.
There are also various types of hackathons. There are those related to marketing strategies, case analysis where one has to brainstorm a lot. They are not limited to particular domains. This hackathon only had cash prizes but a lot of them have PPIs, jobs, and internships as their rewards. So it’s a win-win situation where if you win you get the rewards but if you don’t you get a lot to learn regardless.
Learning along the way and growing from every opportunity that comes up is reflected in their journeys. Team MM wishes all these winners great success in their future endeavours.