Ready to go
Mere minutes before the start of my first hack-a-thon, I sat in the deepest recesses of my basement; the main lights shut down in favor of a temporary single bulb, dangling above my desk, gently swaying back and worth. I thought to myself, “This seems like a proper hack environment!” I have a bank of coffee machines within grabbing distance, two of them brewing high-test and one pot of decaf on standby in case the high-test is too high. There is a large box of dry cereal, Honeycomb to be exact, deputized and ready for action when nourishment is required. Yes, I was ready to hack. Just saying hack-a-thon made me feel a little evil. <Insert evil plan laugh here>
The thing is, this hack-a-thon, #Hack4helpers, was just the opposite. Thanks to the Community Summit NA hosted by Dynamics Community, the teams assembled in this Hackathon were going to solve use cases that were cultivated from hours of interviews with non-profit organizations and issues they face in day-to-day operations. Also, it turns out, the basement scenario I described above was just a Teams background I downloaded from the internet.
Virtual, but exciting and productive
The event was virtual, but surprisingly electric in its feels as the organizers brought a high level of excitement and passion. For six hours, five teams of people from all over the world were coming together to explore no code/low code technology like, Microsoft Forms, Canvas Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI, and the Common Data Service. Each team picked from one of the three use cases: Tracking company assets, Intaking volunteers, and Volunteer training/guidance.
Team Blue, Yellow, Green, and Porange (Purple and Orange had to combine due to attendance issues) attacked Use Case Two, the in-take and matching of volunteer resources with event/organization needs. The Red team chose Use Case One, Tracking Organizational assets.
My role on this day was as an organizer and judge. I spent the day walking the “floor” and checking in on the teams as they solved the use cases in real time. I was amazed at the level of teamwork at play for folks that had basically just met for this event and were spanning time zones over multiple hour difference. They assembled quick project plans and showed the kind of enthusiasm and passion that I envisioned for the event. Each team had their share of hurdles, including the loss of human resources in the middle of the hack. But when it came time to present, they stood proud and showcased some amazing results.
One of the requirements of the hack was to take advantage of the Microsoft Stack and this was evident as we watched these amazing solutions unfold. They were building forms for intake, using canvas Power apps, creating flows in Automate to push tasks along and send emails, retrofitting D365 to aesthetically show the information, presenting data insights in Power BI, and storing the data in the CDS. The interfaces for both volunteers and organization employees were interactive, engaged all users, and reached past the non-profit sector to extend to everyday business use application.
Picking a winner
Judging a winner was tough, as all the teams put heart and soul into their projects. Each team executed their unique project plan, with successful outcomes, and viable solutions. In the end, we had to resort to a tiebreaker to decide a winner!
I started the day as not only a Hackathon newbie, but also a person that was not familiar with the full capabilities of Power Apps, Power Automate, and Flow. I think the real secret winner in all this is a complex combination of people, organizations and communities that can take advantage of low code/no code technologies. It should provide ways to pivot job opportunities and allow passionate people an avenue to re-train; opening the door to more homegrown solutions that solve community issues. I am looking forward to learning more and watching this tech grow.