Highlights from the Inaugural Hackathon at Spotlight ’19
Pizza, beer, and a whole host of problems to solve…
As recipes for a good night out go, free pizza and beer are certainly a great combination. And when combined with a plethora of problems and Easter eggs to solve, and complemented with a solid dose of healthy competition, the result was a whole lot of fun. For my part, as the coordinator for the event, I had the pleasure of MCing the evening, as well as spinning up a playlist, and creating slides with a veritable wealth of handcrafted memes.
Six teams entered, but only one team could leave victorious, as the holders of the “Hackathon Champ” title, and owners of the now highly-coveted lava lamp trophies. But before we celebrate our winners, our participants, plus the crack squad of solutions architects who designed and built the Hackathon platform, for those of you with the FOMO, here’s a recap of the night.
It was Spotlight eve…
Proceedings kicked off with an introduction to the supporting Exabeam cast, and a word from our wonderful sponsors — Grant Thornton — who were present for the event to support our participants (and, dare I say, sample the refreshments — for quality control purposes, obviously). Teams were announced, and provided with login details, then given their first task. We started them off with something simple — to choose their team names, and define a battle cry which was used to alert our folks when they had completed a task or needed to cash in a ‘help me, Obi-wan” lifeline card.
Name that team
Pizza-fuelled creative juices flowing, the team names were certainly an interesting lot — ranging from “Anchor Steam”, “ChewbaccAA”, and “The Clash”, to the 90’s rave-esque “No Cre8tivity”, the straight-up “We Don’t Know”, and the très internet cool “The Flying Lulcats”. Named and ready to get started, the teams were then given their first ‘proper’ problem to solve.
Points, Easter eggs, oh my!
Rather than explain each of the problems in great detail, as we don’t want to give too much of our thought process away for folks who might want to compete next year, I’ll give you an overview of how the competition worked. There were elements of a hackathon, mixed with elements of capture the flag, and some hidden Easter eggs leading to geeky questions. Task completion, fastest finishers, and correct Easter egg answers resulted in points for each team.
As the night progressed, requests to the see the leaderboard rose in frequency and enthusiasm, and visits to the refreshments significantly decreased as the competition seriously heated up. Battle cries increased in volume, the lead changed hands multiple times, and well into the night a late surge from the Lulcats saw them knock No Cre8tivity into second place to take the top spot on the board. The final count could only now be affected by the handing back of any remaining ‘Obi-wan’ cards…
The scores were counted and verified, and The Flying Lulcats (battle cry: Cowabunga!) emerged victorious. The crowd went wild, beers were cheered, tables were flipped, I’m sure you can picture the scene. OK, so maybe it didn’t exactly go like that, but there were some solid celebrations following the event. Bragging rights now in the bag, the Lulcats went out into the night as Hackathon Champs, brandishing their coveted trophies. I recently checked in with our winners, Matt and Marc, to see if winning this prestigious award had been truly life-changing, plus get their feedback on the event.
Sam: Chaps, congrats again on the win! I’d love to share your thoughts on the event with the world. Firstly, apart from the obvious part where you were crowned as champions, can you tell me what you enjoyed most about the hackathon?
Matt: “It was a great atmosphere, both light-hearted and competitive at the same time. The environment was fleshed out with a surprising amount of data that made cracking the challenges quite… challenging!”
Marc: “Free beer and food! Seriously, the room was a room of fun folks and the competition was exciting.”
Sam: And what does winning the hackathon mean to you?
Matt: “There was definitely some friendly competition going on, with some strong teams, so it was quite fun to come out on top in the end.”
Marc: “Matt was invaluable and a great partner. Glad to have a fellow Exabeam customer by my side.”
Sam: Beyond the hours of mental and physical training that you no doubt did on an individual level, did you do any team preparation in advance of the competition?
Matt: “No preparation, since Marc and I were late sign-ups.”
Marc: “Zero, both of us simply walked up and grabbed an open spot.”
Sam: One of my favorite phrases is ‘every day is a learning day’, so did you learn any new skills from your teammate?
Matt: “Yes, it was interesting to be challenged to solve some puzzles and also have to use Advanced Analytics in new ways. Marc had a different perspective and kept picking away at the challenges I wanted to give up on.”
Marc: “Many, as noted, Matthew was a fantastic partner.”
Sam: How did you decide on your team name and battle cry? (BTW, we totally made them say Cowabunga out loud during the Spotlight awards ceremony.)
Matt: “I can only blame the beer.”
Marc: “Heck, no idea.”
Sam: What advice would you give to new participants of the 2020 hackathon?
Matt: “Brush up on your obscure movie references.”
Marc: “Come hungry!”
Sam: And finally, will you be defending your title next year?
Matt: “Definitely up for that!”
Marc: “Why certainly!”
Hackathon champions Matt and Matt from Team Lulcats.
If you’re not first, you’re still very much appreciated
Of course, it’s the participation that counts, and all the teams fought valiantly through the night to solve the challenges and decipher the Easter eggs. So I’d like to give a big shout out to everyone who took part. Our team enjoyed hanging out with you all and witnessing your creativity and problem-solving skills. And while I’m on the subject of shout outs, it would be remiss of me to not thank our sponsors, Grant Thornton, and rain praise on the Exabeam solutions architects who spent many hours, including evenings and weekends, to build and test the environment before we let the contenders loose in its twists and turns.
Get ready for 2020!
There’s no rest for the wicked — discussions around the Spotlight 2020 hackathon are already in full swing. Spaces will be limited, so keep your eyes peeled for when sign-ups are open to making sure you grab your spot.
And if you’re looking for further proof, one of our 2019 participants, “Br14n” also shared his thoughts with me:
“Exabeam’s first Hackathon was a challenging and entertaining way to use threat-hunting skills. Experience with Exabeam Threat Hunter certainly helped answer the CTF questions faster, as well as finding some of the Easter eggs hidden throughout the data set to score some bonus points! Definitely, a fun way to meet other Spotlight attendees with food and drink aplenty. I would compete again and looking forward to Spotlight Hackathon 2.0!”
Bring it on! #HackThePlanet
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