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Creativity, Collaboration, Coding

Lessons from a Hackathon


Dashiell Wasserman
Marketing Manager

Lessons from a Hackathon

“I didn’t believe it,” says Mikelis Asnins on his first-place win at The Overkill’s 2020 Hackathon. “The weekend was basically no sleep and all coding.”
Hackathon participants were given just two days to create an interactive digital activism project using datasets related to mass mobilization, food shortages, and public unrest. This year’s end-of-the-world theme for The Overkill, a Netherlands-based art, gaming, film, and music festival, was pitched as “an invitation to find inspiration in fiction and playfulness to reimagine the future and stimulate social debate.”

Mikelis Asnins is a Senior UI Developer at Risk Focus

Mikelis, a Senior UI Developer at Risk Focus, was surprised by the win, as it seems the odds were against it. After being matched with four random teammates, two were ultimately unable to participate. “We were two guys basically,” he said. “A game writer from the Netherlands and myself.”

Based in Latvia, Mikelis is used to working with team members on projects across the globe. “At Risk Focus there is a goal—we need to create this or that—but at a hackathon there is only a topic and you need to figure out what you will, do how you will do it, how it will work, how it will present in the end,” he said. “That’s the purpose of hackathons; there are these extreme coincidences, and you need to collaborate and create something together.”

Mikelis and his partner decided to create a world map visualizing mass-mobilization events from 1990 to 2019. His partner, a specialist at creating copy, worked on content while Mikelis got to work coding with D3 and React.  

In the team’s final submission, users move a slider at the bottom of the screen, which saturates different points on the map with various historical events. Zooming in, users can click on an event and engage in dialogue with a local to learn more about it. The dialogue is based on news sources and YouTube interviews, and it’s interactive, creating an educational Choose Your Own Adventure experience.

Completing the project was a race to the finish line. Mikelis and his teammate finished just two hours before the deadline. The application was deployed in less than ten minutes by linking Mikelis’s GitHub to Vercel. “It was more like a learning process than like a competition,” he said of his surprise win. “I had to learn new approaches and new best practices.”
Mikelis’s colleagues at Risk Focus are celebrating his victory.

“What a hackathon really cultivates is the ability to think creatively under pressure,” says Christopher Wilson, Director of UX/UI Strategy at Risk Focus. “We’re about to kick off a quick prototyping project, and we’re going to use at least two or three of the things that Mikelis discovered or was investigating during the hackathon. It’s very invigorating for the community and the culture of our company to have people apply their craft to interests outside the scope of what we typically work on.”

The Overkill Festival has asked Mikelis and his teammate to continue developing the application to showcase a final version at the next Hackathon. In the meantime, Mikelis looks forward to receiving his trophy in the mail. Not to mention catching up on some sleep.

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Risk Focus is a consultancy solving capital-markets business problems with technology and insight. We combine business domain knowledge, technology expertise, and a disciplined process to ensure the success of the most challenging projects in the industry. Many of the largest exchanges and investment banks operate on systems built by Risk Focus teams. Our practices include Custom Application Development, Regulatory Reporting & Compliance, DevOps & Cloud, Streaming Architectures, and IT Strategy. We’re a Premier Confluent Systems Integrator and an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner with Financial Services, Migration, and DevOps Competencies. Clients count on us to provide outcomes that advance their objectives on time and on budget.