Mentoring @ Hackathon

Recently I had this opportunity to be a mentor at a hackathon. It was a Health & Fitness hackathon which took place on 14-16 October, 2017. The hackathon was organised by Geek Girls Carrots Berlin and my employer Zalando was one of the sponsors.

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I was contacted by the employer branding team within Zalando to participate as a mentor and I had an amazing weekend. Although I wanted to participate as a participant at this hackathon, the idea of being a mentor was overwhelming and I jumped in to volunteer.

My colleague Andra accompanied me on Day 1, Day 2 and Iuliia accompanied me on Day 3.

Day 1: 14.10.2016

It was Friday evening but I was gladdened to watch out the participant turn-out. It was a decent number of audience. The evening was meant to meet & greet mentors and participants. After a formal welcome, mentors introduced themselves and participants were asked to brainstorm on their Health & Fitness related hacks for the weekend and build teams.

I met couple of women who were very enthusiastic about their participation. Me and Andra tried to give them insights about being able to use the Zalando Shop API for this hackathon.

The evening was accompanied with good, healthy food and we were hosted at the Native Instruments, Berlin office.

Day 2: 15.10.2016

It was a pleasant Saturday morning and the previous evening made sure I had my motivation level turned on to show up at the venue on time.

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I was excited to talk about the Zalando Shop API. Since it was a health & fitness hackathon, Zalando’s fashion reputation was less enticing amongst the participants. Our pitch was to lure the audience by asking them to come up with ideas which involved a little bit of shopping. After all, you need new clothes, accessories etc. for a healthy start at the gym 😉

We offered them 20% discount code for shopping at Zalando. Here is the voucher code for all the readers – ZRNN48454E. Happy shopping!

The API briefing session was followed by a VR workshop using the Unity Framework and the hands-on-hacking session followed thereafter.

One of the teams reached out to me and Andra asking for some help in getting started with React.

We were hosted at the Axel Springer, Berlin office. The food served was delicious. The rest of the day was intense hacking session and the participants were engrossed in their hacks. True to the hackathon’s theme, there was a Zumba workout session in the evening 🙂

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Day 3: 16-10-2016

Mentor participation was required only during the second-half of this day for the jury discussions and voting. I decided to quickly run my weekend errands at home. Meanwhile I was helping one of the teams remotely with their React doubts.

Around 2:00 pm, it was jury time. I and Iuliia were quite excited about this. Being one of the jury member was one of my best experiences.

There were 7 teams all set to present their hacks. The source-code of all the teams can be found here.

I was amazed at the energy level of all the participants. There was no drop in their energy, inspite it being a Sunday. The presentations were excellent. I enjoyed listening to every detail. Me and Iuliia were silently making our notes and voting them based on code, idea and potential behind the hack.

After the presentations, all the jury assembled in one room. We were voting and it was interesting how the votes differed based on different evaluation criteria.

First criteria – potential and uniqueness of the hack.

Second criteria – presentations and team-spirit.

Third criteria – Implementation (working prototype)

It was surprising that looking into the source-code was the last criteria and the team ratings varied when this happened.

We had the winners listed at the end and this whole experience was elating.

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Last but not the least, it was a weekend well spent 🙂 Mentors and participants had this as a take-away gift!

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Here is the short-video featuring the hackathon

JSUnconf 23-24 April 2016, Hamburg

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are my own! Pictures are copied from twitter @jsunconf.

Now start reading…

It’s day #2 at JSUnconf, Hamburg and it’s snowing here! It’s weekend, yet nobody is tired. The enthusiasm within the audience/community is crazy. Everybody is here to share and learn something new.

jsunconf-audience

This was my first time at an Unconf! Unlike other conferences, the good thing about Unconfs is that the audience get to vote for the talk proposals on the fly. This is absolutely a conference for the people and by the people.

The two days started with a healthy breakfast and a quick welcoming of the audience. This was followed by potential speakers proposing their ideas. Voting was followed next and the schedule for the respective days was released.

As a speaker, I feel this is an interesting concept to validate your talk proposal. The joy of getting votes and getting a chance to speak is cosmic. My talk did make it to stage on day #1. My slides can be found here. The talk was on Natural User Interfaces using JavaScript. I had a chance to validate my idea before going live at JSConfBP, Budapest.

My session was at 14:30 on day #1. With 3 parallel sessions at a given time, I had a decent audience count listening to me. The demos which I had prepared, showed up very well and all the hard work paid off.

Being a foodie, it would be unfair from my part if I don’t post some FOOOOOOOOOD pictures 😉

JSUnconf highlights

  • It was a well-defined and nicely emphasised code of conduct.
  • This is what was there at both the rest-rooms. Promoting diversity at it’s best!jsunconf-all-gender
  • The coffee cups were re-usable.
  • The diversity scholarship of 300€ was awarded to 17 deserving candidates. I was one of them.jsunconf-diversity

From annoying pop-ups to JS on the back-end, the JavaScript community has seen JS in its varied forms. Conferences like these are a great place to network, learn and share knowledge.

My personal favorite talk at JSUnconf was about CSS refactoring by Christoph Reinartz, Trivago (@pistenprinz). Even though it was more about CSS, talks like these come out with a strong message about the need to use design patterns, code refactoring, terms much reserved to back-end and eyes drooling when the front-end community talks about.

It’s 14:15 (day #2) as I am ending this write-up. With 3 more hours to go here at the conference, it was a weekend well-spent. I have proposed a lightning talk too and is due in next 90 minutes. I made some new friends as well!

jsunconf-new-friends

Long live #javascript!

LearnItGirl -Failure Lessons

It’s been a relaxing weekend. Berlin and Zalando, both are treating me very well. Every day is like living my dream. Well, ‘so far, so good’…

After a heavy lunch today, I have been going through my to-do list. With no mood to sleep, I thought of writing a blog. Earlier this year, I had made an announcement of being chosen to be a mentor for LearnItGirl. I was very excited about this program. I and my mentee exchanged few emails in the beginning, one Skype call. That’s it. After that we failed to catch up.

My mentee, Iulia Dromereschi is from Romania. She is a freelance translator, conference interpreter, language trainer, collaborator at bookblog.ro, creative writer and is a co-founder of a NGO (she had once told me, what this NGO does, but I have no notes of it and now I have forgotten). I was readily impressed with her interesting profile. She has basic HTML and web design knowledge. She wanted to get started with JavaScript, which is why she chose LearnItGirl as the platform.

Since she uses email for communications very heavily, she wanted to build a tool like MailChimp. She decided to name it MailPump. Below is the abstract of the idea:

We would like to build a mail client (similar to MailChimp) which should help Iulia’s NGO send e-mails to the people they have to be in contact with. The mail client should facilitate sending e-mails to a great number of people, and also edit the e-mail content/layout, embed images, links, short movies, allow people to vote in polls or confirm their presence to events, to subscribe and unsubscribe to the newsletter(s).

I liked this idea and we both decided to work on it. Below is the work plan for 12 weeks which we had agreed on:

  1. HTML
  2. CSS
  3. JavaScript – Getting started
  4. Some more JavaScript
  5. Learning to build a basic website with HTML, CSS and JavaScript
  6. Prototyping MailPump
  7. Coding the layout for MailPump using HTML, CSS and JavaScript
  8. Adding interactions into MailPump
  9. Manage mailing lists
  10. Create email templates
  11. Add audio, video, image into email
  12. Final project wrap up

In one of the projects (Selasdia) which I have worked on earlier, back in Bangalore, I had built an email template engine, similar to MailChimp. I thought this would be a good learning project for Iulia to learn JavaScript.

My mentee was awesome, the project idea was super cool and the interest to learn and teach was at its best. But, I and my mentee have been too busy with our day-to-day work and we failed to show any progress in this program. My sincere apologies to the LearnItGirl team for not completing this project. As any successful person will honestly admit, failure happens, and we’ve all had our fair share of it. But from each failure, we learn our lessons.

To summarise our failure lessons, I have the following notes:

Choose wisely: I was new to Berlin and Zalando, I had too many things to focus on. I think it was a bad decision from my end to volunteer to be a mentor and not complete the task. I have already learned my lesson. I am now more careful in prioritising things and pick up only the ones which are doable.

Persistence: Iulia was travelling most of the time and had poor internet, which is why we couldn’t schedule our initial calls on time. Both of us didn’t give the right amount of attention to this project and it was undone. Had the two of us been persistent, we would have come half way through by now.

Motivation: Motivation is the key to everything. I strongly believe in this simple yet powerful word. Our daily schedule kept us busy from seeing any motivation in this program.

Never forget why you started!

As I conclude this post, I really hope Iulia learns programming and builds her own MailPump.

 

 

 

 

 

Zello

I am bad at naming things. I can’t think of a better title for this post! At Zalando, most of the names begin with a ‘Z’. Hence the title 😛

Copying these lines from my previous post:

Meanwhile, I had applied for Zalando in October 2015. After visiting Berlin for the first time in September 2015 (diversity scholarship recipient for JSConfEU), I had made up my mind to take up a job in Berlin (I badly wanted to be in this city, I wanted a job here, Berlin is so beautiful. It seemed just perfect to be living here). The week before flying to Singapore, I had completed all my technical interviews for Zalando through Skype. The results were expected when I was in Singapore. My joy knew no bounds when I received the much awaited positive response from Zalando. The whole process was so well organized, from the interviews to the relocation assitance, everybody involved did a commendable job. Presently, I am “onboarded” at Zalando, and I am loving every single day. #ILikeMyNewJob

So let me start about Zalando & me, from Day#1.

Here is the newsletter which I received from Women Who Code on 15.10.2015. Zalando’s advertisement in the ’employment opportunities’ section caught my attention.

Join Zalando — Europe’s largest online fashion platform — as a Backend Engineer. Code Java, Python, or Scala in Berlin, Dublin, or Helsinki!

Upon browsing through the various job openings at Zalando, I found it suitable to apply for this position. The ‘What you can expect from us’ section was of special interest to me and I found this to be a really cool job ad :). Relocation assistance, personal branding, hack weeks, tech talks etc, this job ad, according to me, was a match made in heaven and I was few steps away grabbing my dream job.

Most importantly, Zalando’s work culture was ideal. The concept of radical agility (purpose, autonomous and mastery) was the driving factor while submitting my job application.

I had my first interview with Diana Caamano Serna (Tech Recruiter Specialist) followed by a tech screening interview, after a couple days and lastly, a detailed 3 hour technical interview (with a break of 5-7 minutes in between). Diana was always there to answer all my queries. Also, thanks to Isabelle Mettler and team (Town house management) for always being kind to offer help and respond to my mails well on time. The interviews and the relocation assistance were well-organised.

Currently, I am being “onboarded” (a 4-week mentoring program to all the newbies at Zalando). Every day has been exciting, the onboarding crew is at its best. All the newbies work on a project (each one gets to pick an interesting project) and at the end of 4 weeks, share our learnings with the others. The goal is to have learnt something new and interesting in these 4 weeks and to have fun and enjoy Zalando’s work culture – “Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery“. The project which I will be working on has a noble cause. I would be starting with React.js. As of today, I am done setting my new Mac (yes, employees get to choose their work stations here) with all the installations required for this new project and done running a ‘Hello World React’.

My interests are “Perceptual Computing”, “D3.js”, “Teaching/ Speaking at conferences / Conducting workshops”, “IOT” and “JAVASCRIPT”! What’s exciting to me is that I have already found out to be doing all these things at my new work-place. How cool is that?!

I will be speaking on “Natural user interfaces using JavaScript” at JSConfBP, Budapest 2016. The “Employer Branding” team at Zalando is dedicated to encourage and offer support for such work. I spoke to the “Tech Innovation Lab” team today and enquired about getting to work with some of the hardware devices. The reply was affirmative plus they asked me for my interests in conducting workshops and I said a ‘YES’. I am looking forward for some great knowledge sharing through the internal “Tech Academy”. More work on this might happen shortly in the coming days.

One of my main goals for this year is to build my open-source reputation. Zalando has a bunch of open-source projects, and I am looking forward to be an active contributor.

Starting next week, I am selected to be a mentor for Learn IT Girl. I would help a girl learn a programming language and do an awesome project, during my free time, for the next 12 weeks. This would be a great start towards achieving my above goal.

Learning German, is my next goal. Looking forward to the classes starting next month at Zalando.

To be an active blogger is also this year’s goal. I hope I am able to contribute to the tech community by documenting my new learnings at Zalando.

I have a great track record when it comes to multi tasking, so please don’t sit and wonder if I can manage these many things.

With all the goals in place, I am looking forward to exchange knowledge, have a great learning and a fun work place. My new colleagues come from various parts of the world, hoping to eat some tasty tasty international cuisine too ;). I am a total foodie.

It’s 12:36 am, as I am ending this post. Let me sleep before I show myself in the office in few hours.

#ILikeMyNewJob

 

 

2016’s Hello World

Writing my first blog post from beautiful Berlin for the year 2016. I managed to achieve quite a bit in 2015. One goal for 2015 was to start talking at technical events/conferences; which was achieved. The other goal was to win a hackathon; which was partly achieved. Another goal was to do Coursera’s Machine Learning course seriously; which never happened!

Here’s a summary of what happened in the year 2015: read more

Few updates to what happened at JSConfAsia, Singapore 2015 and how I achieved my goal of winning a hackathon partially.

On the morning of 19th November, 2015, I was all set to deliver my talk as an international speaker. I was both nervous and excited. Few days back I had volunteered myself to play JSPardy, a Jeopardy like game, but with JavaScript.

(“Jeopardy!” is a classic game show — with a twist. The answers are given first, and the contestants supply the questions. )wiki

The previous morning (18.11.2015), I got a mail from the conference organisers saying I was one of those 3 contestants to be playing this unique JS game show. It doubled my excitement, but little did I know that this game was a part of the inaugural ceremony of JSConfAsia 2015. I was done with my registration for the conference on 19th morning and I was looking for Thomas Gorissen (conference organiser) to know and understand the rules for the game. Once done explaining, he asked me to occupy the front-row seats so that it would be easy to walk up to the stage without any delays.

I can still recall my nervousness on getting to know that the game was to be played before my talk (my talk was scheduled for 10:00 am and the inauguration was at 9:00 am). Following is the excerpt of our conversation –

Me: “What? Is it really going to be before my talk? I don’t think I am ready for this at all”

Thomas: “Well, it is a fun game show. Just enjoy”

Me: “Will I make fun out of myself if I am unable to answer any questions?” (I was nervous, I was all blank about JS, about my talk. All I wanted to do was, leave the place and run away)

Thomas: “I am sure you will have fun”

The game started, and rest was history :). Well, all this while I didn’t mention about the grand prize. The winner would get the all new IPAD Pro and I ended up winning this game with the audience’s support.

This is how I achieved my goal partially (because it wasn’t a hackathon). I was the happiest person on earth. My talk went well, got positive feedback and was applauded by web evangelists.

JSPardy at JSConfAsia

Video of my presentation

The next talk was at Grace Hopper Conference India, 2015. It took place at the Taj Vivanta, Yeshwantpur (Bangalore). My video starts at the 13th minute here

Meanwhile, I had applied for Zalando in October 2015. After visiting Berlin for the first time in September 2015 (diversity scholarship recipient for JSConfEU), I had made up my mind to take up a job in Berlin (I badly wanted to be in this city, I wanted a job here, Berlin is so beautiful. It seemed just perfect to be living here). The week before flying to Singapore, I had completed all my technical interviews for Zalando through Skype. The results were expected when I was in Singapore. My joy knew no bounds when I received the much awaited positive response from Zalando. The whole process was so well organized, from the interviews to the relocation assitance, everybody involved did a commendable job. Presently, I am “onboarded” at Zalando, and I am loving every single day. #ILikeMyNewJob

“Dream is not that you see in sleep, dream is something which doesn’t let you sleep” – A P J Adbul Kalam

These were the best things that took place in 2015. There were few things which didn’t happen too:

The theme which we (me and Navya) opted for the hackathon was ‘Super Workplaces’, and we chose to build a ‘Moods App’: to record moods of employees, use smart ways to detect if anybody’s unhappy and wants to leave the company. There is lot of scope for this project. I will write another blog post to talk more on this idea.

Source code can be found here. We built a simple web-based interface to capture moods. The fun part is, using gestures, nodding head – left/right, one can log moods. Demo

There were positive things from this hackathon:

  • I found a new friend – Navya B Raju. She’s a crazy, loving girl. Our trip to Delhi for the hackathon was indeed successful ;).
  • The joy of staying awake the whole night and coding forth something meaningful, the joy of completing the hackathon is exceptional. The 48 hour sleepless night (I winked my eyes just for 15 minutes during this whole duration) was worthy. We did get lot of appreciation for the project!

I had also enrolled as a volunteer for DataKind’s Bangalore Chapter. So, for me, 2015 ended with a DataDive #Data4Good. All my weekends (second half of 2015) were super productive, being with this amazing community of data good-doers.

With all the positive energy and learnings from 2015, I am all geared up for 2016. New place, new job, new people. It feels good. Gives me a sense of accomplishment 🙂

#DreamBig #HappyCoding