FindHotel visits the Dutch Open Hackathon 2016

A few weeks ago, the Dutch Open Hackathon was held in Rotterdam. It is an annual event with dozens of teams devoting around 48 hours to build working prototypes for any product in mind. A group of APIs were provided by some of the largest Dutch organisations including Schiphol Airport, KLM, Transavia, the Dutch police, PostNL and Cisco. Those APIs not only helped the teams with data for their products, but also they helped shape the ideas for those products.

Participating was a great opportunity for FindHotel employees from different teams to cooperate on one project. The team was formed from members of the company's user-acquisition, data and product teams. We begun the ideation process by getting everyone to put ideas on the board, considered the APIs involved and how we can divide the workload among us depending on the wide range of experiences present within our team. Our ideas were mostly revolving around networking and travel, and after a few rounds of brainstorming, we came up with an idea that we believe has a very good potential of user satisfaction and is simple enough to be implemented within a weekend.

Choosing a track

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We arrived at Rotterdam on Friday afternoon and were instantly hooked by the atmosphere in the hackathon venue, as there were developers chatting around with teams to find a team to join. The event offered four tracks to follow:

  • Doing Business
  • In the City
  • At Home
  • On the Go

We chose the Doing Business track and built an application called Netwerking (from the Dutch verb netwerken = to network). Netwerking enabled business travelers to build professional relationships during the time they spend at the airport- waiting, in queue or simply eating/drinking. It's a slot of time we all waste but can be used constructively if enabled by technology. This was our motivation.

The Product

The application has a travel assistant, Eva, which introduces the user to the most relevant professionals who are either travelling on the same flight, going to the same destination or working in a similar industry - and are present at the airport sharing your time-span. We figured that many of the APIs provided can help us to achieve our goal including Schiphol's flight, waiting times and indoor navigation. APIs from Transavia and KLM also help in other airports where they operate. In addition to the APIs provided by the hackathon sponsors, we used LinkedIn for authentication, similar to how Tinder uses Facebook for authentication; which we believed was just right for a business-oriented mobile matchmaking application like ours. Our stack included:

  • NodeJS for our APIs
  • Python for the chat bot
  • React Native for building an iOS application.

Despite lacking prior experience with React Native, it was not too hard to grasp as we use ReactJS extensively for our various front-end projects at FindHotel.

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Reaching the finals

We finalized our idea on our way to the venue - during our hour-long train journey to Rotterdam. 48 hours, a few thousand lines of code and several Red Bulls later, we had a working prototype. Right before the round1 presentation, our codebase was checked by expert from the Dutch police to make sure that it is not just dummy work. We presented in front of a jury of 3 members from the Doing Business track. After all participants were done presenting, we learned that we have reached the Final Round where 12 out of the original 70+ teams will compete on the first 4 places. Now, we had to present our application on stage in front of a packed auditorium. The audience comprised of all participants, judges and sponsors. We prepared some slides and planned to demo our app using a live iOS emulator- 3 minutes for presentation & another 2 minutes for questions from the judges. Other ideas presented were very inspiring and focused on solving everyday problems such as real-time image recognition, AR, VR, lost & found service, parcel delivery, preserving a crime scene digitally and indoor navigation. The audience were allowed to choose their favorite product in a public vote while the judges had to select their winner. There was food and drinks and a fair amount of networking at the end.

We thoroughly enjoyed the hackathon, connected with many people in the industry and were proud to reach the finals of one of the most renowned of such events in the Netherlands. In the process, we also learned a lot about the cutting edge technologies and devices other teams used. A weekend well spent!

We had great fun and will definitely do it again next year. Join us and be part of amazing experiences we have here!