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A Weekend at BattleHack Boston

· by Cassidy Williams

By Cassidy Williams

Hello!

So, this weekend was my first big event during my time at Venmo: BattleHack Boston.

Now, I've done a lot of hackathons, on the participating, planning, and sponsoring side.

This hackathon beat almost every single one. The PayPal/Braintree team that put it together (and lovingly allowed me to join them) was so organized and well-prepared, I can't say anything negative about the event!

It all started with the set up the night before.

There was TONS of swag.

It felt like the swag and props were never ending. Which is a good thing.

When I first heard the term, "BattleHack," I admit I was afraid it'd be a little cheesy. But this was far from it. This hackathon was epic. Even just from prep day, I could tell that it was going to be a really smooth, impactful event.

So, on the day of the event, we all got to our stations early. I was in charge of the swag table. For those of you who know me well, you know just how perfect that position was for me. Few people really appreciate good swag. I thrive on it.

From the beginning, we were loaded up with absolutely delicious food. It was actually shocking how well they fed us. We started with bagels (with a wide variety of toppings) on the first day, and throughout the event we had a waffle bar, a grilled cheese bar, lobster rolls, clam chowder, Italian food, Asian cuisine, candy, beer, pop, juices and teas, coffee... I could actually make a whole post about the food, but we have more important things to discuss. But seriously. Well done on the food, BattleHack team.

Before we kicked off the event, Matt Hamilton (also a Venmo rep) and I struck a pose. Because you simply couldn't resist those costumes.

The room got crowded fast. This hackathon was geared towards anyone 18 or older, so we had a really wide range of people. The intros to the event were pretty standard, but well done. They talked about the importance of hacking for social good, and the structure of BattleHack (it's a global competition, you can check out their website here).

And of course, we had to talk about the prizes. Throughout the event there would be smaller prizes for Best Progress and for Best Tweet, but the big prizes for hacks consisted of PS4s, cameras, and a chance to win $100,000 after being flown out to California on PayPal/Braintree's dime.

Once people settled down about the awesomeness of the prizes, we got to demos and rules. In order to be eligible for the big prizes, one had to use a PayPal, Braintree, or Venmo API. One could still win partner prizes from the companies Twilio, Mashery, SendGrid, and Context.io if you used their technologies. I had the pleasure of demoing the Venmo iOS SDK.

Once demos were done, it was lunchtime. Everyone was eating and pitching ideas and putting together teams. Hackers had been able to pitch ideas on video before the event started, so some people knew what they were doing, and others were starting completely clean.

Finally, just before 1PM, we had a big countdown to start. We banged the gong, and we were off! Teams quickly started sketching out ideas and setting up their stations.

Over the next few hours, Matt and I were approached several times about using the Venmo API, which was great. The PayPal/Braintree dev evangelists kept thanking us on the side for coming. They said that Venmo has been one of the most popular APIs of the entire BattleHack competition so far, and they loved having us there to help.

Time went on, more food was served throughout the night. The BattleHack team brought in professional masseuses (holy crap, am I right?) and soon Matt's and my shift was over. We were able to leave at about 9, as long as we got back by 4AM. That was one of the things I appreciated about the planning that went into BattleHack; designated shifts aren't always thought of for the staff of hackathons.

After a nearly sleepless night, I got back at 4 and started circling the room looking for the Best Progress award. Teams had been working hard. Some included hardware components, some were trying to use every API available. It was very impressive to see the work being done. Eventually, the team we decided had the Best Progress was FundRunner, an application that assisted those running and those donating to people running in various races for charity. It checked when certain milestones were hit using geolocation, it texted donors when their maximum donation amount was hit, it sent emails... their work so far was pretty darn solid.

Throughout the morning, Matt and I were hit up with Venmo questions. Some were pretty technical, some were simply, "why would I use Venmo over PayPal?" But overall, we were kept busy. Matt and I took notes of flaws on our end and desires on the developers' end for future reference.

Rehearsals were another big part of Sunday morning. Every team practiced their pitches (which were going to be 2 minutes long) and got feedback from the BattleHack team. This is another part of the hackathon that I appreciated and don't often see. People in general, without feedback, aren't successful without an outside perspective.

And finally, after a lip-smacking lunch of lobster rolls and a grilled cheese bar, it was time for presentations. There were some really cool ones, and quite a few using Venmo! A few cool ones where:

  • AgriGate, an "Etsy for farmers" that allowed farmers to post their produce for people to buy, and included a hardware component of a packing slip being printed
  • Street Music is a platform that connects users to street performers to legitimize their profession and allows donation through Venmo and PayPal (they kicked off their presentation by singing, I was impressed)
  • HaveKnow proves your identity for emergency rescue payments when you've lost your ID and/or wallet, and lets you pay people with PayPal/Venmo after they give you cash
  • Honk is a license plate-based messaging app that allows users to send compliments and constructive criticism to drivers (sent in the form of a Venmo charge/payment)
  • FundMatch is a web-based platform dedicated to efficient giving for nonprofits and allows donations through PayPal (the cool part of this one was they took in organization emails and information and parsed them into an easy-to-read form for donors to understand)
  • Pothole Sonar app uses audio to enhance the awareness of mobile users to the dangerous potholes nearby and compiles pothole data
  • Nome (short for "metronome") is a "git for music" where people can collaborate on music projects and donate to other musicians with Venmo

There were a bunch more, and overall the event was so cool. The winners of the event made "Late Night Safety Kit," an app with tools that allows a user to stay safe by sending alerts for crime and to the police station in the area.

And so, as the BattleHack saying goes: City Conquered! I had to run off after the presentations for my train back to NYC. Overall, I genuinely enjoyed my time at BattleHack Boston. The planning team was a well-oiled machine, on top of every single nuance. I loved helping them and being a part of such an impressive event.

Until next time! :)