Thank you TADHack Global 2019!

 

By Simon Woodhead

TADHack Global is now over although it’ll be a few days before we all get home. It has been a wild ride and we’ve loved it.

The event takes place globally (clue in the name I suppose) and is a weekend hackathon where attendees solve real-world problems they define, often in their own communities, using sponsor technologies. Simwood was one of three global sponsors so our API, as well as at the very last minute Sipcentric’s API, were available for hackers to create with.

I was in Chicago (as cities go, one I really like), we had Ross in London, Kathleen in Berlin and both Frazer and Charles (Sipcentric CEO) in Johannesburg. It was fantastic to be amongst those using our ‘stuff’ and it really was a baptism of fire!

Johannesburg in full swing

Whilst most sites value sleep – we only had two pull all nighters in Chicago – Johannesburg was an institutional marathon. With barbecues and pumping music, they worked right the way through. Charles and Frazer did 38 hours straight, and then went for a beer. I’m not entirely sure if that is commitment or just to avoid going back to their third hotel of the trip, but either way they did us proud!

Amazing catering in Johannesburg!
Too much for some!

Having hundreds of super-sharp minds consuming your APIs, knowing where they want to go but being generally unfamiliar with us, was so so useful. The questions started the night before (Chicago time) but the firehose really got going when Berlin, Johannesburg and London started Saturday morning. It was an unprecedented level of testing and fresh feedback that we couldn’t have gotten in years of normal usage and we’re really grateful for it.

The attendance was also hugely diverse. From a team from a global consulting firm who told me they were going to “make art with [y]our API”, through a medical academic so accomplished he was offended to be classed a Doctor, through to a bunch of high school kids. And that was just Chicago. In other sites the demographic was hugely mixed with Johannesburg even having a 14 year-old. It was massively reassuring and energising to meet these young minds and see them at work, as well as to spend time engaging with some of them and what they were doing. 

The hacks they were working on were also hugely diverse and reflect social diversity. Whilst the northern hemisphere was trying to cure all the world’s diseases with webRTC (apart from cancer because that is hard I’m told), block robocalls, and help geeks date, Columbia and South Africa were helping the homeless and combating Police corruption. That’s a generalisation of course to illustrate divergence of means, and there were hacks in all locations across that spectrum, e.g. the high school kids in Chicago were building a health app motivated by their teacher having had a heart attack.

Charles sharing his WebRTC expertise in the middle of the night!

I’ve not long come off the call to announce our global winners (they’re below), which were hard to choose. A majority of the hacks used Simwood’s API at some level (two way SMS being the most common) and some such as Scamdrop in Chicago (a large team with tremendous diversity – they even had a marketing department!) were built heavily on the Simwood API and had lots going on behind the scenes. We focussed on those that were using more of the Simwood API and were playing to some of our values, particularly user privacy and security, as those who had used a bit of everything had generally done well in the local prizes.

Firstly, we wanted to pull out one team who’s pitch didn’t make it to video or global judging. Johannesburg has so many teams they have to do a ‘play-off’ to get down to the final twelve who are put forward for global prizes. The Black Penta team were eliminated early on in that process not because what they’d done was bad – they’d been using Sipcentric WebRTC resources and engaging with Charles overnight after abandoning another sponsor – but because in their pitch they got so excited about the technology that they ran out of time! Their solution had real promise though.

Team Black Penta

In London, we also wanted to recognise a team who’d submitted multiple hacks (and won multiple prizes!) but their contribution was even more noteworthy. The very first thing they did was construct a javascript library around the Simwood API and later an NPM module. Not only is that something we’ve spent six months not doing ourselves, but it was also the basis for several other hacks – those in London obviously but other locations that woke up later and saw their work on our event Slack channel.

Another London team had taken the Simwood API and Kubernetes and created a Simwood Kubernetes Operator. In other words, it could automatically create FreeSWITCH nodes on Kubernetes and configure resources in the Simwood API mapped to them. This was even more noteworthy as they’d done a huge amount of work behind the scenes creating Simwood OpenAPI definitions and Rust bindings, none of which they really needed to do for a hack.

Next, a third London team – London did really well with Simwood resources! – had built a call-screening solution. This was using real-time number reconfiguration through the API, together with webhooks to notify of incoming calls. Unfortunately, we haven’t built the ability to change the config in response to the webhook yet which stopped them in their tracks for, according to our slack logs, less than 30 minutes before they came up with a very creative workaround! We should highlight the 6 second delay was their choice rather than a requirement of our API – reconfigurations are real-time, just not after the call has started.

Finally, our global winner was the only entry from Berlin. They had really taken to heart my brief that we were looking for something that enhanced end-user privacy and security, and built it almost entirely on Simwood. They’d created a solution that enabled ephemeral phone numbers to protect both parties – neither the caller nor callee see each other’s real number, and the link can be disposed of with a text message.

Congratulations to all our winners, as well as the many local winners who used Simwood! Thanks as well to everyone who attended and made us so welcome. Lastly, but by no means least, to the 100 or so people who make TadHack happen: thank you too!

Lastly, if you’d like to see the entire awards announcement, please see below.