Artificial Intelligence

Metal Toad’s Remote Work 2020 AWS Hackathon: Outcomes & Innovations

The dust has settled at the Toads’ biannual hackathon, and what a ride it was!

The dust has settled at the Toads’ biannual hackathon, and what a ride it was! After 48 hours of designing, building, learning, and collaborating—plus an undisclosed amount of coffee—four teams created four working prototypes on our theme of remote work innovations! 

How did the Toads pull it off? Here’s a look behind the curtain at the concepts, obstacles, and wins of the hackathon!

The challenge

We asked our fearless hackers to break new ground on remote work tools using AWS technology. They were free to choose their own project concept, plus the technologies and resources needed to complete it. They split into four teams, rolled up their sleeves, and got down to ideating and building! 

Team QuaranToad

The big idea: Remote work offers up new possibilities for global markets and workforces, but language barriers can get in the way when collaborators have different native tongues—plus, video conferencing apps don’t offer great support for Deaf or hard-of-hearing people. What if an app could transcribe and translate voice in real time, enabling more accessible remote collaboration?

The approach: The team used React, Transcribe Real Time, and Translate to build their app. After experimenting with both Meeting App and Virtual Classroom, they settled on Meeting App. 

The obstacles: One of the biggest challenges was lag time in transcription, which seemed to build up over time. The team also had to find creative ways to overcome issues with environment setup, custom webpack scripts, and integrating code to record microphone output. 

The wins:

  • Built two working demo apps in 48 hours
  • Implemented Meeting App transcription
  • Created customized web pack scripts

Team Passive Piglet

The big idea: One of the thorniest problems of remote group meetings is the lack of tools for collaboration—no stickies on the wall, and no whiteboards to scribble on! The team set out to change that by creating a virtual collaborative whiteboarding experience. 

The approach: The app relied on React code to reach out to a server and connect meeting participants using Chime SDK. The team then used customizable libraries for various functions of the app.

The obstacles: The team’s first challenge was the need for a server—Chime SDK with a node.js server can’t run on just a React app. After putting a laptop into service to solve the issue, the team tackled state-management problems like properly displaying user tiles and call consistency. The team didn’t have time to complete the whiteboard portion, but did build a full videoconferencing app!

The wins:

  • Built a full videoconferencing app in just two days
  • Learned a lot about React (which was fun!)
  • Dug into the potential of Chime SDK

Take a deeper dive into the team’s process and insights:

Team Purple Parrots

The big idea: As the COVID-19 crisis continues, schools have had to pivot to virtual learning  fast—and under enormous pressure. The team set out to build a virtual classroom application with video sharing, chat, mute, and “raise hand” features. 

The approach: For rapid prototyping, the team started with Chime SDK’s example code, which leveraged Electron, and a script using Amplify and the SAM CLI. They then dug into the code to tweak the hand-raising feature.

The obstacles

  • Packaging and running a desktop app on different operating systems
  • Compression inside the app caused problems on Catalina
  • A steep learning curve on React 

The wins

  • A complete the virtual classroom, including muting feature
  • Hand-raising functionality partially completed
  • Styling and branding were easy and fun to use

Team Santa Party

The big idea: Santa needs to talk to the Nice List kids while in quarantine! He considered Twitch, Youtube, and the Watch Party products from Netflix and Prime Video...but they didn’t have the right North Pole™ brand! Welcome to Santa Party™!

The approach: The team built a secured React portal using Chime SDK and MediaLive. they leveraged SAM for building infrastructure, WebSockets for the messaging feature, and Key Service to manage users. 

The obstacles: The team’s biggest challenges were tinkering and testing with multi-participant chat software, troubleshooting live chat participants being dropped from the call, and grokking the many features and state management of Chime SDK in just 48 hours.

The wins:

  • SAM simplified the process enormously 
  • Using JSX templates made changes super fast
  • Tinkering with WebSockets was time-consuming, yielded good results

Take a deeper dive into insights and reflection from the team members:

The outcome

While 2020 has been a tough year for everyone, the challenges have made us all the more committed to staying on the leading edge of cloud and AWS tech—and solving the ever-changing needs of business with rapid innovation. Watching the Toads come together to stretch their technical skills, strengthen relationships, and build exciting new prototypes in just two days showed how ready this team is to tackle the next wave of cloud innovation. And doing it in a fully remote environment is proof that remote work is not only possible, it can be awesome!

How to run your own hackathon

Want to host your own hackathon? It’s a great way to build your team and spark new ideas—and doing it all remotely is easier than you might think. Here’s a few hints on planning yours: 

  • Get the lowdown on running a productive and fun hackathon 
  • Take a look at the projects Toads have created in our previous hackathons
  • Talk to us about how we can help you launch your own rapid-innovation session

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