How I Won My First Blockchain Hackathon: Newbie Hacker’s Guide

Below we interview Gabby, a former Wealth Planning Analyst who enrolled in Byte Academy’s Introductory Python Foundation program.  Although he could not persuade his classmates, Gabby signed up for his first hackathon – the Linnia Protocol Blockchain Hackathon run by Consensys, one of the leading companies in the blockchain space.   Gabby both won the hack and advanced his career.  Read how he did it:

Please provide an overview of your background – what did you do before enrolling in Byte Academy’s programs?

After earning a BS (Business Administration) and a BA (economics) from UNC-Chapel Hill, I worked at UBS for three years as a Wealth Planning Analyst and as a Portfolio Strategist for ultra-high net worth clients. I created comprehensive financial plans and strategic portfolio allocations. As a portfolio strategist I specialized in sustainable investments.

After this, I joined a family office called BBR Partners where I did similar things.  However, I soon realized that I needed a break from finance. I spent 10 months traveling around the world and two months studying for Level III of the CFA Program (which I passed).  After this, I enrolled in Byte Academy.

Apparently, this was the first time that you competed in a hackathon – was there something in particular that inspired/motivated you to sign up?

My major inspirations included:

1) Desire to work at ConsenSys: After leaving finance, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to make a positive impact instead of making the wealthy more money. I thought joining the Hackathon would allow me to showcase my talents to ConsenSys, particularly its Social Impact spoke (division).  My true passion is within the realm of sustainability and how to develop businesses with these principles in mind. The Social Impact Spoke is dedicated to projects that promote the growth of renewable energies, responsible resource procurement, and supply chain efficiency.

2) Anthony Albertorio from Consensys: Anthony, a Consensys team member and organizer of the hackathon, visited Byte Academy and gave me encouragement. When I expressed uncertainty regarding my JavaScript or React/Redux skills, he advised that I take a crash course in JS two days prior to the event.  Everything else I learned there!

Please describe any exposure/experience that you may have had with blockchain prior to the hackathon.

I only started taking a deep dive into blockchain a couple months ago when I returned from travels.  I gained a general understanding such as the financial fundamentals of a decentralized ledger, but did not really understand all technical aspects.

Tell us about the idea pitching and team formation: did you have something in mind before signing up? How was your team formed?  

By chance! The four of us sat down at one of the last unoccupied tables and our team was formed!  I headed up the idea pitching as this was one of the skills I had gained via my work experience.

Gabby and His Winning Team

What type of expertise did you leverage in order to win?

The hackathon challenge was to hone in on a business problem that could be tackled with a MVP (minimal viable product). Given this, my business development and financial expertise definitely helped.  I also leveraged presentation skills  in addition to organizational work and planning.

Tell us about the process to make your winning project.

I pitched the idea to create a Real Estate dApp (decentralized application) mapping out how to use the Linnia protocol (technology that was the theme of the hackathon). Then, I created the UI and walked the team through the app design.  One of my teammates helped on the front-end and we worked through using React and HTML. The two back-end devs did a lot of the heavy lifting with JS by getting the encryption system to work and integrating this into the UI.

Please describe your final solution/project and pitching it.  Why do you think the judges chose your team?  

Our dApp was aimed to improve the rental/housing markets.  To do this, it provided buyers with a secure platform to selectively send financially sensitive data to third-parties.  It also provided sellers with a secure platform to receive this data in order to quickly approve or reject applications.

During the pitch, I showed three different webpages (screenshots below). Two for the buyer: 1) showed how users could easily upload data to the network 2) showed how users could provide third party permission to review select information. One for the third-party: 1) Showed how decrypted data sent from the buyer and a simple interface allowed the third-party to accept or reject the application.

The judges’ feedback was that our dApp had the cleanest/easiest to understand UI and that our dApp also had one of the best/ financially relevant applications (see the team’s GitHub here).

UI Screenshots:

dApp screenshot

(Other than winning) what were the highlights of  your hackathon experience?

Actually finishing up the project!  We had not started coding until about 11:00 am on the second day.  We did not think we were going to finish our dApp at that point. Somehow after lunch, we focused on our areas of expertise and successfully pushed through one cycle of the dApp 5 minutes before our presentation. The second run-through was during the presentation, which was a success.

Phew! What was the biggest challenge of the Hack?  Surprise?

I think the biggest problem was understanding all the packages that we needed to incorporate into the dApp.

Do you expect to leverage your win for future endeavors?  Please describe.

Yes. I plan on joining the next ConsenSys hackathon which will be in about three months. Winning the Hackathon is also a great talking point for future job applications

Did Byte Academy influence your hackathon experience, including the decision to enter and/or give you the expertise to win?  If so, please explain.

Yes – at Byte Academy we spent one day learning how to use bootstrap templates to create a basic HTML website.  This is how I was able to clearly sketch out the UX design for the team.  Also, if Byte did not collaborate with Consensys on the event, I would have never known about it/signed up!

What advice would you give someone considering entering a hackathon who is hesitant such as he/she is not “technical” enough?

Do it. Regardless of what “technical” skills you believe that you lack, you have so many other skills which will contribute to the success of the team. Also even if you don’t win the Hackathon, you will learn many new skills which will make you a better developer.

What did you win at the hackathon?

$400 to share between the team and facetime with ConsenSys teams in the future.

What did you tell your classmates after the win?

That it was an amazing experience.

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