This weekend, I decided to attend Hack The North organised by the DWP Digital Team. A two-day event where like-minded people gathered together to identify and attempt to address the difficulties or hardships that individuals face when using support services offered by organisations in and around Manchester. This all-night event allows attendees to pitch their ideas and collaborate with others to implement a proof of concept which addresses these important issues.

This was the first event of its kind I’ve attended, and I was pleasantly surprised by how many individuals have the same passion to address the issues and difficulties that vulnerable users of the support services face. People from many different backgrounds attended; technical and non-technical minds combined to identify projects which would benefit the people in the region.

After arriving at the event, and receiving a Free MongoDB T-Shirt, without hesitation, I dived into the free food and drinks which the sponsors MongoDB and Northncoders provided. We then all took our places as the introductions from Dan (@dtanham) & Rachel (@racheljanewoods) from DWP Digital took place. The scene had been set, and the expected outcomes of the event presented.

Northcoders

Amul Batra (@amul5) from Northcoders spent time presenting the amazing work their courses have been doing to train and qualify candidates as Software Engineers. He also told personal stories of how graduates from different (and sometimes desperate) backgrounds undertook Northcoder’s courses to improve their personal circumstances, with 95% of the graduates managing to undertake a role in the industry as a Software Engineer. This was certainly positive news to hear, and importantly that some organisations like Northcoders were already starting to make a positive impact in Manchester.

Job Centre Plus

Members of the Job Centre Plus Manchester team, Irene and Tim, introduced the DWP and continued to discuss the difficulties and problems that individuals who use Job Centre Plus face when trying to access important services. They also presented individual examples of use cases and blockers that they faced as part of their roles. This was a great opportunity for attendees like myself to hear first-hand stories and look for opportunities in which I could personally help.

A question and answer session took place, where attendees could submit their questions (anonymously) for members of the panel to answer. Many important questions on the issues support services face, along with how current processes in the Job Centre’s take place. It was a good opportunity for the members of JCP to put forward their ideas and experiences.

MongoDB Sponsors

We had further introductions from Joe Drumgoole (@jdrumgoole) from MongoDB about the event format, and how proceedings would take place. We were then given 15 minutes to discover ideas to pitch to the rest of the group. To facilitate the pitching, funny items such as a Christmas Hat, Antlers and an umbrella were used to ensure group members, who were not pitching ideas, could remember the ideas of those who did stand up and pitch.

Pitching & Teams

After attendees who had ideas/solutions pitched their ideas to other members of the group. Those without an idea were given the opportunity to pick a team based on how they personally felt towards the solutions which had been pitched. I personally didn’t pick a team, as I would be unavailable for the full event. So decided to join the Job Centre Plus team who would be answering questions and helping teams in the discovery phase. This was a great opportunity for me to speak to many different individuals in the room, and discover the projects they were undertaking.

The teams had been established and after a demonstration of MongoDB Atlas and Stitch Apps from Max – breakouts began to happen. Sticky notes and white-boards began to appear and as I walked around the room, there was a buzz of excitement as teams began to thrash out their ideas.

Discussions took place for several hours, with some teams starting to begin development. Much needed supplie (Pizza and Beer) arrived, and as people took breaks to consume the vast amounts of Pizza. I manage to carry on discussing the ideas and how they would be implemented with several individuals. There was definitely a sense of excitement in the air.

The night was still young…

By this point, I decided to call it an evening and head for my train, leaving many attendees still coding into the midnight hours. I planned to return the following morning to see what development had occurred over the night!

To be continued…