This was my second Hackathon that took place during the Nairobi Tech Week from 9am March 23rd 2017. The Hackathon was organized by Strathmore university (the hosts), AngelHack from the US, Jumo (a company in the payments sector) and of course Facebook. We arrived there pumped and ready to go. Excitement and anxiety was in the air as we gathered our thoughts and creativity to come up with great ideas that solve real problems.
The AngelHack Hackathon included 2 Hackathons, one from Jumo and another by Facebook. Jumo’s CTO Sam Kitonyi and Facebook’s Proud Dzabukira were around to explain their respective company’s challenges. Jumo provided access to their payment APIs and were looking for the most creative use of their APIs in either an app or bot. Facebook’s challenge was part of the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region Messenger Bot Challenge that ran from February to April 28th of this year. The challenge involves creating a chatbot that runs on Facebook’s Messenger App. The app has to fall under the following 3 categories:
- Games and Entertainment
- Productivity and Utility
- Social Good
We chose to participate solely in the Facebook Messenger Bot Challenge and create a bot that fell under the Productivity and Utility category. It is more of the latter.
We were a three man team composed of Adrian Francis, Dennis Kamau and I. A strong creative team that loves the hacker culture and thrived in these environments. We were at home here. Soon after the preliminaries from AngelHack’s Christina Lila, we went for some breakfast to gain energy for the gruelling hours ahead. I have to admit, part of me going to Hackathons is the seemingly unlimited good foodJ. You have to feed these hungry creatives.
Time for Business
Each team now clamoured together and formed strategic plans on how to survive the “torment of bugs” ahead after coming up with an idea. Fortunately for us, I had already come up with an idea and was trying to flesh it out so I could pitch to my teammates. The idea was to create a bot for Messenger that allows specifically blue-collar workers to sign up and have an account based on their locations. Clients would then use the bot to find the worker they need who is near their location. This will be very convenient for ordinary people who need someone to fix something and also allow the worker access a wider clientele. Everybody liked the idea and started contributing ideas on the user flows. How will a client use the bot? How will a new and existing worker access and use it?
In a Hackathon, planning is everything. If you don’t plan, you will end up wasting precious time coding for the wrong thing. We found a real problem that everybody or someone you know has faced and came up with a quick and easy solution for it using a chatbot. This is the essence of every Hackathon, to solve real-world problems.
The Naming Conundrum
Naming is the biggest challenge any developer faces in their entire career. You have to get it right, whether it’s a variable or function name in a program or a database table name. It matters. You will have to deal with that name for a very long time, so you better get it right. After much deliberation, Dennis suggested Janta and we ran with it. It is a slang word for Job in the local Sheng language (a mix of Swahili, sheng and any other language known to man). We transformed into an unstoppable team called Team Janta.
To avoid an insanely long read, let’s cut this short and jump straight to the ending. WE WON THE HACKATHON. We learnt a lot about Facebook, Messenger and the many opportunities out there.
The finalist 30 in sub-saharan Africa have been chosen and our bot didn’t make it. We will still continue working on it and building even more bots.
Find the bot at http://m.me/jantabot