In your mind what would be the outcome if a crowd of 500 payment geeks spread out in a large banquet room in Vegas for 36 hours? Do we truly understand the problems we are being asked to solve? Do we have visions of grandeur and want to pitch something revolutionary to get some coin? Or are we really anxious to see the actual APIs that the sponsors will be revealing that can be tied into our product for the ultimate win?
For the past five years; developers, designers, and entrepreneurs flock to Vegas late October to mingle with their peers and accept a themed challenge relating to payments and FinTech. This is Money2020 Hackathon.
Some are serial hackers that make the circuit, eager to win so they can pay for a future tank of gas to get them to a future hackathon. Some are students looking to test their skills and get real-world experience and rub elbows with key industry players. While others just want to get away and spend a nice sobering weekend freaking out and stressing over what the hell to do to make payments rad. Can you guess which category our team fit?
I won’t bore you with what Money2020 is, you can look it up. I won’t drone on about what a hackathon is either, you can figure that out too. What I will talk to you about is what we learned and in turn ask you to give feedback on innovation and FinTech in the comments below.
It was a warm Colorado afternoon in early October when a group came together over a working lunch to put aside the day-to-day talk of payment-processing, back-office application sprint planning, and the usual dev chatter around all things relating to individual technical work as a payment geek and engineer. It was time to secure our war-room, erase the spaghetti and database diagrams from the whiteboard, and get a jump start on collectively ideating for the annual pilgrimage to the Money2020 hackathon.
"For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate." - Margaret Heffernan
Have you ever tried to loosen a machine bolt and find that you just can’t get enough leverage to break free? This is generally the way our annual ideation meetings begin. At home I have penetrating oil that I can spray the bolt head with, wait a few minutes and generally it will loosen up. After 5 years, we still don’t know what our favorite penetrating oil is, but after a couple of lunch-time meetings we somehow manage to get that rusted bolt loose and can start ideating.
Our team is very intelligent and capable of implementing and designing just about anything, and now that we had our idea we needed to determine our technology stack. Do we go-for-broke and attempt to learn something new or do we stick to our wheelhouse and forgo any language-centric or environmental gotchas. Knowing that there would still be gotchas. There are always gotchas.
So after some debate, the team decided to stick with what we knew best and start building out a test environment. The goal was to make sure when we access those infamous APIs come game day, we could easily hook into them and get the information we needed back to help drive our solution.
“There’s a way to do it better—find it.” - Thomas Edison
Our idea was still evolving, but the basic foundation was in place, and we knew what we were going to build it in. The next step? Well given that we all have families and lives outside of work; plus the fact that we only had a handful of working lunches to ideate and test environments the next step was - to board the plane of course.
After landing in Vegas we headed over to the meet and greet, had a few appetizers, Goose Island IPAs, and chatted with the four sponsors. Our idea still held up when pitching to peers and sponsors alike at the party, so we headed to our rooms to prep a little bit and get a good nights sleep before coding was to begin around 11am the next morning.
"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” - John Steinbeck
After very little sleep due to a wild party in the hotel room next door, the team met in the banquet hall the following morning and secured our table and checked in with the sponsors. Once the clock started we began our coding and we certainly ran into challenges and had to pivot some along the way. Many hours into the code we found that one of the original ideas that we glossed over in one of our "rusted-bolt" war-room meeting the week before came to surface and we decided to pivot and work on that idea alongside our original plan.
Confident then that we could pitch to (2) sponsors, doubling our chances of failure.
“I want to put a ding in the universe.” - Steve Jobs
I love innovation and I love working with people I don’t get to everyday in order to learn and grow not just professionally but as a human as well. Each year there are new faces that go with us to the hackathon and it is such a great experience. My advice is to get out of your comfort zone on occasion, it really can do wonders.
Code Or It Didn't Happen
So you notice I didn’t talk at all about our idea or what we pitched. I first wanted to give you inside access to the repo and see the code for yourself. We will do a followup article if there is interest, but until then let us know what you think and ask questions below in the comments or tell us perhaps about a payment or hackathon experience you have had in the past. Also, should Worldpay do a hackathon for you guys as payment developers? Could be virtual or would you like to all met in Denver and code to some of our Worldpay APIs? We would like to know your thoughts.
“99 percent of success is built on failure.” - Charles Kettering
We didn’t get to pitch our idea on the main stage or win any foam-core board checks that would not have fit in the overhead bin anyways. What we did come away with some great new ideas and will be spending some working lunches over the next few months bringing them to life and hope to share with you sometimes soon.