Black Minds Matter Hackathon 2020

During August 2019, UK based MVP Tricia Sinclair, organised a widely supported Dynamics and Power Platform Community quiz in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which raised proceeds for the Black Minds Matter charity in the UK.

With the momentum gathered from the quiz, Tricia then went on to organise a month long series of events as part of a Power Platform School for 8 BAME youngsters, including;

  • Elisha Peters
  • Eleesha Peters
  • Saumya Suganthan
  • Shaniah Williams
  • Bridget Tashinga Okhiogbe
  • Amina Smith Gul
  • Albert Quansah
  • Rosina St James

 This culminated in a fully fledged Power Platform Hackathon during which the newly initiated #PowerAddicts could showcase their learning experience and put everything they learned into practice.

The Hack event was preceded by a month long intensive programme of activities supported by a number of experts from within the D365 and Power Platform Community as part of a Power Platform School.  The purpose of the Power Platform School was to raise  awareness and visibility of BAME people within the Power Platform Community, to encourage more young BAME people to consider Tech as a career, as well as providing Guidance and Opportunities for anyone who had already made that decision.  Tricia had received support in this from Malik Gul, the director of Wandsworth Community Empowerment Network, who had assisted in helping to put the mentees in touch with  the 8 mentors;

In addition to mentorship, the participants also received career advice and training on Power Platform technology, such as Power BI, Power Automate and Power Virtual Agent, as well as tech methodologies such as project and change management.  This was provided by the following Power Platform and technology experts;

On the 29th of August, the activities culminated with a  Hackathon event.  The day started with some introductions and then we heard from Tricia who gave us some background on the Power Platform School.

Tricia then introduced us to a hugely inspirational speaker,  from within the BAME community, Mark O (Oburoh).  Mark spoke to us of his own personal journey and how he achieved a successful career in tech.

Mark spoke honestly about how his life goals might have been limited as a young black male, who was brought up on a council estate in Brixton, and about how his life changed when he was given the opportunity to study Technology at Saturday classes.  This opportunity allowed him to meet new people, from diverse backgrounds allowing him to  expand his horizons socially as well as in terms of his career.  

Mark started his career in tech support, but has always continued to work hard to learn and improve, his advice to his younger self would be, in the words of Satya Nadella “Don’t try to be a know it all, be a learn it all and don’t be afraid of failure”.  Inspirationally, Mark has been working at Microsoft for 6 years is now a Partner Technical Architect, and although Mark joined the Tech world because it expanded his own horizons, he now teaches others how to leverage Technology to empower themselves.

Mark also spoke passionately about how Microsoft as an employer and a technology innovator, welcomes cognitive diversity and positively promotes diversity and inclusion programmes, particularly for the BAME community.  Mark told us how he feels many of the barriers he originally felt could have limited him are being removed and that because of this, his confidence as a person has now grown exponentially.  Mark now feels he can just try anything and wants to encourage others to ‘just try’ quoting the legendary Michael Jordan “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!”.

We then had some pointers from Chris Huntingford on how to run a successful Hack, encouraging us to make the most of the platform we were using.  We had been fortunate that the sponsors cloudThing had provided their Remo environment for us, and that really works well as a virtual collaboration space.

Will Dorrington was up next to tell us about the ideas we could be working on, reminding us to always consider our audience.

The first one was a Mental Health Application. say that while black boys have no worse mental health than any other sector of society, black men are more likely to suffer than any other section of the community.  There could be a huge potential for any application that could help young black males monitor their mental health, and associated influences, such as diet, exercise, working hours.

The second idea was for a Communication Outreach solution, to help service providers improve the way they help people deal with issues such as bullying, poverty, family issues, and abuse.  This solution could focus on knowledge sharing, signposting and access to information.

The third idea was for an Information Dissemination solution, that would provide the ability to share information quickly between community hubs, and from them to community members.  The ideal would be to receive information and share it quickly as well.  Malik gave examples of some of the hubs doing vital work within the BAME communities such as churches, mosques, temples, football clubs who could all benefit from this solution.

And then we were off to … GO HACK !!!

I was very fortunate to be allocated to work with a really lovely group of people on Team Bridget for the day, and our team  comprised of myself, Samuel Woldu-Desta, Akshanka Gupta and our team captain, Bridget Tashinga Okhiojbe.

We very quickly got to grips with what skills we had in the team so that we knew what we could confidently achieve, and we then set about determining which problem we most wanted to tackle.  As Bridget already had some really good ideas around the Mental Health perspective, we went with that challenge, and set to work designing our solution, which would be based around 2 Power Apps.

Once we knew what we wanted to achieve, we started to structure our day so that we were able to get the most out of our time, scheduling regular catch ups to monitor progress.

One of the key recommendations for the Hack was to keep things simple, and with the benefit of hindsight I suspect we were trying to achieve too much in the time  we had, as just one of the apps we created was practically the same as the winning solution … a learning opportunity for next time maybe!

Overall, we were really pleased with how much we accomplished.  With the benefit of more time, we all thought Bridgets incredible ideas could really go somewhere and regardless of whether we won a prize we were all really proud of our team effort!  We all agreed that we’d had an absolutely awesome day, and couldn’t wait for the next one!

In a Hackathon, while all efforts are worthy, there has to be a winning solution and team.  The judges for that day, who had the unenviable task of selecting the winning solution, were; Keegan Stanton, Malik Gul, Janet Robb, Mark Oburoh and Ana Demeny.

All of the teams came up with innovative and interesting solutions to the problems presented.  While the judges had some great solutions to choose from, in the end the winning team was Team Shaniah (pictured above), whose members were;  

Team Shaniah built a very impressive Mental Health Power App called iFeel, that would allow people to keep track of their moods and what might be influencing them, and also signpost to the relevant mental health services and resources.

 Not only did the team come up with an awesome idea, and a great solution, they also structured the team and their day particularly well, with everyone playing their part, and the presentation of their solution was testament to a Hack that was extremely well executed.

Sponsorship for the event was provided by the UK Based Microsoft Gold Partner CloudThing, Nimbitech and Hitachi Solutions Europe and support  was provided by; Jason Gardner, Kyle Hill, William Dorrington, Mohamed Mostafa, Chris Huntingford, Mark Oburoh.

Keep a look-out on social media, as the success of the Power Platform School and Hack may well mean it becomes a regular event!