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Planning Committee Interview: Hackathon at Top Microsoft Business Applications Conferences for Europe

By Delaney Freer posted Feb 24, 2020 05:07 PM


Hack for Good: The Inside Scoop!

Community Summit and extreme365 conferences have been helping European Microsoft Business Applications users and partners for nearly a decade. Each year brings expanded content and new, innovative offerings to fit the community’s evolving needs.

Kyle Hill Hackathon Planning Committee
At this year’s online event, one such offering is a friendly hackathon-style competition combined with a good cause. This will be held the weekend before the event, June 27-28. Event attendees were eligible to sign up for the Hackathon to put their skills to work and learn new ones while working alongside a team. The 80 Hackathon participants will leverage Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform with a focus on solutions for non-profits.

This free, community activity is offered in partnership with "Those Dynamics Guys". One member of this group and the Hackathon Planning Committee is Kyle Hill, Microsoft Business Applications MVP and Global Director, Digital Sales & Service at Avanade. Kyle joined the User Group in 2016. Dynamic Communities interviewed Kyle to learn about his experience working behind the scenes on the hackathon in Barcelona.

Dynamic Communities (DC): What is your role as a member of the Hackathon Planning Committee? Why did you want to get personally involved?

Kyle Hill (KH): I now primarily play a background role in the facilitation of events like this and particularly share experience and best practice around how previous events have been run, what was successful and what was not. I have wanted to be personally involved because I have been lucky enough to see these types of events grow from their infancy with Those Dynamics Guys (TDG), into fully blown global events. While the events have grown, the participation from the community has also grown and I have made many new connections and friends though these events. Being able to engage consistently with this community and be able to observe the genuinely meaningful change that these events facilitate has been a continual motivation for me to remain involved and contribute in whatever way I can.


DC: How would you describe this hackathon experience? What made you want to support it?

KH: For me, the hackathon experience began with a group of friends wanting to learn more, dedicate their time and expertise to creating a solution for meaningful change, and then being able to share this with as many interested people as possible. Personally, I wanted to support these hackathons because it was a way to have genuine discussions with fellow enthusiasts without the confines of corporate structures. Further, the hackathons provided a place to continually learn and enhance my skills while ultimately outputting a solution that can be used to solve real-life issues. 


“I wanted to support these hackathons because it was a way to have genuine discussions with fellow enthusiasts without the confines of corporate structures.” – Kyle Hill


DC: This is a full day of hacking. Can you outline a bit more about what the six hours will entail?

KH: The day is action-packed and usually starts off with an introduction about the hackathon from a TDG member as well as an explanation of some challenges that the teams are looking to solve. Following this, there is usually a keynote from a key Microsoft person from the sector where the hackathon is aimed at, and usually includes some representatives from a chosen organisation representing the sector as SMEs. Following this, another TDG member usually runs through the ‘rules’ of the hackathon and the resources the teams have available to them, before getting the hack under way. The teams usually then ‘hack’ for around 5 hours which absolutely flies by. The hackathon then concludes with each team presenting the solution they have developed during the day to a panel of judges who ultimately select a winning team on the day. More often than not, there follows a social function where teams and new-made connections can relax and celebrate the success of the day at a nearby watering hole.


DC: This is the first year that a Dynamic Communities’ hackathon has benefitted a non-profit. Can you describe how that all came together?

KH: Very early on, the organizers and participants of the hackathons realized that the outputs they were creating held some actual value and that there was no reason that organisations in need could not benefit from this. As a result, the not for profit sector was identified as a good candidate where the solutions could make the biggest impact. The not for profit sector faces budget challenges amongst others when it comes to creating solutions like this, so the decision was unanimously made to support a local charity depending on where the hackathon was being held, with the idea being that the solutions developed during the hackathon would actually find their way into production at the local charity being supported.


DC: You don’t need to be a developer to register. Can you explain how utilizing the Power Platform in addition to Dynamics 365 makes it so any job role can participate and benefit?

KH: With the rise of low and no-code solutions, Microsoft in particular has been able to bridge the digital skills gap by ensuring that people of all types of skill sets can be involved in these hackathons. One of the major objectives of each hackathons is to integrate as many different perspectives and skills from across as diverse backgrounds as possible to ensure that the solutions are as considered and applicable as possible. This also means that developers at not the only roles required at a hackathon. Anyone from experienced architects, to first-time users of the Power Platform can and are encouraged to be involved as their skills will develop during the day and their experiences will contribute to the overall solution. 

“With the rise of low and no-code solutions, Microsoft in particular has been able to bridge the digital skills gap by ensuring that people of all types of skill sets can be involved in these hackathons.” – Kyle Hill


DC: How does this hackathon complement the education and networking available through Community Summit and extreme365 Europe?

KH: The hackathon provides a great chance to actually practice and hone some skills in an environment that provides you an extended opportunity to connect with and develop relationships with a broad range of technology experts and enthusiast. The hackathon also provides a great way to observe some of the latest and greatest mechanism and team interaction patterns in solving challenging scenarios being faced in the world. In conjunction with the presentations typical at Community Summit and extreme365, there is really no better way to obtain a holistically valuable experience from a single conference.


DC: How does the team collaboration of the hackathon incorporate the values of the year-round User Group, such as peer-to-peer, unbiased learning and cultivating a 24/7 support network?

KH: It is interesting to see the growth of the hackathons and having investigated the reasons why. It is clear that teams continue to collaborate and engage with each other long after the initial hackathon is complete. Team members often find a specialization that they enjoy during the hackathon and post the event, they rapidly become known for it and then serve as a go-to person in the community. We also see that hackathon teams often enter additional hackathons and then want to host local events too where possible. This is all based on the base of fellow enthusiasts consistently looking to learn, contribute back and belong to a community that promotes the solutions to real-world problem while also providing a space where each can be accepted for who they are and encouraged to develop and develop others in the own unique ways.


The final solution will be presented during the breakout session “Hackathon Solutions Recap.”

Thank you to the Hackathon Planning Committee and all who worked on this activity! – Lee Baker, Chris Huntingford, Mario Trueba Cantero, Kyle Hill, William Dorrington, Sara Airgood, Sarah Critchley, Rebekka Albers, Natalia Blanco Guirao