Life after IDBM Challenge: chat about teams and Junction

Team photo. Copyright Aino Röyskö / Junction

Team photo. Copyright Aino Röyskö / Junction

Although IDBM Challenge is now behind us, that hasn’t stopped our students from doing amazing things! In fact, one of them, Leo Lutz, attended Europe’s biggest hackathon, Junction, this November and his team (pictured above) won the third prize in their category. I sat down with Leo and two of his team mates, Eveliina and Anni, and we discussed teams, hackathons, and how does beautiful teamwork look like. Hope you’ll enjoy the discussion, and please join the discussion by sharing your thoughts in the comment field below!

Miikka (M): So, Eveliina and Anni you are studying energy and environmental engineering at Aalto University's School of Engineering.

Anni (A): Yes.

M: And Leo, you are a student in International Design Business Management (IDBM).

Leo (L): Yeah, I am.

M: As a team, you participated in Junction this year and I heard from Leo that you got some prizes as well.

Eveliina (E): Mm-hmm.

L: There are prizes for different genres and then there's a real big prize if you win the entire thing.

A: So there were around thirty five teams on our challenge and we came third.

M: Wow.

A: We're happy about it.

M: Why did you decide to apply to Junction?

L: I came to Aalto because I was interested in combining design, technology and business and there are a lot of events here in the community and Junction is I guess one of the biggest. The idea initially was actually to get some front end developing experience there, which didn't work out at all.

E: Yeah, I mean our studies we have only practiced doing things like calculating physics and mathematics, and I'm also interested in designing and doing some real things and services so that's why I applied and wanted to try if I have some skills to do something bigger. Something concrete.

A: I think the idea of doing something concrete is why I decided to apply. And I've done some programming in my studies but it's always, like, do this specific exercise here. It's good and I have to do it but this was a different kind of experience.

M: Yeah. If we may continue on that topic a bit. I think you all mentioned that you wanted to do something concrete. Why is that important during your studies?

E: Because I think in the future, we have to be able to put our skills into practice. If we have learned something, then we have to know how to use the skills and things that we have learned.

A: And be creative.

L: We also think that one of the strengths in the Aalto community and these kinds of events and stories is that there is a lot of space for finding purpose in doing things. I mean we also selected each other, a challenge which was very open and leaning towards conceptual terms than just apply some technical stuff. I think that's kind of specific in the way we decided to approach the event. But I think the idea that we can, essentially make up our mind and think of what we should do and what we want to do rather than just doing something that was given.

M: Yeah, that totally makes sense. So, when did you team up? Did you individually first select the challenge and then moved on forming a team?

A: Oh that's a funny story. The reason why we found each other was that, it was Friday night when the whole hackathon started, and we were just going around the venue and trying to find someone to partner with and team up. None of us had a team and then I think where we found ourselves was, it's all a different path and a different track that we ended up doing so, we kind of somehow ended up as a team. And then when we were a team, we then decided on the actual track.

L: It was super random.

A: Yeah, super random.

M: You also mentioned that you had five people in your team in total. How does the extended family, so to speak, look like? Everyone kind of started gathering around?

E: Yeah, I think we just walked around and then we were like, "Hey do you have a team?" Because I think we looked pretty sad and hopeless, going around at first. And then we found that we have some different skills we can combine. That's how it started.

L: We worked with a molecular biotechnologist-

A: Nick, from Moscow, Russia.

E: And one was a high schooler, sixteen-year-old, Jason.

A: He is just amazing.

L: It was fun, because we ended up in a team where there were no computer scientists in a hackathon. So that kind of put a restriction on what we could do at all, which kind of led us to the challenge that was more of a design challenge rather than just about technology.

M: That is so cool. Can you tell a bit about that challenge, how was it? What was it about?

E: The challenge name was Mastering Data. We had to find ways to utilize the data which is available in third party apps such as Spotify or Netflix, that collect user data, and then bring well-being by utilizing the data somehow.

L: Kind of matches people together with shared interests. Because we actually approached this from what are different recurring problems in people's lives, and we had two or three design directions that we tried to combine with. Usually data right now is either used for advertising, or for services like Google Maps and such. And we thought could we use these different data sources in a way that is more personal and can we find out about people's interests from different data sources that they share voluntarily, and then match them with people with shared interests on activities that are pertaining to the same kinds of interests. So I might get matched with someone who also shared their Spotify profile, and we have the same kind of taste in music.

M: Okay, so kind of rethinking the way companies utilize data. Not excluding profit-seeking as such, but profit comes from solving actual problems. I'm dying to hear more about the actual solution and how did you come up with that. But before that could you take me through the process, how did you define your problem space, and did you have any changes along way? Did you encounter any challenges?

E: First we started from brainstorming and we started to think about what's the main problem we want to solve and then the ways we're trying to solve them.

A: Yeah, what kind of data we could use to solve the problem.

E: Every one of us gave an idea, then we started to think about what kind of things go together, and then tried to combine and create one big thing to solve one problem.

A: We had lots of ideas on what kind of problems we wanted to solve, but then we only had to choose one. But we ended up combining some of the ideas, but initially...

L: … I think we just went with a topic that resonated with us, and we were all like, okay, I want to have this, then we acknowledged there's a problem worth solving, this is the solution that we want, and while the concept itself was simple, it just made sense. I think it was actually a nice choice, because you can make it very complex on these kinds of challenges but then it never works out. I think we went with something that we liked and we had fun with.

A: And on the first night, there was more that we were kind of stuck on the idea, and when we started with the ideation process, and then the idea went forward, but then we ended up coming back and going with the initial idea which was the simplest one.

E: Yeah, and that was the best one I think.

A: Yeah, I think that was a good choice.

E: Because we had good ideas, but they would have demanded more time to form them well.

A: Yeah, the whole idea would have been maybe lost in the process if we had ended up exploring those.

M: Okay, maybe it's time to spill the beans now. What is your solution really about? What does it do or what it aims at solving?

L: So, you have a simple onboarding process, where you select which kind of data resources you share. The central idea is that it's up to the user what kind of data they share rather than, okay you have to synchronize these fifteen services to make it work at all. You make the conscious choice, I want to synchronize this data source or that depending on what I'm interested in. If I'm interested in mostly music and I want my social experiences to be about that, then I choose to synchronize this specific data source. And other people do the same and then there's a recommender system which uses all the data to suggest events that we can attend. Basically there is no social life in the app itself, it only utilizes the data and nudges you towards something that happens in real life. Afterwards, there is a validation process, where you say, okay I don't like it, then the app learns from that and provides better suggestions in terms of the events that it recommends you to try out or the kind of people it matches you up with.

A: The app is called We Don't Want To Hook-up because there’s no platform to chat, so you can't go to an event just because you've seen that hey this nice looking person is going there soon so I will hook-up with her or him. So there's no chance to do that.

Screenshot of the team’s proposed app. Copyright team

Screenshot of the team’s proposed app. Copyright team

E: It's like a new kind of match-making app, but for friendship and activities.

L: Sort of an anti-thesis to what we have in terms of social media and dating apps.

M: You mentioned this is something you would like to try or use yourselves. Are you frustrated with the way apps interact with people nowadays?

L: Yeah, there's an unfulfilled desire to meet people based on shared interests.

E: Yeah, and because many kinds of apps, they don't bring well-being. People just get addicted to them. And that's not the thing that we want, we would want to make an app through which people can do something meaningful and find something nice to do in their lives.

A: Also, our app only suggests three events per day, so that means that you can't get addicted to our app and just keep swiping the events that it suggests because it only does three events each day.

M: What about your team, Eveliina and Anni you mentioned that you knew each other before, but then how did you figure out what kind of superpowers each team member has?

E: I think it was just like, somebody said, "Okay I can do this." And then someone else, "Okay I can do this." Because for myself, example, I didn't know how to use any Inkscape or Illustrator, but then I was just like, "Okay I want to try!" And took the role of designing it. Yeah, I think that's how it went.

L: I think we took this really, really casually and had fun. We didn't work very hard to be honest. If you compare our effort with the one that other teams put in, in terms of the hours, you could see them on third day really tired and everything, and we were super relaxed and…

E: …we were having fun.

A: Yeah, and then there was our Russian team member who was always in line for the sauna when the venue so, when he told us that he wanted to go to the sauna, we were like, "Alright, you go and have fun." And then we kept doing what we wanted to do, but there wasn't a huge stress about anything.

L: I think, for me, there were two main insights. The first is that you can just have fun and focus on a neat little idea that works well. And we chose this super dumb title, We Don't Want To Hook-up, just because we were laughing the most about this one, so we were like, okay lets go with this one then. Yeah. And then the second insight is that actually you can accomplish a lot just with design and ideation, you don't need to have the crazy tech skills for such a challenge.

M: Yeah, I think that is really nicely put, listening to you echoes with the strict time limitations, you can't really solve all the world's problems in a couple of days, so might as well start small. And for people who have never been to Junction, what would be your selling point? Why do you think Junction is a great thing?

A: I think that the whole idea that you have 48 hours and you can create anything you want, and, that the thing there's the limit, and you just actually have to get the project done. Like, sometimes I get ideas like, this would be fun, but then I don't have the time or will to do it actually until the end. I think the event is great because it kind of forces you to do that.

E: And it's cool to find people around you who have the same goal and then everybody works for the same goal.

A: Yeah, it's amazing teamwork and just crazy good experience.

M: Okay. Hey, thank you so much.

All: Thank you.