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Customers, Microsoft employees hack it together at One Week hackathon 2019

Since its inception in 2014, Microsoft’s One Week hackathon—the largest private hackathon on the planet—is one of the most awaited events for employees globally. Now in its sixth year, the hackathon has been the breeding ground for many products and features like Seeing AI, SMS Organizer, Kaizala, and Eye Gaze to name a few.

The One Week hackathon is a flagship platform of The Garage, which fosters employee-led innovation, bringing together people across roles, skills, and experiences to lend their passion to create change in the world – to improve society, business processes, or for the sheer joy of hacking an existing project and making it better. It also offers the opportunity to learn new technologies and work closely with people from different backgrounds helping employees to integrate the cultural pillars of growth mindset, making a difference, diverse and inclusive, One Microsoft, and customer obsession into everyday work.

This year too as more than 6,200 gathered at Microsoft campuses in India along with nearly 21,000 other colleagues at Microsoft campuses across the world to embrace the culture of innovation and hack what could possibly be the next big thing. But this year was a little different as it wasn’t just employees but even Microsoft customers and NGOs participating in the hackathon to come up with new solutions.

When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella coined the term ‘tech intensity’, he referred to the need for organizations to not only adopt best-in-class technologies but also build their own unique digital capabilities for a world where every company is a digital company irrespective of the industry they operate in – be it retail, agriculture, banking or anything else. And tech intensity was indeed on display with our customers at the hackathon.

A team from Mahindra and Mahindra, spent the week with Microsoft employees hacking away to solve business challenges. “The hackathon environment was very different from how we work on a regular day In our office and it helped us to come out of our regular way of thinking and working. I was able to even see my team think differently,” says Shahid Mohsin Tanwar, Sr. Manager – Planning & MIS, Mahindra and Mahindra AFS HQ.

A group of people working as a team
Team Mahindra and Mahindra at Microsoft’s One Week Hackathon 2019

Rohit Kaushal, DGM – Strategy at Mahindra and Mahindra Limited [Automotive, Farm Equipment and Agri Business] echoes the sentiment and was impressed by the collaboration with Microsoft employees. “At one point the Microsoft team working with us started thinking about business and we were thinking on the lines of coding. Coming to the campus and working alongside with the Microsoft team was a big value add, both in terms of the problem solving as well as the experience,” he says.

For some, the simple act of rolling up your sleeves and working face to face with people you’d usually work with over emails and calls, is what makes hackathon special.

“The idea of co-creation has been really powerful. We not only managed to fix existing issues but were jointly creating solutions rather than us telling the Microsoft team about our requirements and getting solutions,” says Sudhir Shetty, National Lead – Mobility, Bajaj Finserv.

A team giving a presentation at a corporate event
Team Bajaj Finserv presenting their ideas at Microsoft’s One Week Hackathon 2019

The team from Tesco, which participated in Microsoft’s Bengaluru campus had a similar experience.

“We came to the hackathon with a problem statement and were teamed up with Microsoft employees. This was a great idea as by working together we could short circuit the loop and get immediate answers,” says Partha Sarathi Roy, Software Development Manager, Tesco. “In many cases, we realized Microsoft already had a product or created a solution by tackling the problem in a different way. This helped us change our perspective as well.”

Team members discussing a topic
Team Tesco discussing solutions at Microsoft’s One Week Hackathon 2019

“Hacking with customers created a unique experience for both Microsoft employees and customers. The high-spirited interaction brought together creativity, diverse experiences and ideas, thus creating magic. It was great to see an extremely positive response from our customers and we intend to do more of this,” says Reena Dayal, Director – Garage India, Microsoft.

The hackathon was not just about customers but even not-for-profit organizations that worked with passionate employees to help come up with tech-based solutions for their unique needs.

For Samarthanam, a Bengaluru-based NGO that works for the empowerment of people with disabilities, the hackathon turned out to be a good opportunity to create a much-needed solution for finding scribes to write examinations on their behalf.

“People who are blind often find it very difficult to find the right scribes for their examinations. For instance, for a bank examination you have to find someone who understands the subject,” explains Basavaraja Mudlapur, IT Manager at Samarthanam.

A team led by Shamir Abdul Aziz, Product Manager at Microsoft India’s Bengaluru campus, came up with a solution that uses regular productivity tools like Microsoft Forms, Flow, Excel, Outlook to provide a CRM experience. The solution enables Samarthanam to send automated forms to their volunteers, and students with disabilities can easily find the right scribe for their need by just selecting an option from a drop down menu. The new solution is completely accessible, unlike the earlier one that needed someone to assist the student.

“A lot of Microsoft Flows work in the background to create a seamless experience to match the right scribe for the student. They can extend this process for campaign management, donor management and much more,” says Aziz, who’s passionate about empowering not-for-profit organizations with Microsoft’s technologies.

“We felt that the team at Microsoft had a lot of passion to understand the problem and create a solution for it. They took their time to understand whether the solution would be useful for our users rather than just putting together products that already exist. It really matters to keep the end user in mind, when you are tailoring a solution for people with disabilities and not look at it purely from your own perspective,” says Joanna D, Communications Manager at Samarthanam.

A woman giving a presentation
Vidya Chandy, Director, Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME) presents at the One Week hackathon

Nearly 600 kilometres away, at the Microsoft India Development Centre in Hyderabad, a team from another not-for-profit organization, Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship, hacked along with Microsoft employees to help create a solution to help more people become local entrepreneurs.

“GAME was set up to solve the problem of job crisis by catalyzing a large number of job creators in the form of mass entrepreneurs, who are local entrepreneurs who are offering jobs to local youth. The idea is how do you get a really large number of people to take that step and grow as local entrepreneurs and thereby solve the job problem by hiring five or more people,” Vidya Chandy, Director, Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME) explains.

One of the core areas is tech enablement to help improve the ease of doing business for these mass entrepreneurs. The biggest challenge for them is they don’t have a way to understand where the market is and to be able to access buyers for their goods and services. The team came up with 10 problem statements and zeroed in on a marketplace and auctioning platforms. They hacked with Microsoft’s Kaizala team to help come up with a solution to allow mass entrepreneurs to have a democratized access to markets, where buyers and sellers can come together on the same platform and transact easily.

“I myself have an IT background before I switched over to the non-profit and development sector but I have never been a part of or seen a hackathon of this scale. The Microsoft team we’re working with have been phenomenal. They’ve been empathetic to the needs of the persona we’re solving for and I can see the solution getting created,” Chandy says.

The hackathon might just last for a week but for some projects it is the beginning of something new. Who knows, you might end up using a product or service that was born here.