Talent Land 2019

The time arrived for another edition of Talent Land here in México. As one of the biggest tech events in México, there is so much happening and it is always amazing the enormous amount of effort put into this colossal event. The quality of the conferences, among the event’s great organization, left me with a great expectation for the future of technological events down in Mexico.

Check in

My flight to Guadalajara, Jalisco, was delayed for about 45 minutes, not a great start, anyway we landed at about 9:30 am and headed directly to the event’s location in Expo Guadalajara. In fact, I am a little bit paranoid yeah, paranoid, about the event’s check-in line. But my craziness has a foundation, you know, I’ve been to many Campus Party Talent Land events, and every single time, the line to register is awful as hell.

It makes sense, tho’.

20k people arriving the same day, around the same hour, you wanted a disaster? Because, that’s how you get disaster. However, as I arrived as early as I could, the line was about 30 minutes-long so no big deal. Sadly, a few minutes after I entered the queue, the line grew almost exponentially and thousands of poor souls were left stranded for about 3 hours straight waiting to check-in for the event, may their souls rest in peace.

The Expo Land

I need to clarify here that the event is not divided in 2 zones. In fact, there was around 7 thematic lands, each one with their own stages and partners stands. It is my personal perspective that the event is mainly divided on 2 parts: Expo and Hackathon. The Expo is where you can find mostly stands and stages from each land, some tables here and there for hackers to, ehm, hack (?).

Gamers are crazy

There is no other way to say this, but those Game People are truly amazing, brands like Nvidia, Intel, Nintendo, PlayStation and many others went over-the-roof with their stands, featuring high-end gaming stations with hundreds of battle stations you could grab for a League of Legends match (or two) and many other games, such as Overwatch, Fortnite, Counter Strike etc…

The flashy lights, and amazingly notorious rigs among the excitement of all the attendees walking around really hits you with the astounding power of videogames and the community built around them.

Although I don’t consider myself a “Gamer”, I did enjoy the gamer area. It brought me back to those good ol’ days of playing League of Legends entire days (and nights) with my brother taking turns on our only laptop at the time, moving our home Router as close as it could be and locking everyone out from the network in order to get the max out of the 100Kbps we had at the time. Those were the days, man.

Blockchain, what a surprise

Yes, there was a BlockchainLand, believe it or not. Last year I spent half of the time during the event on talks about Blockchain and the single thing I learned was that everyone «knows» what blockchain is, but no one is really creating on the blockchain.

This year was different, I spent most of my time on the hackathon, therefore my experience with the conferences and speakers for the so-called Blockchain Land are unknown. Still, I went to the Mr. Coin party organized during the last day of Talent Land and bumped into a lot of known and unknown faces of the crypto community. It was great.

Agro Land

I’ve gotta say this: that area was awesome. I really love the deep and intrinsic connection between agriculture and technology. This new area was amazing because it had both of them, filled with startups that are working towards building the next agriculture mainstream technology with drones, AI, hydroponics, bio-engineering, software, hardware and a little touch of magic.

I really loved that Talent Land added this thematic area. Pretty cool.

Usual Expo

Well, must be said, there was the usual expo stuff, with multiple technology and Universities’ stands. There were a lot of gifts, a lot of people and a lot of noise. People which likes to buy computer parts must likely love that there are a lot of official stores during the expo, for the rest of us, they’re just a nice way of looking at monstrous computers which we will never have a solid use case for.

Hackathon

This is, at least for me, one of the most important parts of the event. It is considered “one of the biggest hackathons in Mexico” and the organization and execution has been always subject of case-studying for all of us hackers and hackathon organizers as well. In the beginning, the hackathon was the focus of the entire event, everyone would come and hack for a week. As the years went by, and you probably would expect by the beginning of this article, the hackathon lost its significance and the event is now a multidisciplinary effort for all branches of technology.

I mean, it is great. We now have hackers of all disciplines, and specialized tournaments for each one of them. Perhaps is romanticism, but still feels empty without the hackathon vibe.

But the hackathon, at least during this edition, displayed a lack of a couple of things for it to become what we all expected from it. As you know I myself have organized a shit-ton of them, and being familiar with the standard procedures and objectives, I know how hard is to get everything alright for each one. I can’t even imagine the amount of work required for a hackathon this big, and so I will talk about the things I loved about this one later on.

The things I didn’t like

For a hackathon to be perfect you might need a miracle, for real. There are so many things that always tend to go wrong, the best way to deal with them are just to try your best and get everything as prepared as possible.

Frozen Hackers

As you may know, Guadalajara is a very hot city. A city were things like insulation and severe sunburns could become a real issue for us, basement creeps. The main reason of a flu disease is, mostly, abrupt changes in the weather, so going from the suffocating hot weather outside the expo, to the freezing cold weather in the expo is, probably, not such a great idea.

Locating the hackathon tables directly below the air conditioning system of the expo might as well be considered imprudential homicide. I remember being sick days before arriving to the expo, but being inside that big refrigerator for 11 hours straight with intermittent walks through a desert to get some food, was probably one of the worst experiences.

Because of this, many teams (including ourselves) decided to work remotely from our Airbnb’s and/or other expo areas, which complicate things like mentoring, Q&A and sponsor validation. We had to choose between all of that vs freezing to death, the later one being the chosen for the greater good.

Just a bunch of paperwork

There’s a need to have ideas written down and analyzed, I know. But this hackathon has been characterized for the insane amount of paperwork that is required to fill in throughout the event. I mean, we had to write down our idea 5 - 7 times, in pre-formatted documents with a minimum required length, alongside many, many, many different things. It is a massive hackathon, and there has to be a better way of shortlisting teams.

A recommendation for the organizers: read the MLH’s organizers guide and check out the MIT’s opensource hackathon tools to help the execution become painless and fun as it should be.

Ran out of tracks?

Running a hackathon for 6k participants is … tedious. Getting ready the main verticals (tracks, challenges, contests, whatever) should be as open and as extensive as possible. Last years, the hackathon featured a bunch of verticals, from which you could choose one and compete with 6-8 teams for the prize.

This year, there were a few realistic hackathon “tracks” to chose from. So people ran in masses to those few ones, making it a non-enjoyable experience. Having to wait 4 to 5 hours to get a mentorship for a subject due to the oversaturation of the track is simply not cool. But the solution is not to restrict tracks to a maximum amount, or to force a normal distribution among tracks, but to add more interesting tracks and to focus on teams registering before the event begins, so you can have visibility on the amount of mentors, evaluators, judges and general volunteers you’ll need to run the hackathon smoothly.

Evaluation

Please, kill me and let me go of my mortal flesh as my soul can’t handle anymore this “pitch in front of everyone” kind of evaluation method. It has been discussed multiple and several times about how to optimize and redesign the judging system during a hackathon.

Those two articles explain in depth why I hate traditional judging during hackathons, so I really recommend you give them a quick look. Also, here’s Gavel’s source code, the platform created with the decentralized and scalable judging system in mind in case someone bumps with my humble article. Also, in case you don’t believe in this new system’s functionality, check this list with all the hackathons that have used it.

Things I did like

Aside those two awful things, organization went pretty well. [Hacker Earth][hacker-earth], the platform used throughout the event, worked amazingly well and the staff was very excited and helpful during the event.

I really loved the enthusiasm the organizers projected to the contestants during the event. They would often walked team by team and checked out how everyone was doing and if they needed something.

Our project was an IoT device based on a Node MCU v1 with an ESP8226, so we asked the staff for network conectivity, and they did their best at contacting us with the event’s network team which helped us. In the end we used our own cellular network because of the insane amount of noise and interference with the event but, still, they were really helpful.

Yeah, we lost

Our team, was in the Amazon Alexa track, and we lost. To be honest, we didn’t even shortlisted to the final round. Still was a great experience. It had been a long long time since I worked with hardware, so getting againt working with Arduino and those things was exciting. I spent an entire night trying to connect our Node MCU to the Amazon AWS IoT service, which I must say, is a pretty awesome project. As I was about to dropout, I found a nice workaround and it worked, still, our entire solution wasn’t completed, and we couldn’t be shortlisted. Sad story, don’t care to be honest. Had fun while doing it and that’s what matters.

I might write an article later on the way to connect a Node MCU v1 (ESP 8226) to AWS IoT later on, for the sake of those looking for a solution (like I did) throughout the internet.

Conferences

I attended a bunch of different conferences, and they were all great, I enjoyed ones more than others but, still, they were great. I want to write a bit about the one I really loved and made an impact on me.

Do Robots Need to Look Like Human? - Dennis Hong

This was my absolute favorite conference.

Dennis presented his work as a robotics professor and inventor in the UCLA for different matters such as RoboCup and DARPA contests. He presented the question: Why do robots need to look like human?, a question I haven’t asked myself.

He explained the multiple and funny difficulties of creating biped humanoids, capable of doing simple tasks as walking or opening a door. The UCLA’s team have accomplished multiple successful triumphs in RoboCup by studying the intrinsic nature of human walking.

A talk filled with fun, intelligent and important questions, answers, video footage and scientific robotics advances. To this day I keep asking myself, should we keep trying to emulate ourselves? Wouldn’t be better ways to do stuff?

Overall Experience

The overall experience, as always, was great. I learned about a bunch of different subjects and practiced with different tools in the labs available. Talent Land is one of the single events in Mexico where you can find all kinds of technologies and the entire community gathers around, for an entire week, to get to know each other, share knowledge and, more importantly, to have a good time being what we are best at being, geeks.

For comments and feedback, you can find me on Twitter as: @humbertowoody.