MILITARY VETERANS

Current & Former Military Regroup To Storm The Web

Veterans Hackathon 2020

veteran hackathon coders watching the keynote speaker Tony Taylor USMC veteran.
Fall In Happy Hour | Guest speaker Tony Taylor | Christmas Room Kumospace

magine a group of active-duty military and veterans with the energy of Jocko Willink applied to the internet. That’s how the Fall In Veterans’ Hackathon felt for three straight days in December 2020. In this case, a platoon-sized element of current and former U.S military from all walks of life, united towards a common goal, to compete in a Veterans’ Hackathon. In this story, you will read about four winning teams in the Veterans’ Hackathon that competed for $500 in prize money.

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Hackathon: a sprint-like competition for technologists to collaborate intensively on software projects over a 24- to 48-hour period.Veterans’ Hackathon is for anyone with ties to the military, designed to solve problems at the junction of tech and veterans’ health administration.

While it originally started as a Veterans’ Hackathon to kick off the weekend, it quickly blossomed into a massive networking event, and by day one, we had more veterans sign up for our Vets Hack than we had available seats.

The Vets Hack is an opportunity for coders from all backgrounds to have fun and solve a problem that affects vets every day. As active military personnel enters the civilian workforce, Veterans’ Hackathon events provide an opportunity to utilize their skills and expertise for the greater good.

These current and former military members not only had the cleanest rooms, but they also brought a clean style of thinking.

Whether it was from strength or desire, these service members and vets brought an agile style of working, one that allowed them to focus on the problem at hand, spend 40+ hours in virtual spaces solving technology issues, and build new connections with other tech industry experts. For this reason, Fall In was proud to host a fully remote career accelerator event for military vets.

The veterans were eager to solve problems that normally wouldn’t be addressed by tech firms due to lack of time or manpower. The benefit of their passion was in the form of VA innovations that boosted motivation and inspiration big time. They all wanted to find a solution to some of the problems plaguing vets in America.

The winning idea to come out of the Veterans’ Hackathon was the need to automate some aspects of the claims process, in order to reduce the backlogs. The theme was fixing issues around the Department of Veterans Affairs and enhancing the lives of our military veteran community overall. Winning teams from the Veterans’ Hackathon received cash prizes of up to $500.

Purpose-driven and purpose-built

The event brought together participants from around the world to operate alongside developers, designers, and engineers. The Veterans’ Hackathon provided an avenue for veterans to continue and grow their knowledge, while also coming together in a climate that fosters camaraderie.

The match occurred while the Covid-19 pandemic swept the nation, and while we may not have broken the 6-feet rule, we all tested positive for super high morale. Rah!

“ This was my first event with so many developers that came together in an attempt to solve issues that affect the VA system and impact the military community.

Ken Lewis, 20 years Air Force veteran and SAFe Scrum Master

It was amazing to see how fast a group of strangers could self-organize into a team and create an IT product in less than 36 hours. Awesome job to all the teams and participants.”

Bringing together seasoned veterans and first-time hackers, this Vets Hack seeks to show the world that veterans are innovators, forward thinkers, social advocates, artists, and mavens of change. Vets Hack is a great story because of the people who joined it, and it was never about the technology, but about people and their stories.

Dan Engel, U.S. Navy veteran, Corpsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class, 2nd Marine Regiment. Fall In vets hack winner.
Dan Engel, U.S. Navy veteran, Corpsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class, 2nd Marine Regiment. Fall In vets hack winner.
Dan Engel, USN veteran, Corpsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class, 2nd Marine Regiment.

“I was amazed at the different levels of experience involved in the Veterans’ Hackathon. Despite being a beginner, I was still able to contribute to my group earning third place. The best part is, I still communicate with my partners, and with the help of Fall In, we are turning our prototype into a fully functional application.”

To give veterans the feel of an in-person hackathon and avoid the fatigue of using Zoom, Fall In uses Kumospace video chat, making it feel like the real world, aka guests who are closer are louder. This is happening with spatial audio technology, allowing groups to fall in naturally and dissolve away organically at the same time using the same space.

Here is a snapshot of day one finishing strong with set ideas and partners. Some vets even going past midnight at The Rooftop Bar,

veterans hackathon participants inside kumospace rooftop bar
Kumospace Rooftop Bar with DJ sets powered by spatial audio technology
Example of what spatial audio tech looks like at the veterans hackathon
“3D audio or spatial audio is emerging as the next evolutionary stage in sound” — According to Qualcomm.

Kumospace makes it easy to connect with people who aren’t local to you without having to pay for expensive travel. It uses video chat so you can instantly talk to anyone in the world, and since you’re talking face-to-face, it’s easier to come up with great ideas and more effective social connections.

Day two— Agile class presented by Drew Podwal from MadHive

veterans hackathon participants inside kumospace living room
Participants of the agile class inside the kumospace living room

While the first day was spent focusing on learning how to gauge the problem, the second day of the Veterans’ Hackathon was about a lot of planning, outlining, and coding out solutions. We had lots of fun as part of a team at the happy hour with nerd quizzes and games, including $300 in gift cards that were given away amongst everyone for drinks and snacks.

Day 3 — Demo Day

Registered participants were given five minutes to pitch an app concept/prototype to judges on day three. The pair of glorious judges selected the best ideas that developed into applications at the close of our Hackathon.

Fall In Veterans’ Hackathon judges come from C-suite executive roles in engineering and design.

Adrian Lopez has over a decade of engineering and management experience. He is a 2x founder and currently the CPO of Zencastr. He is also a previous early team member at Flipagram (now TikTok), which raised $70m led by Sequoia (acq by Bytedance).

Fall in, veterans hackathon judges. Military and veteran appreciation team
Fall in, veterans hackathon judges. Military and veteran appreciation team
Adrian Co-founder zencastr | Brent Co-founder Vinovest

Brent Akamine is a serial founder bringing nearly 20 years of experience from senior roles @ TrueCar, Bytedance, and more.

He led the US re-launch/re-design of the TikTok App and was also design director at Blockfolio.

Participants worked remotely with coaches and guests with a background ranging from Amazon, MadHive, Northrop Grumman, Robinhood, Virgin Orbit, Zencastr, and more. The resulting applications turned out to be incredibly impressive.

ST PLACE $500 — Leading from the front is Pyrograph.

Veterans’ Hackathon Burn pit graph built by team pyrograph comprised of U.S Marines
Pyrograph Burn pit App

Pyrograph is a burn pit graph created for veterans and data nerds. Burn pits are used on the battlefield to dispose of solid waste. Designed for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Pyrograph allows users to explore data submitted about burn pits around the world. Add your deployment information or contribute to the graph for public research benefits in science, health, and environmental technologies. https://github.com/airboyd/burn_pit.

Brandon Boyd USMC veteran, Fall In Veterans’ Hackathon winner
Brandon Boyd USMC veteran, Fall In Veterans’ Hackathon winner
Brandon Boyd USMC veteran, II MEF, 2nd Radio Bn. — Platform Marketer, Fortellis.io

“I really enjoyed working side by side with other vets interested in tech. The shared practice and being able to work on a meaningful project to impact the lives of veterans made it a fun and rewarding sense. Would 100% recommend.”

Military unit logos by team pyrograph comprised of U.S Marines as part of the Veterans’ Hackathon
Military unit logos by team pyrograph comprised of U.S Marines as part of the Veterans’ Hackathon
The team @ Pyrograph are comprised of Marines from these units
Jeri from Queens, USMC spouse and attendee at the fall in Veterans’ Hackathon
Jeri from Queens, USMC spouse and attendee at the fall in Veterans’ Hackathon
Jeri from Queens, a USMC spouse attendee

“I really appreciated the #1 winning team was focused on burn pits & opening up access to data, so relevant.

I’ve been following Jon Stewart’s work on raising awareness around burn pits & related impact on veterans’ health — This is also something that’s very personal for me since I know my husband was around burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, during his deployments.”

ND PLACE $200 — UpVet

UpVet is a community-driven list of veteran resources. The goal is to save veterans time by providing the largest group of verified, trustworthy resources. These are vetted and categorize the abundance of programs offered to veterans in the United States.

Each member addressed the table with a slightly different outlook and style of approach to solve the problem at hand. Having gathered a mixture of talents and skillsets, the group worked together to complete their goal before the hours were up.

“As someone starting his programming journey, I wanted a fun way to grow and test my skills. Since this was my first hackathon, it offered a perfect way to break out of my comfort zone and grow as a programmer.

John Yu U.S Army, Wendy Maldonado USAF, Alex Verhulst USN, Matt Perez USMC Veterans’ Hackathon
John Yu U.S Army, Wendy Maldonado USAF, Alex Verhulst USN, Matt Perez USMC Veterans’ Hackathon
John Yu U.S Army | Wendy Maldonado USAF | Alex Verhulst USN | Matt Perez USMC veteran

Being able to join fellow veterans was an even more awesome experience! The crazy thing was, my partners and I were complete strangers before the Fall In Veterans’ Hackathon, but it was cool since we were able to come together and create UpVet in such a few days.” — Alexander Verhulst USN veteran

RD PLACE $100 — MentorHub

Veer Singh Veterans’ Hackathon third place winner
Veer Singh Veterans’ Hackathon third place winner
Veer Singh USMC reservist

MentorHub is a secure web platform that’s designed to connect veteran mentors in trades with veteran mentees and learners looking for skilled mentorship in their desired employment field. The app provides a simple UI and a sophisticated backend system with expert profiles and a Tinder-like matching mentor/mentee duo.

“I came to this event not knowing what to expect as it was my first Hackathon, but I was so glad I decided to go. I am currently in a code bootcamp, App Academy, so to see the process of how an app comes to life was outstanding. Also, working with other veterans only made it more admirable. I learned so much in one weekend, met great people, and I will definitely be attending more Fall In Veterans’ Hackathons”

marine corps unit logos and participants of the fall in Veterans’ Hackathon
marine corps unit logos and participants of the fall in Veterans’ Hackathon
Team members of MentorHub are comprised of these units

Financial Freedom

The team at financial freedom built by fall in mentee at the fall in Veterans’ Hackathon
The team at financial freedom built by fall in mentee at the fall in Veterans’ Hackathon
Financial Freedom App

This app gives a place for current and former military members to keep track of their finances and check for fiscal sources available to them. It is a great tool considering the unique situations military members feel during their time of duty with changing duty stations multiple times, deployments, and other factors. This app is more robust than Excel because it allows you to share your data with your spouse or others who may need access to view and or edit your data from their smartphones or computers.

“I was ecstatic to hear when Fall In advertised they would be hosting a hackathon. I cleared my weekend, rolled my sleeves, and got ready to hack. This was my first time joining Veterans’ Hackathon, and it was also my first time presenting a full-stack project I had built.

The team at financial freedom built by fall in mentee at fall in Veterans’ Hackathon
The team at financial freedom built by fall in mentee at fall in Veterans’ Hackathon
Michael Rodriguez | USMC Officer turned Software Engineer at JP Morgan

The life-changing feedback I was able to receive from seasoned judges was one of the most rewarding parts of the Veterans’ Hackathon. I’m excited to sign up for the next one!”

Veterans’ Hackathon are comprised of TBS Marines from these military and marine corps units. The basic school and TBS logo
Veterans’ Hackathon are comprised of TBS Marines from these military and marine corps units. The basic school and TBS logo
The team @ Financial Freedom are comprised of Marines from these units

he Veterans’ Hackathon was a reminder of the group mentality that occurs when there’s something bigger than yourself to work on. It was a celebration of how people work together and make the impossible possible.

Hours before the hackathon started, I was doing some prep work inside kumospace when I overheard a doorbell and someone came into the Rooftop bar.

Lo and behold, a deployed Lance Corporal checked-in to the hackathon from the same place I was first deployed back in 2007.

We both became so baffled we started laughing.

He was so stunned he invited his Corporal over just to make sure he wasn’t tripping out or something.

The Corporal’s reaction probably

It felt surreal to check in on the health of my old unit without flying out there, I mean, what are the odds of that happening? I’m not sure what set of algorithms made that happen, but evidently, he found out about it through his chain of command, and to be entirely honest, I’m not sure how it was possible for news to travel so quickly.

Regardless of which crevice of the web participants learned about this, it’s marvel we all met and worked alongside people we never thought we’d see in person. It was absolutely unforgettable and low-key felt like a religious experience.

Conclusion

The story of the veterans’ Hackathon is so large that it cannot be captured in a single medium. Guests were amazed to witness a culture that was all about sharing and supporting each other. Fall ln gives huge thanks to Kumospace for being a great host and defending our heroes.

The competition would not have been as engaging without your technology. Because of your efforts, we were able to support current and former military members around the world by putting them in contact with one another. The feedback from the participants was overwhelming, and we learned so much; thank you for supporting the Veterans Hackathon in a meaningful way.

“The team at Kumospace is thrilled to host our nation’s finest, whether they are jamming on a hackathon for positive change or just catching up with old friends deployed across the world. Our mission is to bring humanity back to the internet and we need all the good men & women we can get.” — Brett Martin Co-founder @ Kumospace / VC Charge

Hackathons are some of the best ways to learn new skills, meet people from diverse backgrounds, and build your portfolio. This is a great adventure, and an amazing example of military members and veterans joining together for positive change and using their skills, creativity, and the internet to improve our community.

We’re putting together a small village of people to help improve the lives of veterans both online and off. If you’re a veteran and you’ve coded before, join the Veterans’ Hackathon! Prospective participants just need to have an interest in writing code. There will be plenty of work to settle into, including a ton of support from our sponsors and generous coaches.

If you think you have what it takes to solve real problems veterans face, fall into the next Veterans’ Hackathon to level-up and give back!

Fall In to the next Veterans’ Hackathon to propel your career

Special thanks to the esteemed guests, coaches, motivating speaker, Reddit mods @ r/veterans, r/USMC, r/Army, sponsors — V School, Maximus Consulting, Operation Code, and last but not least, Hibbat for co-hosting.

Trying to punch above my weight. Formerly @USMC. I write to think better.