Truly great, with a purpose to drive access to medicine worldwide, Sandoz organized a big data Hackathon.
It took place in Munich, the Bavarian capital, known for Oktoberfest and Hofbräuhaus.
The main idea of the Hackathon was to generate new, revolutionary, and unique ideas, through empowering design thinking concepts, combining expertise and creativity of internal and external professionals, and competing themselves against each other.
12 teams were faced with five challenges.
They had to find the best solution for:
- Reducing organizations Carbon Footprint
- Scientific decision making in the R&D department using machine learning
- Enhancing customer experience using data
- Enhancing Generic Forecasting by leveraging Machine Learning
- How to become a one-stop-shop by unlocking the potential of the company’s portfolio
Teams were given two and a half days to work on their solutions and pitch them to the jury.
These solutions were evaluated using several criteria, such as how inspiring, strategically relevant, innovative the solution is, and how much of an impact on the business would it have.
Six of our colleagues skilled in machine learning, software, and business development, represented BrightMarbles. We were the most numerous team out there. Our colleagues were divided into three teams and enforced with Sandoz and Novartis experts in complementary fields.
In spite of fierce competition, one of BrightMarbles’ teams was amongst winning teams. Their solution (challenge number 4) tackled the complex question of the drug market forecast. They offered concrete results that could improve planning related to the production and sales of generic drugs.
Our second team delivered a solution for the reduction of production costs, working hours, and waste in the development of generics by 33% using profound statistical methods.
And last, but not least, our third team explored the implementation of the Azure machine learning platform in generic drug market forecasting.
Developer’s perspective on Hackathons
Should you participate and why. A brief overlook of the good sides of participation, and its downsides.
Traveling, exhaustion, sleeplessness, uncertainty, pressure…should you go to a Hackathon? Definitely!
Please let me tell you my story; maybe it convinces you to sign up for Hackathon based on my experience. I was a member of the BrightMarbles team that came up with the idea to assist the organizer in improving the business through machine learning and software engineering.
Getting started with the Hackathon
One of the most significant benefits of every hackathon is that we can meet many people. It was the case this time; the host did his best to bring together over one hundred people from different fields of business. My recommendation is to go with the flow of the event, meet as many people as possible, and ask about their experience; it’ll amaze you. And you can always contact them later if you need help on future projects from the domain of their expertise.
Our introductions came with a couple of exciting games Sandoz prepared and the division into teams.
Learning new skills
The organizers did their best to organize a workshop where we learned ‘Design thinking,’ a modern way of approaching a particular problem and coming up with a solution for it.
From my perspective, this is a great way to avoid the pattern of regular Hackathons and the most comfortable way to build a team spirit significant for future work. After introducing to ‘Design Thinking,’ we quickly split into teams, and every team received a specific problem.
The difference between this Hackathon and the others is that we didn’t choose our teammates; we were assigned randomly. Each team consisted of people who specialized in a particular domain without previously collaborating. This posed an additional challenge as it was necessary to quickly fit into the new team and get to know the domain and the specifics of the problem.
This kind of organization creates much pressure, we were not familiar with the problem, and we were surrounded by people we didn’t cooperate with.
A new situation was quickly overcome when we started working with ‘problem owners’ in order to learn more about the problem.
Working in a mixed team at first glance sounds like hard work, but this kind of work can have significant benefits because it brings a lot of new ideas to the table. The downsides are, the lack of patience sometimes, and the time to list all the ideas.
Working under pressure
We started implementing the solution on the second day. Many challenges were ahead of us. The data from the host had to be processed by machine learning. And at this point, we realized the data was incomplete, so the additional time had to be invested in extracting quality content. This unexpected situation made us more nervous. Our fear was that our solution would remain on a conceptual level only.
Many hours and much effort later, we were able to implement a solution for the concrete problem. In this competition, endurance is the most critical factor in reaching the goal. We used the remaining time to perfect the solution.
Presentation of the solution
Exhausted after the previous day and a few hours of sleep, we returned to the office and started planning our presentation. The last and most significant challenge was in front of us because without a quality presentation of the solution, we couldn’t hope for success.
We were all extremely efficient, quickly splitting up our tasks and getting to grind. After a few hours, the presentation was ready, and the presenters themselves had time to work on their speech. The fatigue that was catching up with us made the situation even more difficult. After the presentation itself, we collectively felt great relief because the job is finished.
Finally, the reward for all the effort arrived, our solution was declared one of three winners!
In the end, winning is nice. But the most important thing that we took from the Hackathon is experience. This was the first time the BrightMarbles team faced this kind of challenge, but certainly, it isn’t the last.
We can’t wait for the new challenges!