By Griffin Campbell
On Tuesday October 16, Boston Children’s Hospital hosted the annual Voice.Health Hackathon. This event was exclusively sponsored by Amazon and their Alexa team, and the event was hosted at CIC Boston.
This event was focused on finding ways to incorporate Amazon Alexa technology into healthcare for the improvement of the patient/doctor experience. Each team was given a different problem case based around a patient/doctor process, and five hours to innovate an idea to solve their problem case. At the end of the event, each team presented their idea and a group judges from varying fields picked three winners.
I heard about this event through the Accelerate club, IdeaHackers, where I quickly registered. IdeaHackers members were tasked with attending this event to gather key information that Wentworth could use to convene its own discussions about this topic.
As someone who had never been to a hackathon, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The first thing that came to mind was “hacking” in the pop culture sense. A person typing away at a matrix-style screen, in a dim lit room. Turns out it was more so in the spirit of technology-based problem solving. Another expectation of mine was that the majority of the attendees would be students.
I quickly realized that most of the participants at this event were, in one way or another, health professionals, and almost all were from Boston Children’s Hospital. The only students at the event were the small group of Wentworth students, from IdeaHackers like myself, that also came to this event. Mixed in with the attendees were developers from the voice technology company Orbita Inc., also based in the Boston area.
Coming to an event like this for the first time was already outside of my comfort zone, but that in addition to the fact that I would be working with people who had more knowledge, skill and experience was a little scary. Despite that, I pushed myself to enter this event with confidence, and not let my fears hold me back.
The founder of the event, Michael Docktor, a gastroenterologist and the Clinical Director of Innovation at Boston Children’s Hospital, started off the event with a welcome presentation. Also speaking were developers from the Alexa team, offering tips and advice. After that, teams met in their designated areas to begin brainstorming.
My team consisted of five people. Two of them were health professionals, and another was a developer from Orbita Inc., and also the company’s co-founder. Also in our group was a graduating computer-science student from a nearby university. This was a group dynamic that I had never worked with before, my experience to this point consisted of muddled group efforts completing school projects. This was on an entirely different level of collaboration.
Our team was tasked with developing a skill for the Alexa that preps patients and caregivers for certain medical procedures. We chose to do an allergy testing procedure as our use case, since we had an allergy nurse from Boston Children’ Hospital on our team. She provided critical information to make our idea as real and applicable as it could be. From there we started to flesh out our idea and later create a video demoing that idea.
As the least experienced, I took a more passive role in participation, I did what I could to add the most input that I could that was relevant. It became apparent to me that despite being the least experienced, I was still a valued member. My team was extremely welcoming, and I felt like my contributions were heard just as much as everyone else’s.
Seeing the process of team collaboration unfold at this level was somewhat fascinating, and the opportunity to experience it was something I see as having great value. I say this because team collaboration skills are something employers look for when hiring new graduates, so when attending events like this I am building those skills, and I will have something to show for it through my resume.
Towards the end of the event, we wrapped up our demo video. This process was crucial, as it wrapped up our idea, and made it appear as a real-life Alexa skill. We luckily had a team member who was savvy with Adobe Premiere, a video editing software, giving us an advantage versus other teams with less-convincing demo videos. It showed me that you do not necessarily need skills pertaining to the topic of whichever hackathon you want to attend. Any skills you hold could be relevant, and you shouldn’t discourage yourself if you feel in over your head.
After around five hours of intense brainstorming and creation, the teams gathered to present their products. Each team played their demo video and answered any questions from the judges. After this process, the judges picked three winners from the nine teams. Of those three teams, one overall winner would be chosen by polling the audience at the Voice.Health Summit the following day.
Our team ended up being amongst the three winners. This was very exciting, and better yet, my team polled highest at the Voice.Health Summit. We were the official winners, and this meant we got a prize set and the opportunity to further discuss our idea with the Amazon Alexa team. I never expected this outcome going into the event.
Looking back, I took away many positive experiences from this event. The process of building an idea from the ground up was one of them, especially with it being confined to such a short period of time. Another was team collaboration; the opportunity to work with such skilled people was an incredibly rewarding experience, one that I am extremely grateful for. The last positive takeaway was pushing myself outside my comfort zone. Going into the event I had many doubts about myself and my ability, but I can undeniably say this was a positive experience. Participating in this hackathon has only encouraged me to push myself further and see what great things can happen.
There is so much to gain from these events, and almost nothing to lose, especially considering they are almost always free for students to attend. The spirit of these events is to collaborate and create, and as a student you are the perfect candidate for fresh ideas that this world needs. I strongly encourage students to attend these types of events, whether they are looking for experience or have a general interest in innovation and creativity.