Reflections on ASPC2016


What is ASPC 2016 and why should you care?

ASPC aka Arctic SharePoint Challenge and in this year 2016 is an event in Oslo, Norway at the beautiful Voksenåsen Hotel. To summarize their mission statement, it is an event geared to stimulate collaborate learning, networking and idea sharing through hands-on and time limited challenges, what they didn’t put is, how much fun this event is. Fun is an important factor to learning and it’s certainly very important to transforming what can be an otherwise boring job to something that you look forward to doing every day.  This event cements that philosophy albeit over an extended weekend.

I was fortunate to be invited as a Judge, Panelist and Speaker to this event along with fellow judges Mikael Svenson, Seb Matthews, Yina Arenas, and Andreas Eide, each of us bringing our own talent and specialization into play, it was a good mix of folks to be around.  If you visit the website you will see this year that the theme embodies a Marvel Comics persona and indeed the challenges were geared towards making these super heros more efficient in their missions and/or solving modern day problems using SharePoint and other complimentary technologies.

In this blog post I try to give you a glimpse of what it was like for me at this event, my experience over the days there as a judge and a few days i took for immersion into the city life as a wandering tourist. But in keeping with the Marvel theme, this is not the fist time I’ve been casted in this role, there was an event at Critical Path where I am one of the instructors where my alter ego was realized.  I am…

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Pre ASPC & Day 1 – Wednesday into Thursday

So, my journey began by a flight out of BWI to London Heathrow (LHR) with a 4 hour stop over, this being my first time going to Norway, I was fortunate to meet up with a returning judge Seb Matthews who lives in London who graciously changed his original flight to meet up with me so that once I got to Oslo, I didn’t have to figure out how to get to the Hackathon site.  This is a good thing because being English speaking only, some of the signage made sense…

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but some  could be confusing 🙂

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Anyway after navigating the border agency, we were a train ride and taxi drive on our way

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Upon arriving at the hotel location on Wednesday,

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we had a wonderful dinner with the Event Organizers

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who gave us a briefing on what to expect and our respective role. It was great meeting everyone, exciting for what awaits in the morning… now if i can just fall asleep with this 6 hour time difference.

 

Day 1 – Thursday

After collecting my Badge and checking out the days activities, we all settled in for what would be an eventful Day 1.

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Attendees were badged, Welcome and Keynote done by Mikael and Seb, and the day is underway. The Golden Duck is up for grabs & we even got our own “Black Widow” event organizer and contestant pulling duty as attendees arrive. All hands on deck for sure.

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Day 1 was very exciting, the Head to Head matchups between teams, the Lightning Talks from participants and judges were quite intriguing and proved most helpful in charting new avenues for teams to pursue as well as keeping ideas from running off the tracks. At the end of Day 1 we saw several strategies in play

  • Teams focused on earning badges as a means to gain points over other teams
  • Teams focused on the overall solution and laying low to pounce and dominate on the final day, each person honed in on the Case Discretion outlined on on the agenda and rules page 
  • Even the Judges too had to gear up and strap in

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Yina, Mikael, Andreas, Me, Seb and a few of the Organizers sequestered for the next few days… all monitoring the blog post of the teams as they submitted responses to challenges. I really liked the way this was done, heres a scaled down version of how it works

  1. Teams are working on getting (a) Badges or (b) Doing Head to Head challenges to get Points
  2. Once they are complete, they MUST blog post what they did and we judges review the Blog Post and then go validate that the team accomplished what they set out to
  3. Points are awarded and
  4. At Intervals, Badges are give out with Seb usually giving a motivating or scathing speech.. or both 🙂

Day 1 Ended with a lovely Scandinavian Dinner (BTW, the Seafood here is the BEST EVER!!!) followed up with Guardian of the Galaxy Movie Night…

ASPC Day 2 – Friday

Friday really set things into motion… Teams are now dialed in, they know what they must do, they know who the threats are, they know the judges temperament and they are truly playing the game. 

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the teams and judges are totally wired in, energy is in a high fervor

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the hacker in you comes out to play. This night ended (well that would be inaccurate) the night went into morning, and up until 0430 Saturday, people are still on GitHub committing and pushing Repos. We even had a teams dueling with challenges and shields for safety. Of course the Pizza and Beer for dinner that night was great fuel to run on. Judges were onsite as well, no one was immune from this onslaught… we were all in the trenches.

ASPC Day 3 – Saturday “Judgment Day”

Not a Marvel reference, but you get where I am going. This day, was a long and hard fought day, participants, organizers, judges, bystanders and the like are battle scarred, tired, hopped up on Red Bull and Scruff. Some are counting the badges they have earned, some are feverishly figuring out how to game the system.

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We are thinning the herd, we are acknowledging champions

For my part, I focused on Mobile Development with a penchant for Azure Mobile Services and Xamarin. I was able to “Tony Stark” up some Mobile Badges and award winners to my own challenges I put forward.

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Congratulations on securing 1 of 2 Xamarin.Forms book!

Judges Conference, Award time and Dinner

All hard fought battles must come to an end… this hackathon is no different. Final submissions were done in the form of a video presentation and after reviewing all submissions, the judges adjourned into conference for around 3 hours and painstakingly judged on

  • Excellent User Experience
  • Most Extreme Business Value
  • Killer App
  • Awesome Code

We awarded on 3 of the 4 criteria, yeah we did that. I was selected to break the bad news [My Steve Harvey Moment] to the participants about not achieving 1 of the 4… though it was hard to take, they understood. I really liked how the award system worked, though it did present for some disquiet amongst some.

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  • Badges are Assigned and Points given
  • Judges also give points on the criteria I mentioned above

But what is really democratic about this process is that by the time we [judges] have awarded our points, there is a top 3 that are in contention.  That’s where the Dinner comes in

  • Winner or “Best in Show” is voted upon by all the participants and the top 3 teams have a single vote.

After all was said and done. Puzzler Brigade emerged as the winner, but in my opinion, while very deserving of the honor, this could have gone two other ways. It all boils down to having

 

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  1. A great solution
  2. Being a team that is likable by other teams i.e. helping out like doing pull request to other teams Repo with helpful aids to their solution
  3. Having a great video presentation

All these attributes gave rise to a solution that has

  • Awesome Business Value
  • Marketable (the video preso)

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Did the night end there.. No… we all adjourned to the bar and kicked back a few pints, shots, bottles, and war stories… Oh Yah.. we also has some Swedish folks educate us on how to properly dress for the occasion. All in all, great people, great event, A MUST DO if you have a chance of doing.

Post ASPC – Fabian the tourist

I was going to talk about this, but we can one off that to when you see me an ask questions. All I can say here is that Oslo is great, I intend to go back. I filled up on the food, loved the city life, found the local Microsoft Office wandering around & stocked up on Helly Hansen and came back home safe and sound.

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If you ever make it out there, try to stay in city center where you can walk everywhere as most Norwegians do, or grab the street car or train system which is great by the way.

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and thank you again.. see you next year

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In Summary & Lessons Learned

We had our Organizer and Judges Debrief only a few hours ago. We shared what we thought worked, didn’t work, needed improvement. The mere fact we did this after 1 week of the event ending shows you the commitment and hard work that the organizers put into making ASPC 2016 a success and also is telling as to how they plan to prepare and make 2017 that much better. I am/was honored to be a part of this event, I am certain after this year, with this much new blood (Yina and I were new judges), and the fanfare around the solutions for

  • Office 365
  • Office Graph
  • REST API’s for SharePoint
  • Xamarin
  • Azure Mobile Services
  • Angular
  • IoT Solutions

Next year will be phenomenal. I cant wait. As with all Marvel Stories… this is not the end….

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