What a month! 5 events, 8 awards and 10 new team mates

November was not supposed to be this tectonic and yet here I am, with a huge grin on my face, trying to let all of the impression sink in.

This is the list of events I’ve participated in:

1.NASA SpaceApp 2023 Challenge16th of October 2023Online
2.European Blockchain Conference 9 Hackathon24th – 26th of October 2023Barcelona, SpainPool Prize
Coreum Grant Opportunity
3.Nearcon IRL 2023 Hackathon7th – 10th of November 2023Lisbon, Portugal1st prize
NEAR Horizon Accelerator
4.Web Summit 202313th – 17th of November 2023Lisbon, Portugal
5.ETH Global Hackathon17th – 20th of November 2023Istanbul, Turkey6 prizes

You can click/tap on the event name above to read more about what I’ve built in each of the events.

Why did I do this to myself?

The reason is twofold – curiosity and need.

There was this fascinating, mathematically elegant world of web3 tech stack I was continuously reading about, but never found time or purpose to deep dive and get my hands dirty. I have a firm belief the best way to understand something is to actively work on it, so I set myself out to participate in couple of hackathons and see how much of useful, applicable knowledge I can acquire.

“If you want to look good in front of thousands, you have to outwork thousands in front of nobody”

Damian Lillard

I’ve done my fair share of mining before it was cool and sold all of my hardware at the peak of the hype between 2019 and 2020.

Having a computer science background and running my own IT service centre for couple of years during elementary and high-school, I wasn’t afraid of planning and assembling mining rigs, calculating power consumption/load, procuring the PC components, overclocking the GPUs to extract maximum performance, flashing the firmware, tweaking BIOS and changing failing fans. I was one of the earliest VIP members and a moderator of Bosnian crypto community Crypto.ba, where I’ve been lucky to meet people passionate about learning and sharing knowledge behind this fascinating tech.

In 2018 I’ve learned the core concepts of Proof-of-Work (PoW), the algorithm behind algorithmic guarantee of truth by majority consensus. Knowing what PoW is and why it is important, and living through the discovery of other superior consensus algorithms, has given me a unique perspective of the whole blockchain industry.

On the other hand, as the Head of Product at Coretex.ai, my day-to-day consists of actively defining the direction in which our data science platform will develop. While contemplating about the billing module recently I started thinking about tokenizing monthly subscriptions instead of simply collecting FIAT payments through Stripe. The benefit of this was obvious – tokens could be freely tradable on open markets (Binance, UniSwap, etc). This fact provides the incentive for people outside of core user base of AI/ML research and data science to purchase and hold them, while core ecosystem users actively circulate them in the closed economy of iterative experimentation. Besides subscriptions, tokens could be used for paying data labelling services, making predictions when serving models, cloud GPU compute hours and other platform features, while anyone could earn tokens for donating idle compute power or labelling someone else’s data.

Coretex.ai, a workflow management platform for modern data engineering teams

So, while thinking what could those tokens be used for I figured out the potential is quite high and it will require series of both strategic and technical decisions, for which I wanted to be prepared for. I simply didn’t have hands-on experience I though I needed in order to make proper decisions at the time. It made sense to throw myself into building some blockchain products and learn about the current state and limitations of the ecosystem from people with a lot more experience in the field.

I ended up writing smart contracts in Rust and Solidity, some CLI tools in NodeJS and neural network training scripts in Python and PyTorch. I also helped a bit with frontend in ReactJS (deployed on Near’s BOS), as well as creating and delivering presentations and demos.

Hackathon experience

There is something unique about hackathon experience. Almost each one of them was different, but usually you would first find a topic you care about on DevPost and register for a hackathon you like. There is a period where all participants are on the lookout for team members – either you look for some ninjas to join your team or you try to be a ninja who everyone else wants in their team, something like with real life relationships. 🙂

Ideas matter a lot, so the more projects you’ve learned about so far the better you’ll be able to judge an idea (or generate a good one). But I’ve seen even mediocre/everyday ideas win because of a great execution and a story behind it.

My teams have always put a lot of focus on visuals, presentation, demo and a story. As an example, the winning project for Nearcon was branded as “The missing piece of the Near ecosystem”, pondering to Near’s overall strategic goal and focus on AI training and long running jobs.

I don’t know what would’ve happened if we went with something like “A distributed compute protocol for open science”. Still accurate, still powerful, but less in the context of the event we’re trying to push the idea to. So, knowing who you’re building something for is a very important fact you should include in forming the idea, branding and prioritising the actual development.

Now, hackathons are usually very short and last 1 or 2 full days. You usually don’t sleep too much, unless the organizer provides on-site sleeping area with beds and blankets like in ETH Global in Istanbul.

It is crucial to manage this extremely short amount of time and make sure everyone contributes the best to the submission. If everyone are left on their own to work on what they really want, without anyone in the team coordinating the efforts, feeling the pulse of the project, frequently asking for status and making sure things are integrated on time – you will most probably not win. Figuring out submission format, like do you need a working, deployed demo or video will be enough, should video be narrated and what’s the scoring criteria all affect the final outcome.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Someone must start doing lateral, seemingly unimportant organisational things right away, like structuring the GitHub Readme.md or writing the description of the project on the official submission platform, while at the same time working on rough presentation structure, making sure screenshots and demo videos are provided ideally 12 hours before the submission deadline, so the version 1 of the narrated demo video and the presentation can be finalised on time. The last 12 hours the teams keeps working, improving and building, but the team lead needs to pretend they’ll get nothing more delivered and the materials they have at the moment are everything they can work with.

If there is a live demo you need to prepare the presenter and have contingency plans. We always had pre-recorded demos just in case on-stage one fails, and we had almost 50 dry runs where we’ve perfected the way our presenter moves, breathes and talks. You should not leave anything to a chance.

Chance favors the prepared mind!

Presenting our NEAR hackathon winning project in Lisbon in November 2023

The next steps

I’ve always loved to talk about ideas and tough problems to solve – puzzles simply captivate me.

The landscape of technologies enabling blockchain systems goes far beyond Bitcoin’s initial idea of storing and transferring value. It all changed with Ethereum’s smart contracts, where suddenly you could code any business logic (a.k.a. “backend”) and make it unstoppable once deployed – no hosting or operational costs, no downtime, censorship or risks. The world is running it and has an economic incentive to keep doing so forever.

To make this work a beautifully complex world needed to be discovered – consensus protocols, Trustless Execution Environments (TEE), Multi Party Computation (MPC), Zero-Knowledge Proofs (ZKP), homomorphic encryption, sharding, rollups, account abstraction, meta-transactions, oracles, decentralised finance (DeFi), decentralised storage (IPFS) and many more technologies, protocols and products. I understand it is difficult to cut through the hype of trading images of monkeys 🙂 but these technologies are here to stay and are already integrated into our everyday lives.

Similarly to how we take internet, mobile phones and GPS for granted today, very soon it will be normal to get a loan in a bank or get a job in a company without giving out ANY personal information about yourself. Magic, right?

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Arthur C. Clarke

This is the world these companies are building, one hackathon at a time.

It was a very rewarding and fun experience to meet smart, driven and passionate people all around the world and build with them. I am quite humbled to still be in same group chats on Discord and Telegram with all of them, sharing ideas and inviting each other to new hackathons and projects. Above all – having 10 new friends in cities around the world to visit! 🙂

Neither of us have stopped learning after these events have ended. We are polishing our projects, applying for grants and accelerators, shaping our ideas, exploring similar tech stacks and looking out for the next opportunity to build!

Opening ceremony at ETH Global in Istanbul bringing up some childhood memories.

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