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I’m Not an Engineer, But I Have Great Ideas

Isma for TechCrunch Disrupt
Lionseye insights from AC Lion

This article was penned by Isma Shahid, Research Associate/Business Analyst.

As an avid enthusiast of all things technology, the idea of a hackathon always seemed very appealing. I figured why not sign up for one of the best ones out there sponsored annually by TechCrunch. I contemplated the day before if I should even go, I had some reservations especially because I had no idea what to expect. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, a hackathon is a sprint-like event usually lasting 24-48 hours where people in tech collaborate intensively to build a product or app. The idea is to meet new people, form a team, and work on an innovative idea together.

Image courtesy of TechCrunch

I showed up half an hour early on an incredibly rainy Saturday morning and remember wondering if I should just go back home as I waited for the doors of Pier 36 to open for participants. Registration was seamless and before I knew it, I was inside surrounded by 800+ eager developers and sponsors ready to get started. Excitement was high and I realized the clock was ticking as submissions were due promptly at 9:30AM the next morning. I decided to simply start speaking to people and see if I could assemble a team to get started quickly. My pitch basically went as: “i’m not an engineer, but I have tons of ideas, and can product manage this thing, would you like to be on my team?” This worked for me and I was able to assemble a brilliant team. My team consisted of an engineer from Twitter, a project manager from IBM, and a young founder of an agriculture tech company based in San Francisco. Together, we brought our unique experiences to collaborate and learn from each other.

It took us a few hours and lots of snacks in between (courtesy of TechCrunch) to come up with a solid idea. My team built a computer vision car collision mapping and visualization tool to help insurance agents easily view and interpret collisions, we called the app “Swerve”. Using motion tracking of cars (via Verizon’s ThingSpace API) we won the TechCrunch Verizon Prize. It was a busy 24 hour period, with only about 2 hours of sleep in between, but luckily TechCrunch and sponsors did their best to keep everyone awake and energized. From energy snacks to midnight beer and pizza, they made sure we were very well taken care of.

As a result, I was also able to attend the TechCrunch Disrupt NY conference which is an annual three-day technology conference composed of meet-and-greets with investors, special guest lectures from industry leaders, and features up and coming start-ups. I met with leading founders and engineers from all over the world who flew into NYC for this conference and had the opportunity to sit in on industry leaders give thought-provoking talks. Some notable highlights for me were hearing Rodney Brooks (entrepreneur of robotics) , Adam Neumann (CEO WeWork), Anu Duggal (Female Founders Fund), Mark Thompson (CEO NYTimes), and Derek Jeter (The Player’s Tribune) speak. Not to mention the conference closed with a performance by Pharrell Williams and Incubus.

It was really exciting speaking with founders about the tech of tomorrow. I can’t wait to leverage this experience at AC Lion as we expand our research and tech efforts this summer. The experience has been invaluable from project managing to working on a team with very diverse skills. But perhaps the most important takeaway for me was understanding that putting yourself out there, even if it feels uncomfortable, is the best way to learn and create worthwhile experiences.

Isma Bio Picture

Isma Shahid is a Research Associate/Business Analyst at AC Lion. A Queens College graduate with a Bachelors in Sociology and Psychology and a Masters in Data Analytics and Applied Social Research, she was the leading Product Analyst at Canvs TV before arriving at AC Lion. You can reach out to Isma on her LinkedIn.