Competing in the UBC MBAN Hackathon 2022: Tales from ‘Team Sinefo’
Pictured (left to right): UBC MBAN students Leslie Major, Sotirios Valozos, Muhammad Faisal, Hammad Qazi, and Islam Shaalan
The clock was about to strike midnight, and five UBC Master of Business Analytics (MBAN) students were huddled together trying to record a video walk-through of the dashboard they had thrown together over the last three days. After a few failed attempts, Muhammad Faisal nailed the voiceover on his fourth try. Elated to have reached this point, the team submitted the video at 11:56 p.m. with just a few minutes to spare.
“The ending was spectacular, it is a story I will always remember,” says Faisal, of the mad dash to the deadline for the UBC MBAN Hackathon 2022. Faisal and his teammates went on to win the competition, making the late night and bleary-eyed work all worth it.
The students dubbed themselves ‘Team Sinefo.’ Based on the Greek word for cloud, it was a fitting moniker for a group who proved to be both in synch with each other and with the Google Cloud Platform.
The power of different perspectives
Participants of the Hackathon were given three days to offer a solution to a real-time analytics challenge presented by Google. Students were tasked with forming their own teams, and they were also offered personalized coaching from Google engineers throughout the event.
The five members of Team Sinefo had never worked together as a group, but they came together because of a mutual respect for one another and the understanding that differing perspectives often breeds the strongest results.
“As a team, we were comfortable disagreeing, frequently trying different things, and bringing out the best in our work,” says student Hammad Qazi.
Qazi’s classmate, Islam Shaalan, says the hard work of the other groups pushed Team Sinefo to stretch themselves. The trick, he says, was to focus on the unique skills of each person.
“Interesting conversations and passionate debates brought us closer as a team and made the experience very rewarding.”
For his part, Sotirios Valozos was most excited about using BigQuery, Google’s multi-cloud data warehouse. “I considered it a great learning opportunity. I didn’t have experience working with BigQuery and it was always a goal of mine to add it to my toolkit.”
Data through the eyes of a mayor, an urban planner and a police officer
Of the four possible challenges to tackle, Team Sinefo opted for New York City’s Vision Zero, an initiative that seeks to eliminate death and serious injuries from traffic incidents.
On the first day, Team Sinefo approached the challenge from two different angles: the needs of the customer versus the prompts of the competition.
For Shaalan, the ‘aha moment’ came half-way through the competition. “We were able to connect the dots and draw a straight line between the problems and the customer needs,” he says.
When it came time to prepare their presentation, a Google coach suggested that Team Sinefo focus on storytelling as a way to engage the audience. Armed with this valuable advice, the students decided to create several personas to mirror different stakeholder experiences.
“We wanted to showcase that we truly understood how to use this data on traffic collisions so we created three identities,” explains Faisal. “One was the city mayor, one was an urban planner, and one was an enforcement official, such as a police officer.”
According to Team Sinefo member Leslie Major, this strategy was a final pivot that occurred just hours before they were set to present their analysis.
“We reinvented our dashboards in order to make custom ones for each stakeholder and presented our findings by role,” says Major. “We played these individuals and had them speak to how they each use their dashboard to give answers and solutions specific to their needs.”
Team Sinefo may have won, but all the UBC MBAN participants made their mark.
“The Hackathon challenges we put in front of the students were modelled after real-life business scenarios, and their abilities to deliver great results showcased well-rounded knowledge background and problem-solving skills,” says Benjamin Yu, Data Analytics Lead, Google Cloud.
Dinner with good company
As a prize for winning the Hackathon, members from Team Sinefo were invited out to dinner with various Google representatives, UBC Sauder faculty members and staff.
It was an opportunity for everyone to celebrate Team Sinefo’s success and connect on a lighter note, says Qazi. “We each got a Google Nest!”
Beyond celebrating, it was also a chance for the students to network with some of the brightest minds in the analytics profession.
“We were able to discuss the work that Google is doing on its cloud platform, the current trends in the analytics industry and, of course, we got a lot of career advice from people who have succeeded in the tech sector,” says Valozos.
Faisal echoes Valozos’ sentiments, and says that the experience helped him connect with representatives from Google and receive valuable advice from people in the field for his next career steps.
For Major, the Hackathon is the latest example of how the UBC MBAN program has pushed her to discover her full potential. When she considers one word that summarizes her graduate school experience, “growth” is the one that comes to mind.
“There has been so much growth in so many ways. Growing in our analytics skillset. Growth in personal relationships and team dynamics,” says Major. “And growth in our confidence levels and ability to get to the bottom of a business problem or data set and extract key insights.”