Back in November 2020, I was supposed to do a Keynote during a 3-day Hackathon hosted by the Dutch Government. The keynote was focussed on finding synergy between humans and technology, a perfect fit for the Hackathon which evolved around anti-discrimination in algorithms. The event was to take place in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and accommodations were included. However, the pandemic forced the organizer’s hand as restrictions were increased and the event moved from offline to online. This meant the schedule changed as well, eliminating 2 of the total 5 speakers. Instead, I was asked to participate as my job evolves around similar subjects. I do not regret saying YES to that invitation.
Coming up with an idea
On day one I was introduced to the team I would be working with. We did a brief introduction round and attended the kick-off session for the Hackathon. We got the tools, canvasses and were assigned a coach. After getting a schedule with deadlines and milestones, we dove right into the problem statement. Step one: What are we trying to solve?
The basic problem statement that was written by the organization revolved around finding a way to eliminate gender discrimination in algorithms during the recruitment process.
Our first thought was: why stop there? Why not find a solution to eliminate every form of discrimination when using technology to recruit people? We had no idea how, but we knew for sure that looking at it from a much bigger perspective would make our final product stronger. Also, if we were to actually build this product after the hackathon, the positive impact on society would be much bigger.
Note: I can’t give out the details of HOW we tried to solve this problem, because — as I will explain later — we are now fully developing and building the outcome of the Hackathon. But I will walk you through the process.
We figured that we needed to change the entire process of recruitment rather than creating a tool, algorithm, or app that would do it “the same — but better”. The root cause of discrimination doesn’t lie in technology, it’s a human trait so you need to change the human aspect, not the technological aspect. I promise I’ll explain more about that once I can.
Creating a prototype
Once the idea was thoroughly discussed and visualized in the simplest way, we started discussing a “flow”. How would we want people to use this tool or, much rather, how will this solution transport the people involved to the ultimate goal? We drew some more flows and designed the back-end of the tool (meaning, we drew circles, lines, and squares to indicate how it would work in practice).
We then got to work with Photoshop, Powerpoint, and a screen recorder to show the basic workings of the idea. Normally you’d program a tiny demo or design a prototype using a UX/UI tool, but we didn’t have a developer nor a UX/UI expert on the team. We really just bootstrapped the prototype and made a 5-minute video explaining the details of how it would work.
Pitching the idea — first round
This 5-minute video was the first pitch round that all teams submitted. A jury of professionals would select their favorites and the audience (a.k.a. the participants) also got to vote their top list. I represented our team and pitched the idea on our behalf, explaining to the viewers why we chose this route and how we figured out it will be both feasible as beneficial.
Again, I can’t go into details but the idea was both “simple” and “effective” yet “very well thought through” (I’m quoting the judges here, I’m not tooting my own horn). It got us into the final with 4 other teams competing for the (cash) price and professional help building the actual product.
Pitching in the final
As everything went remotely and neither of us was sitting in the same room, the team and I got together on Zoom and discussed our 1-minute finale pitch. The last chance to convince the judges we had the best idea. We created a 1-minute heart-felt pitch about how we feel this idea is long overdue and so is the entire recruitment process. I explained that our idea would benefit both applicants as well as the hiring companies and it would be absolutely possible to execute. I got a phone call from the directors that we were going live in 5 minutes. It was go time!
I joined the other 4 finalists in a call and we awaited the show to begin. We each did our pitch, and they all sounded like the #1 idea. The judges deliberated and we awaited their final verdict.
There would be 3 prizes. A crowd favorite, a runner-up, and the number 1. They announced the crowd’s favorite first. Only 3 competitors left for us. The runner-up was announced next and the judges explained why they came to the conclusion of electing them the runner-up. Now it’s up to 2 other teams and us. The “client” (a representative from the Dutch Government) talked about this being a great Hackathon with many potentially great ideas. It was time to announce the winner of the 2020 Anti-Discrimination Hackathon…the winner is…..US! We won 🥳 (You can somewhat see me fist-pumping in the top right corner of the right screen).
We won…..now what?!
Like I said, at this moment we are building the outcome of the Hackathon, meaning it brought an idea, prototype, and business plan which we are now executing. The team changed, as not everyone in the hackathon wanted to run a business (which can be a slow and painstaking venture). I’ve reached out to a couple of people for help and created an entirely new team. The philosophy behind what we’re building stems from the Hackathon, however, the actual “product” will be a lot different, as we’re almost 9 months in and we’ve done a lot of research in the meantime. But the things the jury loved back then, those elements still exist to this day.
Now it’s a matter of finding the right resources and increasing the speed in which we are working — which is already quite high. I’d love to keep you updated on where this goes. The topic of Anti-Discrimination (we look at it more from an “equality” perspective though, as that sets a more problem-solving tone) is close to home. I’ve been working on the synergy between humans and technology for a while and this opportunity to use technology in order to increase equality suits that perfectly.
I will create more content around building this platform/product/company and I’ll share it here and on Linkedin.