What do you say when someone asks you why are you participating in a Hackathon? Saying that you’ve come to a hackathon for (free) food is not the ideal response, and more so to a CEO.
It was a Saturday morning, and I was in the Zomato headquarters for a hackathon. Our team was working in one of the many glass meeting rooms when a serious-looking man in a black hoodie walked in and introduced himself, saying, “Hi, I’m Deepi”.
Hearing this, one of my teammates said, “I got it”. I, on the other hand, was super confused. I thought, maybe, I heard ‘DP’, which is an acronym for ‘delivery partner’ at Zomato. I thought it was an internal joke I was unaware of. So, I just smiled and let it pass.
We began talking about the project, and after sharing and receiving a few suggestions, the man in black asked, “Yahan kya karne aaye ho?”, which loosely translates to “what are you doing here?” I mentioned the first (honest) thing that came to my mind, “khaana khaane”, translating to “to have food”. And, we all had a hearty laugh.
Shortly after he left, my teammate, who was smiling earlier, nudged me and said it was the founder you were speaking with. It took me a good ten minutes to let that sink in.
Well, this is one of the many unusual things that happened last weekend at the headquarters. Let’s start from the beginning.
A few weeks back, I was browsing through my LinkedIn feed and came across a post on HackaNoodle – a hackathon powered by Zomato & Blinkit, with a special focus on women and the trans community. A big fan of hackathons/coding competitions in general, I quickly opened the link to learn more about it and, soon after, registered my name.
Since HackaNoodle was scheduled for November, we all had a few days to form our teams. We made a team of four – Ritika Patel, Palak Bansal, Akshit Sehgal, and me (Nihal Gupta). We started meeting online on Zoom calls to brainstorm what we wanted to build. With Diwali and festive preparations, the days went by quickly. Finally, the much-awaited weekend was here.
On November 5th, we all were standing outside a large building in Gurugram with a huge, red board on top reading ‘Zomato’. It did not feel like anything big until we stepped in. But oh, how it all changed as soon as I entered the office. I could feel the energy all around me – hundreds of coders, a lot of hustle, and the crew welcoming each of us. However, one thing that (pleasantly) surprised me was the number of women present there. We had 40+ teams, and all of them were led by women.
At the gates, we all got our goodie bags. Like a child, I took my bag aside, found the nearest table, sat there and started unpacking everything one by one. There was a cool black hoodie with my name written on it (which I wore then and there), a laptop pad, a water bottle, stickers (special thanks to the person who included cool stickers in the goodie bag, I love pasting stickers on my laptop), and a few munchies.
Once everyone settled in, the engineering team started briefing us on HackaNoodle – what it was, the theme, the judging criteria, and more. Here, we got to know how Zomato was founded because of a pizza craving Deepinder Goyal had 14 years back (now that I recall this, my answer does not sound dumb – food can take you places!). The story made us realise that we seldom remember how everything starts with a basic idea – be it a product or an organisation.
And we had 24 hours to think of that idea and build it from scratch.
The marathon started, and all teams got a room each to eat, sleep, code, and repeat!
We hurried to discuss what we should build. Since the theme was “Build India’s Next Unicorn”, we had many horizons to explore. The challenge was to pick out the best.
In between our brainstorming sessions, the Zomato team came for check-ins. They mentored and brainstormed with us and gave us real-time suggestions. It felt great to work with such brilliant minds.
Once we finalised the idea, the rest of the day was packed with coding, caffeine, fixing bugs, and, yes… more caffeine.
We continuously tested our code, scratched our heads, and pulled our hair out when the code was not working. But in the end – we made it work!
What kept us working all those long hours without snapping at each other was food. We were in Zomato’s office, so no doubt the food arrangements had to be grand! Everything we needed – unlimited beverages, noodles, and munchies – was within an arm’s distance. A great variety of dishes were served during every meal.
It felt like I was Charlie, and this was my chocolate factory.
The next morning, we had to showcase what we had built. On one side were the top leaders of Zomato and Blinkit, and on the other, a bunch of college students giving their 100% to make India’s next big unicorn.
If you’ve ever been to a hackathon, you know how excruciating the pitching process can be. No matter how great your idea is, it’s not worth it if you can’t sell it. We built a personal workout training application using AI that can track your body while you are performing any exercise or yoga. Our AI would provide feedback, and real-time analytics like posture correction, calories burnt, and activity time. In a nutshell, we were providing people with their own personal trainer, who is available at all times.
Before selling it to others, we sold it to ourselves first. We practised our pitch again and again. And by the time we had the actual presentation, we felt super-prepared.
After what seemed like an eternity, we got the results. Gunjan Patidar (Chief Technology Officer, Zomato) announced that we made it to the top six. We now had to pitch the product to the audience, and they would vote to finalise the winners.
Here are the top three ideas that garnered the most votes (and for all the right reasons) –
It was exciting to see these ideas unfold and witness the great power of tech – how it can solve so many problems when coupled with the right intent. Although we didn’t win the hackathon, I consider myself extremely fortunate because we got a chance to brainstorm with top leaders and engineers, which was one heck of an experience. We built a useful product, secured a place in the top six, had loads of fun, met enthusiastic coders like us, had delicious food, and learnt a lot.
Can’t thank Zomato and Blinkit enough for organising such a fantastic and memorable event!
This blog is written by Nihal Gupta – a B.Tech (CSE) student at Maharaja Surajmal Institute of Technology (MSIT) who came to the Zomato headquarters to participate in HackaNoodle’22 – a coding competition hosted by Zomato and Blinkit.
This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not represent the views of the organisation or institutions that the writer of the blog may or may not be associated with in a professional or personal capacity unless explicitly stated.
All team names mentioned above are decided by the participants themselves and do not form any legal entities. Additionally, they do not represent Zomato or its group companies.