Gekko graduate process engineer shares her winning formula for hackathon success

Hannah Frankish Competitions News, Hackathon Results, News, Unearthed News

Newcrest Mining’s Paul Griffin (left) and Gavin Wood (centre right), with Unearthed Melbourne winning team Digi-MIN’s Eliza Craig (centre left) and Matt Kurtze (right)

Resources industry hackathon Unearthed Melbourne took place over the 17-19 March 2017 weekend at coding skills school General Assembly. Over 100 participants had 54 hours to discover novel solutions to four real-world challenges, with operational data sets provided by Newcrest Mining.

Top prize was taken out by Team Digi-MIN, whose winning algorithm was created in response to Newcrest’s Cadia plant downtime prediction challenge, but has the potential to be applied to related variables across any piece of equipment or site.

Three out of the four Digi-MIN team members are employees at METS company Gekko Systems.

Eliza Craig, a graduate process engineer at Gekko spoke to Unearthed about the winning team’s background, motivations and their strategy for hackathon success.

What do you think makes for a successful hackathon team?

I think the most successful teams have people with diverse backgrounds and diverse skill sets. Everyone brings something different to the table. People from the industry bring an understanding of the underlying fundamentals of industry problems and data scientists and coders are able to execute solutions and the result can be a practical working prototype for a real industry problem.

What skills did you bring to your team and how did you form your team?

A few of my work colleagues and I formed a team together and we joined with a computer science student at the hackathon information evening. As I’m currently working in a minerals processing plant, I brought an understanding of what could be useful to operators and easily implemented onsite.

Why did you attend the hackathon and what did you get out of it?

I attended because I wanted a chance to do some innovative thinking away from my daily role. It was an excellent chance to spend a weekend with an ‘anything is possible’ mindset. It was also fantastic to listen to the other teams pitch their own ideas and prototypes. Many teams approached the challenges in different ways than we did and that only highlighted to me the need to have a diverse range of backgrounds and skill sets when innovating.

What would be your top three tips for people participating? 

  1. Keep it simple – The data can be overwhelming so we just focused on a small section of it. Being able to make a small improvement in how we use data can still mean some big developments.
  2. Use the mentors – Talk to as many of the mentors as possible. Chatting with the mentors about the challenges really helped us to both understand the problems and understand what would be useful solutions.
  3. Have fun and just give it a go. It’s a great opportunity to network across multiple industries, as well as practice problem solving using real scenarios.

What do you think the main barriers are for people attending hackathons?

People might believe that hackathons are exclusively for people with data science/coding backgrounds (I know I initially discounted participation for this reason). Sponsorship of multi-disciplinary student teams might encourage collaboration between engineers, data scientists, etc.

Has attending the hackathon event changed the way you think about innovation, startups, and entrepreneurship in the mining industry?

The hackathon further reinforced my belief that the mining industry can gain value from collaborating with innovative startups. It was great to hear from Penny Stewart about PETRA Data Science and their hackathon experience and successful partnership with Newcrest.  It showed me that the industry is already seeing benefit from partnering with entrepreneurs and startups and hopefully these partnerships will start to become more prevalent.

Is there anything else you would like to let people know about your experience?

Overall, I enjoyed the weekend immensely and I would highly recommend participation to anyone. It was a great opportunity to network with professionals from across many disciplines and it was incredibly rewarding to be able to contribute to innovation within the mining industry.

Unearthed would like to once again congratulate Team Digi-MIN and Gekko Systems on their success at Melbourne this year, and a big thank you must go to Eliza Craig for taking the time to share the insights she gained from participating.