So I’m currently sitting in an extraordinarily cramped seat 23D on the way back home from Lafayette, Louisiana. Ali, Umesh and I had an incredible weekend, capped off with a great evening and just a little excess at Lafayette’s Festival International --- incredible music, great food, and a few more drinks than was probably advisable.
Just arriving at the Lafayette airport gave us a hint of what was to come. As I walked up to the Avis desk I was greeted with a friendly hello and “Here are your keys Mr. Nolan… see that Microsoft logo on your shirt.” This does not happen when I go to San Francisco or DC!
After checking into our hotel, we headed over to a reception where we each picked up a Sazerac and met some of the folks sponsoring and running the codefest. Todd Park and Bruce Greenstein said a few words, but the highlight for me was being named an “Honorary Cajun” by Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel --- check out my certificate!
Friday started early with me being late and missing a tour of the LITE center (made up for it on Saturday afternoon). From there we went across the street to the Picard building where a huge room was set up with tables and cables at one end for coding, seats and a podium at the other.
A series of presentations and talks gave some context to the codefest challenge --- help do something about childhood obesity, using data and social dynamics to drive behavioral change. It was cool to hear Bruce talk about personal responsibility for the issue; the social stigma around weight issues makes it really hard to have an open discussion … our choices drive our outcomes. The question for the weekend was --- how can technology help people make better choices? As always during sessions like this, it’s hard not to connect it to my own struggles with losing weight and keeping it off --- a big motivator for me to be in this business!
I got to speak a bit about HealthVault too, trying to give a sense of why data ecosystems are so important for health … because beyond the obvious value of data exchange, they enable “guardian angel” applications that can help us avoid risks and make better choices in real time. It’s always fun to share a few of the personal success stories that I hear from real folks getting value from HV.
Friday Afternoon and Evening
At about noon, the teams jumped into designing and writing code. It was totally cool – something like nineteen teams of all different makeups. Heading down from Redmond, we didn’t know what to expect, or if folks would really leverage Ali and Umesh for help … don’t tell anyone, but we even had a backup plan so they wouldn’t look stupid if nobody talked to them! :)
Write that off as wasted worry … immediately folks started asking about HV (and other stuff too) … and we were off to the races. A few shots of Ali and Umesh in action:
I went off to learn more about Lafayette from local leaders and businesses. I have to say, they made a believer out of me --- Lafayette (second most optimistic city in the USA) is a special place. Some of the great business we heard from:
This was just a really cool experience … the sense of positive collaboration between government, education and business was insane and unlike anywhere I’ve been in a long time. I found myself boring people with parallels to Walt Disney --- another guy who believed that business-based innovation is the best way to solve problems. Woo hoo!
After finally getting a bit of time to check in and visit with the coders myself, we headed over to Abdalla Hall where Ramesh and company had organized a fantastic crawfish boil --- my first! While Terry Huval and his sons (yes, the same Terry who runs the fiber network) entertained with great Cajun tunes, Geoff Daily (yes, the same Geoff that runs fibercorps) taught me to twist and pinch my way through a pile of crawfish about the size of a Mini Cooper. It was unreal and I went back for more until the cupboard was bare.
Then to bed --- felt guilty knowing the teams were working late into the night, but I was done!
Judging day! We were treated to a great breakfast at Prejean’s … got to reprise my New Orleans favorite bloody mary breakfast (drink your veggies), and then back off to the Picard for more coding. Folks in the coding room were pretty bleary but still a ton of enthusiasm.
Coding stopped at 1pm (Zac Jiwa was super-excited about the countdown). Semi-final judging was broken up into three groups; two groups went into the final round from there. Each group had 5-7 minutes to present and demo, followed by 3 minutes of questions from the judges. We were looking for a few things for a maximum of 100 possible points for each team:
The groups were all pretty awesome --- that anybody could get a semi-working solution put together in that time is an incredible accomplishment. My only disappointment was that there were a lot of very similar “set goals / get rewards” solutions. There is a lot to be said for this model, but I kept asking myself, “why is this better online?” My kids had a system too --- Lara would keep a stock of little toys, and by doing extra workbooks the kids could earn “bunny money” to buy toys. The physical nature of the paper “money” and storefront was actually a big part of the process, so just translating that online didn’t seem like enough.
Three groups really stood out and I was excited we were able to recognize them:
Whew. I could go on and on. But finally we were done with the codefest and awards. For a last hurrah we all changed closed and headed out to Festival --- got to spend some great off-the-grid time with JL and Hemali from Health 2.0, Geoff continued his role making me want to move to Lafayette, Lucas and his wife came out, Zac was there --- what a great way to cap off the weekend. Here’s a few shots, very different from the intensity of the coding floor!
Thanks to Ramesh (the man behind the curtain!), Lucas, Zac, Bruce, Joey, Bob, Carol, Geoff --- I’ll forget somebody in that list because so many people contributed to the smooth and welcoming experience we enjoyed. You are wonderful hosts and inspired a ton of people to focus their energy on a great problem. See you next year!
It was a pleasure meeting you at the Cajun Codefest. You and your team were extremely helpful with helping our team implement HV into our application... but most of all, you guys were lots of fun.
Totally awesome, Sean. Congratulations to everyone involved. Next time please invite Dr. Bill :) (but only if crawfish are part of the program).
Bill Crounse, MD
Just reading your blog again - made me smile...looking forward to this year's CajunCodeFest. Make sure Dr. Bill gets an invite this year!