From Hack.SiliconValley to Barcelona Mobile World Congress: It started something like this. I passed by an eye-catching poster in Stanford’s d.School that read: “Think it. Build it. Test it. Hack.SiliconValley” . I took a picture of the poster and thought to myself, “Hmm, looks cool. I should apply for it.”

November 5th, 2016 9:00 AM: After a last-minute internal struggle and split-second decision about whether I should go to Hack.SiliconValley because I had never participated in a hackathon before. I (thankfully) took an Uber to Menlo Park. I was immediately greeted by a group of enthusiastic and friendly people with Mercedes-Benz hoodies in a design garage that smelled of creativity and innovation. A confirmation that I had made the right choice.

 Individuals from all backgrounds

11:00 AM: The problem statement was open-ended yet satisfyingly challenging: reinvent the future of transportation with cloud data and IoT technology. 8 diverse teams with individuals from all backgrounds formed and dove straight into rapid ideation and prototyping. Our team had many pivots throughout the process, but our team dynamic was really all that mattered. Three German developers, one developer from China, and one product design student from Stanford: it was a motley crew, but it somehow worked, really well.

3:00 AM: “Let’s have another Red Bull, guys.” It was our fifth one.

11:00 AM: The 25 hour hackathon (thanks daylight savings!) came to an end. We transferred to the MBRDNA (Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America) and practiced our presentations.

1:00 PM: Each sleep-deprived team pitched their idea to a panel of judges. Every team had incredible ideas and presentations. Our team developed a predictive maintenance solution for fleet managers using IoT sensors and driver voice UI – we placed third and received a $2,500 check – not bad for my first hackathon!

Everyone needs to get involved in hackathons. It is the perfect environment for allowing creative makers to have fun while having some of the most productive work sessions possible, free from distraction and laser-focused (even at 3 in the morning). It’s amazing to see how an event like this can bring together individuals from all ages and all backgrounds, because we all share something in common in that moment – working to hack, have fun, and (potentially) win!

This isn’t the end of the story, though

January 15th: I received an email from DigitalLife@Daimler titled “Invitation: Hack.SiliconValley participants at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona end of February 2017.” Me and 9 other hackers from around the world were invited to travel with Daimler’s DigitalLife team from Stuttgart to Barcelona for the 2017 Mobile World Congress. Are you kidding me? This is surreal.

February 3rd: I received the plane tickets. Wow, this is actually Happening!

February 24th: Although I missed my train and couldn’t find my luggage, my jet-lagged body somehow made it to Stuttgart, Germany. Let it begin!

Kick off at Mercedes-Benz Museum

Upon arriving at the hotel, I met the other hackers from Bangalore, Beijing and Germany (and reunited with Weiqi, one of my Hack.SiliconValley teammates). We went to the Mercedes-Benz Museum where we rode Ludwig’s longboard, met the rest of the DigitalLife team, took some incredible photos, and got a sneak peak at the decked-out tour bus we would be traveling in for the next couple of days. Oh, and of course we toured the Museum!

Pimp My Ride: DigitalLife Tour Bus Edition

You had to see this DigitalLife Tour Bus. Equipped with VR, Playstation 4, Google Home, TV’s, and the enthusiastic spirit of hackers, this was the type of bus you could spend 13 hours in and not realize time had passed (true story).

For the bulk of the trip from Stuttgart to Barcelona, the hackers split up into two teams and were given a near infinite amount of LEGOs for a friendly competition. The task was to build and program LEGO Mindstorm robots to pick up packages and deliver them to a spot on a map. What seemed like a few hour long challenge ended up being a 10 hour rollercoaster of successes and failures (at least for our team).

We stopped many times to test out our prototypes, have a snack, and take some pictures. We spent the night in France, explored a little, and went on our way to Barcelona.

Barcelona 2017 MWC

The moment we’ve been waiting for. We would spend the next few days in Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress, the premier mobile technology expo of the world. For our first night there, we checked out the Mercedes-Benz booth, presented our robots in front of journalists (thankfully there was a tie), followed by a delicious dinner with the journalists. Day one = success.

Each day at the conference was jam-packed with exploring the MWC. My fellow hackers and I tried to explore every hall, trying out the latest VR technology, seeing way too many booths with various “5G” taglines, and taking 20 MP selfies on state-of-the-art cell phones. We were involved at the Mercedes-Benz booth, frequently listening to inspiring talks about the future of transportation, taking turns presenting our hackathon ideas, and testing our robots again to intrigue the crowd. Also, for one of the days, we explored Barcelona and attended the 4YFN a conference for start-ups.

Side note: Since I was missing a week of school for this trip, there was a point where I had to take a four hour exam while in the middle of the conference. Did I look silly? Maybe. Was it worth it? Of course.

Memories will last forever

It’s tough to describe the week I had. I overheard an employee mention how he walked 80,000 steps every day of MWC (how ironic). My daily step count was probably similar, but those were undoubtedly the most epic 80,000 steps of my life, and I wouldn’t have traded them for the world. I still am in disbelief that I received the opportunity to escape reality for a week with some of the most fun and inspiring people I have met. I did not expect this at all from Daimler and there is no way to express my gratitude towards Daimler and DigitalLife for giving me and the other hackers the opportunity of a lifetime. Those memories will last forever.

Closing Remarks: The most valuable lesson I learned is to always seize opportunities that are given to you, because you have no idea what might come from them. Who knew that a simple decision to spend 5 seconds reading a nicely designed poster would result in something like this?

We make it work

For everyone who is now interested in participating in a hackathon themselves: DigitalLife Campus the global hackathon series by DigitalLife@Daimler is going to continue with Hack.IAA as part of the “me Convention” in September 2017 at the IAA in Frankfurt. Check the DigitalLife Twitter Channel for the latest News.

Thanks to everyone who made this possible! This is what happens when you bring together young, energetic hackers from around the world. #wemakeitwork

He is studying Product Design at Standford University and was one of the participants of Hack.SiliconValley and part of the DigitalLife Bus Tour to Mobile World Congress 2017.