Inspiring the next generation of engineers at the #EEFHackathon

Our team at the EEF Hackathon

Thursday 19/04/18, was the hottest April day recorded in London in 70 years. Instead of making the most out of the rare London sunshine, I spent my day at Huckletree London, attending a Hackathon hosted by The EEF.

The EEF — the largest sectoral employers’ organisation in the UK, believes that technology can play a huge part in recruiting future engineers, and ensuring that the manufacturing industry flourishes. Along with an ageing workforce, there is an apparent skills gap within the industry. EEF wants to find a way to encourage talent into pursuing a career in manufacturing.

Our challenge was to:

Design and present a digital solution on how we can entice tomorrow’s engineers to embark on a career in manufacturing and engineering.

Understanding the problem(s)

Kicking off of the event, 3 different speakers spoke, and each gave a presentation to help us better understand the problems EEF proposed. I found making notes during these presentations very important as it helped me gain a better perspective of the context and problems EEF was facing, and it acted as a point of reference throughout the event.

Making notes during the presentations and discussions

Through a group discussion, we identified several areas as to why young talent are not attracted to the engineering and manufacturing industries.

  • Engineering and manufacturing industries are considered un-sexy. They are often associated with boring tasks, male dominance, and not well paid roles.
  • There is a large disconnection between how engineering is portrayed in the education system and what the work is like in practice.
  • The younger generation is not aware that engineering is a skill applicable across many industries and disciplines, and there are more than just the typical mechanical, civil, aeronautical engineers. There is a negative conventional perception of manufacturing and engineering industries.

Ideation

As a team, we decided to focus on challenging the conventional perception of the engineering industry. Targeting an audience at a younger age from 6–10 years old, we wanted to inspire young talent at an early stage of their lives, where they begin to make sense of the world around them.

We established a problem statement to help us focus on ideation:

Conventional perceptions of the engineering industry meant that the younger generations are not aware of the variety of opportunities there are, preventing them to develop interests related to the industry.

Results from our team design studio

To help us better articulate and present each of our ideas, I introduced and ran a design studio exercise with the team. Using pen and paper, we spent 5 minutes sketching out our ideas, and each presented our work on the table. A few key takeaways were:

  • To encourage children to develop an interests in engineering, we needed to align engineering with their own interests. From a young age, they need to understand engineering challenges are applicable across many areas, and these can be associated with their own personal interests.
  • Our target audience will be a generation of tech savvy individuals, they will be familiar with UI patterns and are more likely to adopt new technologies such as VR and AR. We considered how we can create an engaging product using gamification, a way to present the content suitable for our target audience.
  • We also discussed road to market, we thought that the product should be used for personal development, but there is also an opportunity to be used in the schools as part of a curriculum. This will help foster a sense of community and introduce competition behind the product, to help the product achieve more organic and sustainable growth.

Solution Phase

Our team (Alvaro, Gale, Graham, Ray, myself and Ola) hacking away. Image Source: EEF Blog

Taking each team members’ suggestions into account, in conjunction with the discussions outcome, we decided to develop a mobile AR game called Spark —
aiming to align the users’ interests with simulation of real life engineering challenges faced by real companies.

I was responsible for creating wireframes to better demonstrate our ideas to the judges for the presentation. Here are the wireframes:

Challenges are categorised into different area of interests such as cars, music, computers, rockets, nature … etc. Behind each category lies different challenges with varying difficulty, in order to better cater for 6–10 years old age range.
The challenges are presented utilising AR technology, providing a more immersive and interactive experience.
Once completed, the user will be presented with their results. This could also be an opportunity to prompt/nudge the user, helping them better relate their interests and a potential industry. And user will be able to see a leaderboard for that particular challenge, allowing them to challenge themselves and learn from each other.

The Presentation

Alvaro and myself presented the idea while the rest of the team took charge of the Q&A. The judges were impressed by our solution, especially our unique approach to a tangible problem, and the introduction of competition into the product. As a result, we came first place overall.

You can watch a the event recap here:

Key Takeaways for future Hackathons

  • Come prepared. Even just the most basic research into the companies hosting will help you understand the problem space a lot better.
  • Make notes! These will act as great reference points to refer back to throughout the day, and keep your solution focused on the core problems.
  • Listen to every team member, each individual have great value to add. Help others realise their voice. It is incredible what a meeting of minds can achieve.
  • Time Management is crucial. Be clear about the deliverables, and know who is responsible for which part of the outcomes. Divide and conquer!

If you’re reading this and have not been to a hackathon before, I strongly encourage you to attend one! They are a great environment where like minded individuals come together to tackle meaningful challenges.

As a beginner, I’ve had great exposure into the tech and UX community in London through attending these type of events, and I look forward to many more to come :)

Thank you for reading. If you want to collaborate, talk about UX, or just want to say hello, feel free drop me an email at anson.cw.wong@gmail.com or connect via Linkedin.

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Your friendly neighbourhood UX designer. All things design/tech/ramen. Currently at @SalesforceUx

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Anson Wong

Anson Wong

Your friendly neighbourhood UX designer. All things design/tech/ramen. Currently at @SalesforceUx

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