Coding for a Cause

Our Hackathon Adventure at KfW Bank in July 2023

On a warm July weekend in 2023, in the heart of Frankfurt/Main, our team embarked on an exhilarating journey that would push our technical skills and teamwork to the limit. The KfW Bank Cloud DevOps Hackathon had begun, and we delved into challenges ranging from Microsoft Azure Cloud to Kubernetes and beyond. As our team secured second place, we discovered the power of technology, the thrill of competition, and the profound impact of innovation in the world of finance. Join us as we recap our unforgettable adventure, filled with innovation, camaraderie, and a whole lot of code.

August 2023

Shows all 45 hackathon participants
Group photo of all participants at the KfW DevOps Hackathon in Frankfurt/Main (Photo: KfW Bank)

Our team's journey through the DevOps Hackathon at the KfW Bank, held from July 14 to 16, 2023, was nothing short of remarkable. With topics ranging from the intricate workings of Microsoft Azure Cloud to the complexities of Kubernetes, Terrform, Ci/CD, Cypress frontend testing, and the creation of Grafana/Loki reporting dashboards, it was a whirlwind of technical challenges and innovation.

Among a field of nine talented teams and approximately 45 participants, we found ourselves engaged in a thrilling head-to-head race for the coveted first place. Our formidable competitors, the brilliant minds of "Kein funktionierendes WLAN," put up a fierce fight, ultimately emerging as the deserving champions with their clever strategies and exceptional solutions.

As I reflect on this event, I invite you to join me for a short recap of our unforgettable journey. But before we delve into the hackathon itself, let me take you back to where it all began. It was in 2022, at the WeAreDevelopers World Congress in Berlin, that I first encountered the KfW Bank. A chance encounter at their stand in the sponsor area led to an invitation to participate in a hackathon just a week after the congress. At WeAreDevelopers 2022, I went to watch their sessions about the cloud apps they build for the projects they support. They had definitely piqued my interest. It was there that I was introduced to the world of KfW Bank and the impactful work it undertakes. Prior commitments did not allow me to join their hackathon in 2022. That would change in 2023.

What does the KfW Bank do?

KfW Bank is a German government-owned development bank, based in Frankfurt. Its name originally comes from "Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau", which means "Credit Institute for Reconstruction". Established after World War II, it was aimed at rebuilding and stabilizing the German economy.

Nowadays KfW Bank is involved in a wide range of areas such as domestic development, international finance, and financing for developing and transition countries. Its tasks also include promoting housing, education, infrastructure, and environmental protection. The bank does not have retail outlets, but it accomplishes its goals by offering loans at below-market interest rates to businesses, individuals, and municipalities.

A Second Chance for a Hackathon at KfW

Now, fast forward to 2023. I saw on the KfW website that they'd be holding another hackathon in July when I was available. The subject of this hackathon was Cloud DevOps. Even though this is not my area of expertise, I nevertheless registered and was pleasantly surprised that they'd be paying for travel and lodging. Full of joy and determination I yelled: "I'm going to Frankfurt!"

A beautiful shot of Frankfurt's impressive skyline
Frankfurt's impressive skyline (Photo: Marin Balabanov)

I traveled by train from Vienna to Frankfurt/Main. The weather was great and the city showed itself from its best side. The KfW Bank had reserved single rooms for all hackathon participants in the Hotel Novotel.

The event was held at one of the many KfW buildings in Frankfurt. Full of awe and anticipation I entered the minimalistic office building in the beautiful Palmengarten area.

I did not regret one second of it.

Marin standing infront of the KfW building
Standing infront of the KfW Bank offices in the Palmengarten district of Frankfurt (Photo: Marin Balabanov)

The First Day: Friday, July 14, 2023

Time Activity
17:00 - 18:00 Welcome
18:00 Official Opening with the Challenge Briefing
18:30 Open Buffet
19:00 Teambuilding and Challenge Start

Shows all participants in a meeting room looking at screen for the hackathon introduction
The kick-off briefing (Photo: KfW Bank)

On the first exhilarating day of the hackathon our journey began in the afternoon with a lot of introductions.

We were welcomed on the premisses with a gift bag and then got to know the other participants before the actual kick-off. This kind of event is held for students and job starters so I was obviously the oldest person there. Yet it was not awkward and we were all chatting away. There were so many really bright and smart folks there, it was a true pleasure to get to know them.

The room buzzed with anticipation as we gathered for an introductory presentation that delved into the core mission of KfW Bank and the good work they do in Germany, Europa and across the globe. It was a chance for us to grasp the vital work this institution undertakes. The organizers and our dedicated IT mentors introduced themselves, igniting a sense of camaraderie among the hackathon participants.

As a community, we embraced the power of choice when we collectively voted on the philanthropic project that would receive a substantial donation based on the performance of our hackathon teams for the Care-fore-Rare Foundation, committed to supporting children with rare disease. This moment was not just about code; it was about making a real impact. The second choice was the Bergwaldprojekt, an environmental organization that specializes in the protection and sustainable management of forests in mountainous and sensitive areas. The third choice was the Computertruhe, a group that repairs donated computers and donates them in turn to people in need to enable them to learn and connect.

With the projects at the forefront of our minds, we embarked on a journey of collaboration as we selected our teammates. It was a pivotal moment when we formed these alliances, as we knew the success of our projects depended on the skills, creativity, and synergy within our teams. We ended up calling our Team "The Five Guys", just like the burger chain because... well, we were five guys.

The Five Guys:

  • Naga Kartheek Reddy Kona
  • Kimi Müller
  • An Hoang
  • Cihan Azdogan
  • and me, Marin Balabanov

Shows the team members of the Five Guys, striking poses they believe to look cool
The Five Guys (Photo: Another hackathon participant using Marin's iPhone)

The organizers, with unwavering enthusiasm, then outlined the challenges we would be tackling and provided us with the necessary instructions to navigate the tasks at hand. The room crackled with anticipation as we absorbed every detail, ready to dive headfirst into the challenges that awaited.

Here are the topics of seventeen challenges over the three days:

  • Azure Cloud configuration and management
  • Kubernetes
  • Terraform laC
  • Automated frontend testing with Cypress
  • Application of the cloud policy
  • Frontend adaptations

As the evening settled in, we gathered for a late dinner, fueling up for the hours of intense coding and problem-solving ahead. But it wasn't just about coding; we were also here to learn and be inspired. A captivating presentation on how software development could empower the developing world awaited us. With a compelling case study on a Blockchain-based investment accountability platform, we were reminded of the profound impact technology could have on global issues.

Energized and informed, we returned to our workstations, where we toiled away until 21:00. The room pulsated with a sense of purpose as we inched closer to our project goals.

After a long day of collaboration and coding, we retreated to the hotel, where the camaraderie continued over a few well-deserved beers in the lobby. It was a chance to unwind, share stories, and build lasting connections, strengthening the bonds that would carry us through the rest of this exciting hackathon journey.

Shows a PowerPoint slide with a list of challenges
The topics of the hackathon challenges (Photo: Marin Balabanov)

The Second Day: Saturday, July 15, 2023

Time Activity
8:00 Breakfast
9:00 Keynote "Mit Tech die Welt verbessern" ("Improving the World with Tech")
9:30 - 12:00 Challenge Slot 1
12:00 - 13:00 Lunch
13:00 - 17:30 Challenge Slot 2
17:30 Keynote "Alle 14 Tage die Welt verbessern!" ("Improving the World every 14 Days")
18:00 Dinner
19:00 - 21:00 Challenge Slot 3
21:00 - 24:00 Networking | Music | Drinks

We kicked things off on the second day with a hearty breakfast in the KfW offices, fueling ourselves for another day of innovation and collaboration.

Our morning began with an insightful presentation on agile software development, a topic that resonated deeply with us as we aimed to optimize our workflows and project management strategies.

With newfound knowledge in our arsenal, we dove back into the trenches, continuing our work on various fronts: cloud configuration, linting, Cypress testing, Terraform, and Kubernetes. The day stretched long, but we were determined to conquer each challenge, one after the other. Our code evolved, our skills sharpened, and our teamwork grew stronger with every step of the way.

Shows a group of IT folks sitting at desks focussed on their computer screens.
All teams were hard at work in their respective offices. (Photo: KfW Bank)

In a process that felt both thrilling and nerve-wracking, we had to push our work to GitHub and then present it to our dedicated mentors. Their feedback and guidance were invaluable as they evaluated our progress and awarded points for our achievements. In the hallway, a dynamic screen displayed the current team rankings, igniting a friendly sense of competition among us as we strived to climb higher.

As evening descended, we paused for a well-deserved dinner, replenishing our energy for what lay ahead.

The highlight of the evening awaited us—a rooftop terrace party at the KfW building, complete with exceptional catering and drinks. Despite the rain that unexpectedly started to pour, our spirits remained undampened. The view from the rooftop, combined with the lively atmosphere, made it a night to remember. We celebrated our accomplishments, forged new friendships, and reveled in the joy of being part of this remarkable hackathon experience at KfW Bank.

Shows a group of happy KfW IT mentors sitting standing at a tall speakers desks
The mentors were always there to help and guide the teams. They kindly but strictly evaluated each challenge delivered (Photo: KfW Bank)

The Third and Final Day: Sunday, July 16, 2023

Time Activity
8:00 Breakfast
9:00 - 13:00 Final Challenge Slot
13:00 Conclusion, Summary and Feedback
13:30 Time to Say Goodbye

Shows all participants relaxed and relieved at the end of the hackathon
All of us relieved and elated at successfully completed challenges (Photo: KfW Bank)

On the final day of our hackathon journey, we commenced with a breakfast in the heart of the KfW offices. It was a bittersweet moment, knowing this was the last leg of our incredible adventure.

The day kicked off with the anticipation of the final challenge slot. Time was of the essence as we immersed ourselves in our work, pouring our energy and creativity into our projects. The clock was ticking, but our determination knew no bounds, and we labored tirelessly until the very last minute, delivering our solutions by 13:00 hour.

As the tension mounted, we gathered for the closing session, where the results of our overall score were unveiled. Our collective efforts had a meaningful impact as the basis for a generous donation of € 5,000 was revealed—a testament to the incredible work accomplished by all the participants.

With a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie, we converged in the stairwell for a group photo, capturing the memories of this transformative experience.

The time had come to bid farewell, but the organizers demonstrated their thoughtfulness by providing us with lunch packages as we prepared for our departure. KfW Bank had proven to be an exceptional host in this beautiful part of town, offering us a glimpse into their world and the work they do across Frankfurt and Germany.

In the hackathon's grand finale, our team proudly secured the second position in the DevOps Hackathon at the KfW Bank. It had been an educational journey, where we grappled with challenges. The learning curve had been steep, but the knowledge gained was immeasurable.

Among the nine competing teams and approximately 45 participants, our team engaged in a fierce head-to-head race for first place with the formidable "Kein funktionierendes WLAN" team. Ultimately, they rightfully emerged victorious, thanks to their clever strategy and outstanding solutions.

Shows the scoreboard with the team Kein funktionierendes WLAN at number one and our team, the Five Guys, at number two.
The final scores of all teams at the KfW Hackathon (Screenshot: Marin Balabanov)

As we wrapped up our time at KfW Bank, we left with a wealth of new knowledge, lasting memories, and a profound sense of accomplishment, knowing that our collective efforts had made a meaningful impact on both our own learning journeys and the philanthropic cause we had come together to support.

A great and unforgettable event with so many smart and talented folks. Special thanks for the meticulous planning and smooth execution go to the hackathon organizers at KfW. The whole hackathon would not have been possible without the KfW Career team as organizers. Above all Hanna Nguyen and Shel Wie Wong, who, together with Arnaud Thien from The Hackathon Company, organized an unforgettable event. The three days were frightfully well carried out (to quote Sir Humphrey Appleby from "Yes, Minister"). A special thanks also goes to Christoph Burger from KfW HR.

A group of diverse young people standing in a row facing the camera. This is the hackathon's winning team.
The winning team 'Kein funktionierendes WLAN' (Photo: Marin Balabanov)

Hackathons as Recruitment Events

Now please bear with me, because the following is only based on my gut feeling, though I'd wager that it is generally true.

The KfW Bank is a really nifty company but they don't organize hackathons just for fun or out of the kindness of their heart. Like other large companies they leverage their hackathons as a strategic tool for recruiting new talent. Their events serve as talent identification platforms as a practical means to assess candidates' technical prowess and teamwork skills, vital in IT and development roles.

By hosting a hackathon, the bank also promotes their brand as innovative and tech-savvy employers, attracting tech enthusiasts seeking cutting-edge opportunities. I feel that they have a bit of an "inferiority complex" because banking is not generally regarded as cool or innovative.

The KfW's HR representative extended internship offers to standout hackathon participants, ensuring recruitment of individuals who have already demonstrated their abilities and commitment. The challenges during the hackathon are of a real-world nature, offering candidates a glimpse into the company's problem-solving landscape.

The bank opens itself up to new talent but also provides opportunities for young folks to prove themselves in a playful but competitive way. I definitely regard this as a mutually beneficial scenario.

A top down view of the hackathon organizers in the reception area with one of them smiling kindly at the camera
The exceptional organization team at the KfW Cloud DevOps Hackathon (Photo: KfW Bank)

Learning from Collaboration

Hackathons are not about toiling away alone, but about getting to know one another, supporting each other, and complementing each other's skills to achieve the goals together. I cannot stress how much I recommend participating at a hackathon. Particularly the KfW Hackathon makes it easy for you to join in with minimal friction and a maximum of learning benefit. You might even end up getting a job there.

If you are interested the KfW Hackathons, or job opportunities at KfW, you can find their career page here: KfW Karriere. From working students in software development to senior specialists, they have offers for nearly everyone in IT.

For more information about the work of the KfW Banking Group and their projects as a development bank, please take a look here: KfW Entwicklungsbank

Boxes full of great looking wraps and other tasty snacks.
I saved the best for last: the food was really good as well! (Photo: KfW Bank)