When Nisha Pathak applied to participate in the Toyota + Net Impact Mobility Challenge this fall, she didn’t expect much. The Mobility Challenge was Pathak’s first hackathon, so she was surprised and delighted to come in first place in the one-day contest.
The hackathon challenged participants to come up with creative solutions for a wide variety of mobility and transportation problems, to promote equity and opportunity for some of society’s most vulnerable populations.
Nisha Pathak is a first-year student in the School of Information’s MIMS program, where she is focusing on product development and design — a shift from her marketing background. Pathak is grateful for the supportive community she has found at the School. She signed up for the hackathon to gain a little more experience in design thinking. When participants arrived at the hackathon, teams were assigned at random; Pathak was matched two teammates from the California College of the Arts.
This is Pathak’s first semester at Berkeley, but she knows that her I School coursework has already helped prepare her for the hackathon. “The most important thing is how you think about problems,” she explained. “Innovation can be anything; it doesn't have to be a technological solution. Sometimes it just means making the best use of the resources you have.”
This is the approach Pathak and her teammates took. They can’t reveal the details of either the problem or their solution, since regional competitions are still taking place around the country, but their winning approach was not to immediately jump to a technical solution. Instead, they took a step back to think more clearly about the real goals and circumstances of their assigned persona, so that they could help her achieve her goals in a more creative way.
Pathak especially credited the courses Info C262. Theory and Practice of Tangible User Interfaces and Info 213. User Interface Design and Development for developing her skills in ideation: thinking clearly about the problem, figuring out what’s important, and iteration. And the School’s emphasis on project management and communication skills was especially important during the hackathon.
After placing first at the hackathon’s regional competition in San Francisco, Pathak and her teammates are advancing to the competition’s semifinal round, where they will face seventeen other semifinalists from around the country. The top three teams will be invited to pitch their ideas to Toyota executives in spring 2017, and the winning team will have an opportunity to receive summer internships with Toyota to incubate their ideas with their innovation partners.