September 15, 2022

Rapid Developer Enablement: Choice Bank & PortX Onsite Hackathon

by Charles Colt in Banking Core Integration , Digital Transformation , Fintech , IT Management 0 comments

In this post, Charles Colt, VP of Customer Engagement, provides a glimpse of how we work side-by-side with our customers as partners. This real-life portrayal comes from the recent joint hackathon we conducted with our client, partner, and investor, Choice Bank. The event was part of Choice’s PortX enablement roadmap to equip its team with the capabilities and best practices for delivering API-led solutions on the PortX integration platform. 


Earlier this summer, the Choice Bank team participated in a series of remote, instructor-led sessions. The first series, led by Program Manager, Judit Molner, covered agile methodology and best practices. The second series, led by PortX Principal Architect, Eugene Berman, covered REST API development and API-led best practices. In the third series, the Choice team worked on selected APIs from their backlog and participated in remote coaching sessions with Eugene. Based on the accumulated learnings from these sessions, the Choice team identified some high-value banking core APIs they wanted to migrate from their legacy platform to PortX.

With their initial training and practice completed, the next step for Choice was a two-and-a-half day, in-person session with our team to build out banking core APIs through a series of hyper sprints. The goal was to develop an MVP (minimum viable product) with at least two successful API deployments with API-led best practices to replace their legacy ones. 

The Choice team included developers, product managers, and representatives from IT. From the PortX team, Eugene and I paired up to play the roles of Technical Trainer and Scrum Master respectively, while CTO, Kent Brown, came to preview new features on the PortX product roadmap. We were locked and loaded, but things don’t always go according to plan.

Day 1

The hackathon was scheduled to take place at Choice Bank’s headquarters in Fargo North Dakota, two days prior to the bank’s Ignite Conference. On Monday morning, when I arrived at the conference room for breakfast and the hackathon kickoff, Shikhar Singh, Choice Bank’s CIO, informed us that half the team (all of the Choice Bank developers) were stranded in Minneapolis 200 miles away due to severe weather. Fortunately, they made their way to a Choice Bank branch, requisitioned a conference room, and established communication with the rest of the hackathon participants via Zoom. Thanks to their initiative, it was game on!

Eugene put himself in “the hot seat” and asked the Choice Development Team to take the controls to present one of their APIs. Eugene and the team walked through the code line-by-line to address issues and align on API-led best practices.

PortX Principal Architect, Eugene Berman, walks the remote Choice Development Team through their code. Seated in front of him are Choice Bank Product Management and IT team members. Behind him is Choice Bank CIO, Shikhar Singh. 

Despite the weather issues, Day 1 proved to be very productive. Choice Bank developers built and tested the first banking core API with Eugene and queued it for deployment to PortX. Progress was especially impressive given the fatigue that the Choice Bank developers had experienced from travel delays and last-minute logistical changes. 

Now that we were locked and loaded for Day 2, we went out to the appropriately named No Bull Smokehouse for dinner. Besides the pleasure of everyone’s company, this turned out to be the best barbeque I’ve ever had.

A good partnership requires “No Bull!” I recommend that anyone visiting Fargo for the first time check this place out. From left to right: yours truly, Eugene Berman, Jake Zenk, Kent Brown, Shikhar Singh, Scott Richardson, and Taylor Towsley.

Day 2

The Choice Bank Development team arrived the next day and, despite travel exhaustion, they were ready for action. This time, we split into two groups. Group 1 worked on the next legacy API conversion with Eugene. Software Engineer, Cody Phillips, put himself in the hot seat and led the sessions with Eugene’s support. 

The rest of the team has arrived and is plugging away at the next API. Software Engineer, Cody Phillips is in the hot seat while Scott Richardson leads the discussion by the whiteboard.

While the developers plugged away on the second API, Group 2 (myself, Kent, Scott Richardson, Choice Bank Director of Product Technology Innovation, and Ritesh Chhetri, Choice Bank Software Engineering Director) met for planning purposes. Scott took us through the BaaS (Banking-as-a-Service) API architecture and Fintech onboarding program in this session. Kent reviewed PortX’s Engineering API life cycle best practices, and we formulated those into a checklist for the Choice Bank development team.

By Day 2, Choice’s development team finished another API, queued it for deployment to PortX, and prepared a third to run through the hyper sprints. In the last hour, we paused the hackathon activities to do some backlog grooming. The assignment was simple: first, each Choice Bank team member (Development, IT, and Product Management) wrote any user stories that came to mind following this format: 

As a [persona] 

I want to [perform a specific action]

in order to [generate a specific result

Next, each person read their user stories aloud and placed them on the board. As they did, Scott grouped these into epics and removed duplications on the board.

Choice Bank Software Engineering Directors, Eswari Jampani and Ritesh Chhetri, take a turn at the board as Scott leads the grooming exercise while Kent observes. It’s actually a lot to ask an exhausted technical group to switch gears at the end of the day, organize their thoughts and help build the backlog for the next round of work.

Having finished a bit late, the team headed to the Würst Bier Hall this time. We continued living up to the Hackathon’s motto, “Work Hard – Eat Well!” We were also joined by some of the Choice Bank Sr. Leadership Team who had been dropping by the Hackathon throughout Day 2 to provide support and encouragement to the team.

Hackathon players live out the motto “Work hard – eat well!” Seated to my left is Choice Bank  EVP Chief Strategy & Operating Officer, Travis Barkve, one of several members of the Senior Leadership Team who stopped by to provide support and encouragement.

Last Day Wrap

Day 3 was our wrap. The Choice Development team continued work on the third API largely autonomously with Eugene answering questions as needed. I entered all the user stories into Jira, and Scott assigned all remaining APIs from the legacy replacement backlog to the Choice development team. 

The current focus is to get the remaining legacy APIs developed, tested, migrated to PortX, validated in user acceptance testing, and deployed to Production. PortX and Choice Bank have a weekly standup to review progress, address issues, and ensure that API-led best practices are followed per the checklist that resulted from the hackathon. We can also communicate in real-time via Slack when needed.

As the team cranks through the API migration, Scott, Ritesh, and I plan to do the next round of backlog grooming to convert user stories from the other epics into API development tickets in Jira. If needed, we may schedule another hackathon to power through a challenging package of work and further enable the team. However, the goal of holding a joint hackathon with our customers is to enable their team to become experts who can scale out and train an extended developer ecosystem as needed.

If you would like to learn more about how we differentiate ourselves by treating our customers like partners, check out our service delivery philosophy or contact a member of our team today. 

Charles and Shikhar pose for a selfie with the iconic Fargo Theater sign in the background. The hackathon would not have been as successful and productive as it was without Shikhar’s guidance and support. Thank you!

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