Podcast: Graph for All Million Dollar Challenge – With Navira Abbasi
This transcript is edited from the TigerGraph Connections podcast episode published on April 13, 2022. The Graph for All Million Dollar Challenge entry period ended earlier this month and judging is currently underway, with winners scheduled to be announced at the 2022 Graph + AI Summit, May 24-25, 2022.
Corey Tomlinson: All right with me today is Navara Abbassi, who’s the Manager of Community Strategic Growth at TigerGraph. Navira, welcome to the podcast I’m excited about this.
Navira Abbasi: I’m excited too, Corey. I’ve been looking forward to it.
Corey: Absolutely, so today we’re talking about TigerGraph’s first-ever Million Dollar Challenge which I guess could call a hackathon of epic proportions where developers and graph users around the world are answering real-world problems, passion projects that really showcase the power of graph technology. So Navira can you share a little bit to start with about how the Million Dollar Challenge came into being and the work that was done to make it a reality.
Navira: Yeah, absolutely, that’s a great question There’s a lot of thought that went behind why are we doing this and what the theme was going to be. So for us at a TigerGraph we’ve been really focused on promoting this idea that graph can be used to solve all sorts of problems. Most people who know about graph technology they assume or just know about the common use cases like real-time fraud detection, real-time recommendation engines, entity resolution, supply chain management … all the usual suspects. Of how people are using graph today and how our customers are using graph to solve problems but we passionately believe that graph could be used to solve so much more beyond the common use cases. So one of the reasons why we invested in this competition was we wanted to challenge the world to find creative ways of using graph to solve real problems that people actually care about solving and that is kind of like the genesis of why we call it specifically Graph for All. It’s saying graph could solve all sorts of problems for all sorts of people. It’s not just an enterprise play or to solve a company’s problem. It could also be used to solve your own individual problem if you have complex data sources and you’re trying to find hidden insights behind that data. Really about empowering people about how they can use graph to solve creative problems. We also believe that this challenge is going to help get our name out there and we wanted this to be global because we wanted a fun way to get people to learn about who we are and how awesome we are.
Corey: That’s awesome. So it’s a global challenge but it’s also what we call an open challenge. How do you make a contest open but also include guidelines and structure that’ll actually help him make it work and keep it moving forward because ‘open’ is kind of a trap in and of itself, isn’t it?
Navira: Oh my gosh that was super hard actually to do. We went back and forth and iterated a ton. This challenge is actually hosted on the Devpost platform. Devpost is a company that specializes in running and managing hackathons of all sizes and that is where contestants go to read the terms and conditions and learn about what the contest is all about. There was a lot of communication back and forth between the Devpost team and our team because most platforms and competitions and hackathons tend to be very very well-defined challenges and a lot of it has to do with the fact that you don’t ever want someone to say that you judged a project unfairly, and when it’s very specifically defined what problem you’re solving for and what the ideal outcome looks like it is a lot easier to judge a lot of projects. It mitigates the risk, meaning the negative PR backlash of people accusing you of being unfair, for example, or just makes judging more complicated but because our mission was graph for all, we had to make it open-ended because we didn’t want to define what problem you should be solving because then we’re back to square one saying “these are the defined things you can solve for.” That was actually quite tricky and the way we overcame that was Devhost did a fantastic job of partnering with us on really thinking about how do we create the terms around this challenge. Some of the other senior leaders on the team spent a lot of time crafting what the judging categories would be or the criterion would be and it created more structure was saying we are going to judge you very specifically on these four metrics. Create any project you want solve for any problem but you have to go through this four-part test. How impactful was your solution did you actually help people around the world. How many people did you help? Were you innovative in your approach? Did you solve an interesting problem that’s traditionally hard to solve? Did you overcome your challenge in a creative way? Did you use graph in a creative way? How ambitious was your solution? Did you add a lot of features? Did you create a really amazing schema? How big or complex is your graph?
So we’re looking at the technical aptitude of your final project and can your solution scale. How applicable is it … can another organization take what you’ve created and run with it and so by being narrowly defined on the judging categories or criterion It made it possible to keep it open-ended. There’s a lot of creative brainstorming, a lot of back and forth between our team and Devpost, but we finally arrived at a contest that made sense that was fair and open. But there was definitely a lot of thought and debate that went into getting it to where it needed to be.
Corey: You mentioned the judges and we’ll get to them in a second but mentioned a couple times about real-world real problems. It’s very clearly stated that competitors are solving a “real problem.” Can you talk more about what is meant by a real problem versus a general one?
Navira: One approach that we had for making it real was we didn’t want to tell the world what we think are the actual day-to-day problems that humans are facing. We are domain experts on graph technology. We are not domain experts on social issues or other world problems that are sitting outside of graph technology specifically, so we actually partnered up with eight different domain experts from around the world ranging from Argentina to Denmark to all across the U.S., et cetera, and we let these domain experts who own their knowledge base to say you tell us what are some of the major issues you are seeing in your space. We have CEOs of healthcare AI startups. Dave DeCaprio, for example, he did a phenomenal job coming up with two very specific health care problems that he sees. One of our judges who lives in Argentina, Laura Garcia, her problem statement is on how do you improve critical thinking. As we all know there’s an echo chamber in social media and people are very easily manipulated by what they’re seeing and reading just based on what they like. Laura asked if you can use graph to solve this problem.
That’s number one, reaching out to domain experts who are knowledgeable about their areas and having them come up with problem statements. And number two, the way it’s real is it’s also open-ended so people can either choose one of the problem statements we have curated from our domain experts or the user can solve their own problem. It doesn’t get any more real than that if you’re literally solving for your own problem whether you’re a student and you are working on a research project or whether you have your own startup facing a problem that you know could be solved with graph. It’s literally you as a human what problem are you facing and use graph to solve that problem, as long as you’re satisfying those four filtering questions.
Corey: Okay, speaking of those four filtering questions the panel of judges is incredibly diverse and it’s a large panel of judges. We’re not just talking about three judges sitting on the sidelines of the Olympics throwing up signs. There’s a large group of judges here. Why was it important to bring in such a large and diverse group of judges as part of that judging criteria.
Navira: Sure so number one it was very important to us that we had an equal split between external and internal judges. There is a technical component to this submission process. So of course we needed to make sure our own staff was on the judging panel, but at the same time we wanted to have as little bias as possible by introducing experts and respected individuals who are in the tech space. And we also wanted to create that balanced perspective when they were looking through the submissions. We’re already at almost 1400 registrants right now which is amazing. So we’re just anticipating a lot of strong projects. You just need a big team of judges to sort through all of that. These judges are founders or CEOs, very busy individuals and we can’t expect one judge to spend their whole 40 hour work week, volunteering their time to grade all these submissions, so it was a way of creating workload balance but also creating balance in scoring and being as fair as possible. Having a global perspective was also really important. We also made sure our judges came from around the world and not just coming from the U.S., for example. The third reason why we needed diverse judges was it’s an open-ended challenge and we don’t know what type of projects people are going to submit, so by having a diverse group of judges with various domain expert and expertise it’ll be easier for us to have judges be assigned to projects that made sense to their background. If there’s a healthcare project we can assign it to the judge who has the most healthcare care experience; if someone submitted something on finance we can submit it to the judge has a finance background. It enabled us to have an open-ended nature.
Corey: Last question. Part of the challenge name is Graph for All, but it’s also the Million Dollar Challenge. There’s a million-dollar prize pool for these 1400 plus contestants and teams to compete over broken up into 15 categories. Those winners are going to be announced at the upcoming Graph + AI Summit, which will be held virtually in May this year. What can we look forward to with those announcements?
Navira: I am so curious and excited to see what projects people submit. Some of the projects that we’re seeing are quite phenomenal and of course, we don’t know exactly what people are working on. People as showing up on tech support with what they’re working on and I could tell you there are some really interesting projects – people working on Greenland ice sheets and trying to solve for climate change. We have someone who’s trying to predict unexpected drug-to-drug interactions using biological networks. We have someone working on making the amazing wealth of data held by the UN available to everyone as a graph so there’s just such phenomenal projects I see being built. The Graph + AI Summit is going to be exciting because the winners are going to hear what prize they actually won. We’re going to be able to award the 15 major winners but also highlight what they’ve created to earn that prize on day one. On day 2 the audience will have an opportunity to hear from the grand prize winners that won the two hundred and fifty thousand dollar prize, as well as a second team, which we haven’t decided what prize category. We’ll make that final selection once we see the project list.