Losing Hackathon Virginity: AngelHack San Francisco 2012

UPDATE: 06/28/2012 Today we received an email from AngelHack.com organizers. FashionMetric was selected to participate in the Grand Finals Demo on July 12. What are the odds? They choose 6 wildcards from over 40. Unbelievable! Main prizes include airfare to Silicon Valley, other team members are in Los Angeles, hotel and other things.

AngelHack Grand Finals Demo
We are the finalists, AngelHack Grand Finals Demo

I have been writing code for many years but somehow I managed to avoid hackathons till last weekend. I was wondering why would somebody spend their time and energy, deprive themselves of sleep and stress to deliver half-backed products in such a short time? Yet I’ve heard that it could be fun. When I got email with early bird 75% off code for AngelHack 2012 in San Francisco I didn’t hesitate to register. I’ve heard that it’s one of the biggest and the best hackathons around. Teams from different cities compete with each other using sponsors’ APIs.

Teams pitch their ideas
Team pitch their ideas to attract designers and developers

On the day of the event I still didn’t have my own team or even any decent idea due to being busy with other things. I thought I can still come and check it out, say “hi” to friends and meet new people. Immediately I was drawn into auditorium on the first floor to hear teams pitch their idea to attract designers and developers. I’ve heard a few good pitches and approached people. One of them was FashionMetric, they won Lean Startup Machine last week in Los Angeles and as a prize got tickets to this hackathon. Nevertheless I liked much simpler idea after I realized that it could be done in 24 hours and I decided to give it a try. Too bad there was only high-carb breakfast food and when I came back after lunch in downtown Palo Alto my team disassembled and their members split to contribute to other teams. Gladly, FashionMetric still needed developer so I joined them and was very glad that I did later!

Team FashionMetric
Team FashionMetric, winner of Lean Startup Machine in Los Angeles

I’ve noticed that there is clear separation between veterans of hackathons and just random curious folks. Former group bring sleeping bags, support teams, supplies, tooth brushes. They have strong teams of long time friends, know sponsors, their tech stack and stay heads down coding and hacking mostly all night. Latter group tends to be more individualistic, leave early to catch the last train back to San Francisco and seem to be less dedicated. I think there is nothing wrong with being casual but it could be distracting to more focused team members. We had funny situation when our designer disappeared leaving her laptop, food and 7th cup of beer on the table (she drank the previous 6). The AOL building provides many places to crash, in fact it’s the same building where startuper lived for free for 2 month escaping from security while building his prototype. She was nowhere to be found and our biz people, respect to them, had to master Photoshop, HTML and CSS to speed up our development :)

Hackers at rest at AOL lobby
Hackers at rest at AOL lobby

A few word about organizers. They were up all night bringing pizza, drink and normal food. They re-tweeted and responded to tweets quickly. I’ve seen somebody on Hackathon.io complaining about how they didn’t enforce rules of the hackathon: to limit development time to 24 hours, not to use code developed before the event, etc. but I’m personally not aware of bad were the violations.

Soldering and some real hardware hacking
Soldering and some real hardware hacking

Overall, despite the fact that our team, FashionMetric didn’t pass into second round I had fun working with awesome people. I was impressed by the amount of work we were able to accomplish, dedication and focus. Because we had everything brought and catered to us, even chair massage, we could concentrate on work. I think hackathons are good to test team, idea or even learn something cool like Firebase – I finally got beta invite! In addition we used Windows Azure cloud servers and BackboneJS as our thick MVC client framework.

Author: Azat

Techies, entrepreneur, 20+ years in tech/IT/software/web development expert: NodeJS, JavaScript, MongoDB, Ruby on Rails, PHP, SQL, HTML, CSS. 500 Startups (batch Fall 2011) alumnus. http://azat.co http://github.com/azat-co

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