Developer Week Hackathon 2019
Another weekend, another hackathon.
A year ago I attended my first one, and since then I’ve learned so much about product design and working with engineers. These weekend-long challenges are short but demanding, and what you put in is what you get out. I hadn’t done one in a few months, so I called up my talented designer friends to meet at Developer Week Hackathon, the self-proclaimed nation’s largest challenge-driven hackathon. Because staying up late on a Saturday night creating is my idea of fun.
The biggest prize at the hackathon came from sponsor Canon USA. Using their new Camera Control API, our challenge was to create a working application that was to be judged on innovation and creativity. Knowing I wanted to work on this project (because Canon gear brought photography into my life and I would like some funds to purchase more 😭) I quickly found teammates, who also happen to be avid photographers, to start a project with.
Our initial idea was to create a photobooth for tourists, one that sits outdoors in the perfect scenic photo spot at various tourist attractions, that allows people to connect their phones to remotely trigger the photobooth’s camera to take a high-quality professional image. We thought about it from a marketing and business perspective, envisioning it to be the perfect app that incorporates the API, only to be informed by the Canon guys something like that is already in the works. Welp, there goes those innovation points.
It was T-minus 19 hours until pitch time, and in a room full of intense hackers with their heads already buried in code, we were scrambling to come up with another idea. We browsed through some of the other sponsor challenges and stopped to brainstorm what we could do with Clarifai, an AI company known for its visual recognition technology.
It uses not one, but two APIs. It solves a constant problem among photographers. And most of all, we were excited about it. Bingo! Time to start working.
With three designers on our team, I couldn’t rely on the usual Sophia calls all the shots on anything visual or UI-related method. I decided to work on product management tasks, writing up a product requirements document to figure out the context, goal, users, and project scope to make sure we had a good amount of presentable work to show by noon the next day. Managing projects was something I’ve done, but having to have conversations with my teammates to work out different opinions when it came to scope, presentation format, and design was really challenging. Finding a solution was not the hard part; agreeing on one solution was the biggest challenge.
When day two arrived, we were hustling to get our pitch deck done. In my past experience I learned the importance of concisely pitching a problem the judges cared about, as well as presenting a complete solution that not only looked good on the screen, but seems to be thought through. The more work you show, the more impressed they are. I knew the importance of rehearsing and timing a pitch, so I focused on writing a script that covered all the points and a presentation that demonstrated high fidelity prototypes for those visual people like me. Props for Zach for making the designs and prototype animations look amazing. See it all below:
Noon hit, and we lined up in front of the sponsors’ tables. Bret pitched the project, Sam showed a demo, and I held up the presentation deck on my laptop, panning it across the table so everyone could see the details we put into the design. We competed against 150 other teams to a handful of judges for overall judging, as well as both of our sponsors. I had a good feeling about things. After our science fair-style presentations were done, I enjoyed the downtime we had to chat with my teammates about their careers, past hackathon experiences, and their craziest entrepreneurial ideas.
Competition was tough. I held my breath as the host announced the winners from each of the sponsor challenges. I knew we had made something great, even if it didn’t win. But at last, when the host announced our names, we erupted into a fit of laughter with and high-fived all around with relief.
James, thredUP’s CEO, loves the classic children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon. It’s about a boy, Harold, who wants to go on a walk at night, but upon not finding where to go, draws out a entire world for himself to experience. The idea is simple, but this book embodies the idea of entrepreneurship. He has a vision and draws his own path when he can’t find one. He keeps changing the scenery and evolving his journey, moving forward and relying on himself to creates solutions when he is faced challenges.
This precisely why I love the tech world, where entrepreneurship can come from anyone with an idea. If you have the vision and the passion, the world opens a place for you. I love attending hackathons to meet people who are so passionate about innovation and collaboration. In a world full of doubt and ‘that's not possible’s, it's awe-inspiring to find yourself in a space that nurtures and thrives on wild ideas. We dream, we build, and we help one another build dreams. It’s innovation at its purest.
Thank you Developer Week for bringing brilliant people together and giving us the opportunity to build! Dear Canon, your tools have brought me some of the greatest joys in my life and it was an honor to build technology that could maybe someday inspire just as much joy in someone else’s life. Thank you Sam, Zach, and Bret for hacking with me, I’ll see you guys at the next one!