I’ve been attending a lot of free developer events over the last few years. I’ve been incredibly impressed at the generosity of speakers to give their time and of sponsors and hosts to donate space, food, swag, and even significant prizes for these events. I’m always trying to keep up with new technologies, and my interests are varied (as you could see from my blog posts or tweets); but it’s hard to find time to do this during work hours and even harder to force myself to do this during off-work hours. After all, there’s always laundry, dirty dishes, sports, and of course classic movies to watch.
Tech meetups, code camps, and hackathons are a great way to do this. Often, as developers, we’re tied into a particular technology or task at our day jobs, and there just isn’t time to try the new tools and technologies that we’re interested in. Hackathons can fill the void. In September I spent a week in Vermont, spending the first Saturday at the Vermont Code camp, and the following Friday-Saturday at the Vermont Hackathon. The Hackathon was a 24 hour event using the MyWebGrocer(MWG) API any way you wanted to. And the various groups used that API in many different ways, including web sites, mobile apps, games, and even a power shell shopping utility! As the groups were presenting, there seemed to be a good number that were stepping outside of their comfort zone and working with some technology that they weren’t already comfortable with. I think this is great.
Our team, Amazaboston, also chose to step out of our comfort zone, but not too far. Our team of 3, Joan, Bill, and I, chose to create a mobile, HTML5 application, targeted at the iPad. We used a mash up of product data from the MWG API, data from GoodGuide.com, and the unacceptable ingredients list from Whole Foods to give users a shopping list application that lets them easily choose to include or exclude products that are “healthy, green and socially responsible” (Ref.).
Our app is intended to help users filter out products from their shopping lists that they don’t want to consider for various reasons, including:
- The product contains an ingredient I can’t or don’t want to use (because of allergies, special diets, or I just never want to have that ingredient (like high fructose corn syrup))
- The product is produced in a manner that I don’t condone. (producers are not paid enough, child labor is used, etc.)
- The product, its production, or the company that produces it is not ‘green’.
- The product is not organic or is genetically modified
As with most hackathons, we didn’t leave with a completed application, but we left with the shell of an application that did mash up data with a very crude user interface. We left with more ideas for evolving the app, and a lot of new knowledge and experience. We also made some new friends. As a bonus, we took 2nd place! (First place was a really cool XNA game using MWG product data, and 3rd was an Android app that used the camera as a scanner to allow users to add up the cost of products they were putting in their shopping carts.)
Thanks to the organizers of the first VTHackathon. They were fabulous hosts. And thanks to the sponsors, FairPoint Communications, C2 (Competitive Computing), and Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer PC. Without them, this event couldn’t have been what it was. Hackathons are great experience. I think every developer should try to attend at least one.