espnW Hackathon - W for Women and Winning


I finally attended my first hackathon! The espnW hackathon was a 1-day hackathon starting on the evening of Nov 9th for networking, dinner, and team formation, with a deadline of Saturday at 6pm for app completion. Not a lot of time to make an app, so it was a challenge, but I had a lot of fun and met some great people. I teamed up with Erin Parker, who pitched an idea for an app to help women find out how to use strength training equipment in the gym. The premise was that most women are too intimidated with men around to use weights and weightlifting equipment, and it’s really hard to find videos online with exclusively women teaching how to use said equipment. Also teaming up were Meredith Prince and Susan Tan, two awesome pythonistas from Hackbright. I liked Erin’s idea since it was simple, and as I had a similar idea myself: after failing pretty hard trying to learn how to snowboard, I turned to youtube and the internet, and had some success finding how-to snowboard videos. I wanted to create an app or web resource that would compile how-to videos across all different sports, with an easy to use interface that would do the youtube searching for you, catering videos for women by women.

We teamed up, grabbed a table and a pad of paper, and got to whiteboarding. Erin had only coded in Rails, but knew front end pretty well, so she volunteered to work styling magic while the Hackbrighters worked on the back end. Pretty quickly we had a layout, some ideas for functionality, and had decided that we were going to use Youtube’s API to do the video search and load those videos into iFrames for display. Since they closed the building at 9, we had about an hour of brainstorming time before getting kicked out for the night. I created a github repo, subscribed everyone, and hastily sent a couple emails before hauling back to SF to writeup the README.

Saturday morning was met with Susan already figuring out the API and search terms before any of us even got there! Once we had some search returns we were happy with, I set about building out the Flask portion of our app, and Meredith researched twitter + facebook integration. We were initially ambitious in thinking we’d have time to build some user authentication and run a database for video URL storage and whatnot, but realized that we needed to pare down in order to finish. We ran into issues with multiple people pushing code to Github at the same time, and ended up spending a lot of time debugging Flask. There were a couple application errors which fortunately did not show up in our demo. We finished our super simple app by about 5 pm, which gave Erin about an hour to polish up the HTML + CSS and made our app look quite nice. There were lots of hi-5s throughout the day, for each time we cleared a hurdle and fixed a bug.

At this point, I was dog-tired, since I had been up late the night before (stupid allergies) and exhausted myself played a bit of project manager fixing git repos and making sure everyone was coordinated and working on different pieces to the spaghetti code puzzle (and coding). After 6, I started to relax and notice just how tired I was, and started to completely zone out. Dreading presentation time, I left the speaking in the hands of my stellar teammates, and asked to be given the oh so daunting task of pushing buttons and tweeting during our demo.

Waiting is always the hardest part. I spaced out on a lot of the demos, but there were a lot of really good apps. During the demos, I was convinced we weren’t going to win anything, but did realize that I had a lot of fun and learned quite a bit (including passing variables to javascript from flask - I needed that!). There was also a good amount of Hackbright representation there - 4 teams in total! From recent grads, we got http://doesparkingsuck.com/- their demo worked, and was pretty funny. One hackbrighter teamed up with an app idea similar to ours, but a little more generalized and built out - check out some screencaps here: Michelle Glauser: My First Hackathon Thirdly, another team of rollerderby Hackbrighters made “The Pack is Here”, which was a google and Twilio powered contact management app. It looked cool, they demo’d well, and it all worked well! I am super proud of my fellow Hackbright classmates and alums.

They started announcing prizes, and the only one we had any hope for was for “Best use of Youtube API”, which also had one of the better prizes (a Nexus 7 Tablet!). Twilio also had a pretty good prize, which was Nike Fuel bands and some Twilio credit (I totally would have used it!). Surprisingly, when they called the winner for Youtube API, it was our team! More hi-5s, and then we headed to get our picture taken and be congratulated. It was pretty exciting to win, and then even more exciting to see the next prize from Twilio being awarded to the other Hackbright team, “The Pack is Here”! So, 2 out of 4 Hackbright teams winning is pretty awesome.

Oh yeah, here’s our app: Strength Is Beautiful. For more excitement, check out all the #hackespnw tweets.

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