My first hackathon experience

Published by Michael Carrano on July 30, 2013

At the start of my summer, I decided to attend a hackathon because it is something I have been wanting to do for a long time. The chance to meet and work with a bunch of talented people was really exciting.

For my first hackathon ever, I decided to attend TechCrunch Disrupt in NYC.

I did not know what to expect so I went in with the thought of working on my own project. I was going to do something as simple as rewrite my entire portfolio website (this site) but that seemed boring. I then thought about working on my social music site and recruiting others to help but I decided not to.

I was approached by a fellow hacker named Omar, who had an idea called Magsty. The vision for Magsty was to create a user generated Flipboard. Anyone can sign up and begin creating their own digital magazine.

There were five of us that created the Magsty team and we all played many roles throughout the 24 hours. We had one person solely focus on iPad development, another person focused on jQuery and three of us doing PHP development. I helped with the PHP work.

I have developed many websites before but most of my responsibilities dealt with the front end of the site. I had prior experience working with simple database and database design. That all changed.

I was given the task of programming the backend functionality of the website such as search, account creation, fetch / store information in the database, develop our XML parsing algorithm, etc.

A majority of this is stuff I have never done before so I knew it was time to flex my programming muscles and get to work. Thankfully, with the help of teammates they were able to give me a high level overview of the technologies I would be working with. From there I got an understanding of how I can accomplish my tasks for Magsty.

Trouble arises…

It was about 2:00am when we realized we have spent far too much time on the little details and not enough time on a minimum viable demo. We spent too much time trying to work on a homepage layout, I argued to go with a simple list view of the magazine articles for the homepage. However, others wanted to go with a more complex homepage that varied the size of the articles. This took a while to get the CSS correct.

It started to get too late and none of us had started to merge our code together. This proved to be a challenging task. After a little more than an hour of work, we had merged all of our code together.

In the end, I was a bit disappointed with our demo. As I said before, we spent too much time on little details that were not going to improve the demo in anyway. Basically, all we had was our homepage that displayed the latest articles and the article viewer that was built with jQuery. We never had a chance to finish the account creation, article / magazine creation, etc.

I did not mention it yet but Magsty was not completely developed from scratch as Omar had already began working on it prior to the hackathon. He actually had a much more solid demo than what the five us of worked on but he chose to redo a lot of his work.

So here is a list of things I would do differently next time…

  1. Join a team that just has an idea, no pre-existing code.
  2. Attend the tech workshops that are being held. I wanted to go to the Twitter workshop so I can talk to the developer(s) and get feedback on a personal project I was working on.
  3. Meet more developers, I spent my entire time programming for Magsty.

With that said, I am looking forward to the next hackathon!