iOS Dev Camp Debriefing: There Is No I in Team, and Other Cliches

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By Anna Billstrom (Developer, Momentus Media)

I occasionally spend an entire weekend, almost 24 hours in the day, hunkered over my computer in a fluorescent room, amongst others also lit by the back glow of their MacBooks. I can’t really explain this to non-technical friends and family. It’s San Jose, it’s July, it’s sunny… what exactly is the desire to continue working all weekend?

What seems so obvious to me, is that we are like crazy scientists or inventors in our castles, making Frankenstein. So of course we’re going to work all night, every night, because we’re so goddamn eager.

As somewhat of a hackathon veteran — shdh, wordcamp, barcamp, she’s geeky, startup weekend, hack/hackers — I can say that #iOSDevCamp (was #iPhoneDevCamp, iPadDevCamp) is by far the best organized and most rewarding.

In the last two years, my programming partner Stacie Hibino and I received awards, so I was a little biased. This year, the unexpected happened — as it usually does — in that I learned something very new about myself, and about these hackathons. It really hadn’t been about the prizes before. Hackathons were places for Stacie and I to meetup and explore crazy ideas we had about programming and gadgets. The first time we were interested in making a Settlers of Catan with the iPad and were fueled by sheer geek love of gadgets, the second time we were excited about crowd-sourced games, and it was hard to find 500 geeks willing to try your weird game.

What I learned this time around, over and over, is that collaboration and teamwork are super fun, and valuable, and why I go to these things.

Now you may think I have sour grapes, but I can’t say it again, IT REALLY WASN’T ABOUT WINNING. The first year I did it, I had a ton of insecurities about being a developer, I was learning so much about iOS development, and changing careers felt like trying to turn the Titanic with a paddle. We went into the contest with the following baggage:

  • In a new language (had developed only 1 app before).
  • My programming partner had never coded in Obj-C
  • I didn’t have my laptop for 50% of the time (the cruel reality that the iPad sucks as a dev env.).
  • Our lone computer was not provisioned nor setup for iOS development.
  • We had never used GameKit before, one of the hardest frameworks, in my opinion.

There were about 5 teams trying to use GameKit, and we were one of two that were able to have a successful demo. I was also sexually harassed about 5 minutes after the demo (not to digress). So I was excited, exhausted, and basically ran home directly after demo’ing to see my cat and go on a run. I didn’t receive the news that we’d won “best new developer” until later that night, when Stacie called.

What’s so insane about these things is that the teams are formed on Friday night. Since pair-programming brought Stacie and I together, we usually spend Friday night (cough) talking about what idea we’re going to do. What I learned this year is that we could have had an awesome team if we’d only opened it up. During the after party I talked to a friend — Adam Tow — who had an amazing idea that he couldn’t get folks on board with, so he tried to do it solo. Stacie and I were both really jazzed about it, maybe more jazzed than we were about the idea we chose that year.

In seeing another demo, JawBreaker, I had these ideas about Facebook API that I’d been considering earlier, and a few days later called Stacie to discuss a new social angle to our app. During the ride home with one of my carpool buddies Xavier, He finally remembered this video he’d seen of an app similar to ours, and the technology they used that inspired us, in that 1 hour drive up 101, to refactor and build a better app, that was a lot more interesting. Teamwork rocks.

Being probably the only all-woman team, we got some attention from a reporter who was with us from the start. She came up during the after party, and told me she was so excited “To know that I was there when you named your app! When you went from TickerFriends to TickerBuddies.” In talking to her, I realized a lot of aspects of the event that are so meaningful to me — “the story” — the way people figure out what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it. I personally think there should be a prize category for “best team story” that is, the dramatic ups and downs of teams, as observed by others. I witnessed a really heart-breaking team, developed all weekend and helped us quite a bit with the new iOS IDE, and then couldn’t demo because of a hardware breakdown.

How we are all creating things: In two days, there was nothing, and then at the end there are 70 projects made by 500 people, blood sweat and tears went into little convenient apps that help do anything from have a better workout, to helping your autistic child ask for more complicated meals. The energy of invention and the inspiring feeling of creating cannot be underrated.

This post was originally posted at Banane.

Photo credit: Women 2.0 Startup Weekend 2010 by Angie Chang

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Anna Billstrom is a developer with Momentus Media, a startup in the Mission District of San Francisco specializing in helping brands go viral. Their recent app “8 Bit Your Pic” for Black Eyed Peas saw 2 million users in 2 weeks. She’s done the gamut of OLAP DB modeling to iPhone development and Ruby on Rails. Currently, Anna is enjoying the fast lane of rapid, viral app development on Facebook. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @banane.