My First Hackathon: iOSDevCamp 2012

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While I didn’t have a clear output to show for my efforts, I made the complexity of the task apparent. I got to know the people working on projects in the same room. Most importantly, I became inspired to learn more about CSS3.

By Veronica Ray (Senior, Duke University)

I’m a rising senior at Duke majoring in Public Policy.

I took my first Computer Science class this past spring and did web development over the summer for Y Combinator startup Jellyfish Art in San Francisco. This fall I’m taking a class on iOS development and another on web application development. I was hired as a part time web developer for Jellyfish Art for the upcoming school year. I will return to the Bay Area when I graduate.

My first hackathon was iOSDevCamp at PayPal/Ebay headquarters on July 20-22, 2012. I couldn’t have asked for a more positive experience. I saw a significant number of teenagers, families and women demo their apps and win awards. My friend Leslie Wu, a CS PhD student at Stanford, encouraged me to attend because of the waived fee for women. She let me stay at her apartment in Palo Alto so I wouldn’t have to go back and forth from San Francisco. Her app 1search.me won the award for Best Use of the Singly API.

I have no experience making apps on my own. Since Leslie and I arrived on Saturday afternoon after people had pitched their ideas, I looked at the message board on CrowdVine for opportunities. Sean Gilligan posted that he needed people with experience in CSS and JavaScript to contribute to the open source mobile framework iUI which got its start at an iOSDevCamp years ago.

Sean helped me set up Git on my computer and gave me a rundown of the challenge. I asked him questions about the philosophy behind the open source project. Was their primary goal to perfectly recreate iOS elements? Who used their framework? How did they differ from jQuery mobile?

He wanted to shift from using image files to CSS3 gradients and eventually use the LESS preprocessor. I just focused on applying this change to one back button. I didn’t have much experience in this particular area but dove in, armed with the books on my computer, online tutorial and Twitter.

Recreating native iOS user interface elements in CSS3 and fitting them into the existing framework was much harder than I expected. Those darn bent sides! While I didn’t have a clear output to show for my efforts, I made the complexity of the task apparent. I got to know the people working on projects in the same room. Most importantly, I became inspired to learn more about CSS3.

Tips for the neophyte hackathoner:

Come with a crew or join one.

      Leslie ensured that I didn’t just lurk the whole weekend. I wouldn’t have become as involved or talked to as many people without her support.

 

  1. Know your skills. Are you a designer? A developer? A person with an idea? Make your skills known so you can be part of a project. Or at least dazzle people with your knowledge and generosity. One guy stopped me in the lobby and asked if I knew anything about HTML5 because he needed to solve a problem in his alcohol mixing app.
  2. As a young woman, I provided unique user feedback. I gave my honest opinion on why I wouldn’t use a relationship app two guys in the same room were developing. However, the married guy from iUI said why he and his wife might use it!
  3. Stay for all the demos, even if you’re not presenting. The demos were like a view into the future. The range of ideas and their level of execution floored me. The demos went on for hours and I took notes on my favorites. I won’t be surprised to more about these apps in the next few months.

If you have any experience with design or development I highly encourage you to attend a hackathon. I hope to see many more with the positive environment iOSDevCamp fosters.

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

About the guest blogger: Veronica Ray is a rising senior at Duke majoring in Public Policy with a minor in Computer Science. She took her first Computer Science class this past spring and did web development over the summer for Y Combinator startup Jellyfish Art in San Francisco. She will be a part time web developer for Jellyfish Art this upcoming school year. This fall she’s learning native iOS development, web application development and hip hop dance. Follow her on Twitter at @nerdonica. Follow her on Twitter at @nerdonica.