17 June 2012
Reflections on Hack 'n Jill
I’m Jesse Pollak, a rising sophomore at Pomona College. This summer, I’m a hackNY Fellow and technical intern at BuzzFeed. To assist in my learning process, I’ve decided to write a blog post every day: today is day 28. You can follow me on twitter or keep reading my blog.
Well, I made it through my first public hackathon, and I’m pleased to say that it went rather well. While my team didn’t win, I think we made a pretty cool (and beautiful) product, which actually has potential to be something real. If you want, you can check out V1.0 at http://www.andut.com. I’m pretty sure Cheryl and I will be working on it over the coming weeks, so look for some new features etc.
I’m also pleased to say that hackNY held their own at the hackathon. The team that my roommate was on created an app called Bed Battles that let you compete with a friend to see who could wake up on time the most days in a row. They placed third, won some cool prizes, and were actually featured in GigaOM. In addition, another team of hackNY fellows created a cool app called DateNight that helps you choose fun daily deals for a first date. They won the Yipit API prize. 2 out of the 6 prizes went to hackNY teams! Pretty awesome.
Technically, I actually learned a bunch of new things when building Andut. Primarily, it was the biggest Sinatra app I’ve built to date, and the first one with a real need for models. Accordingly, I learned what a good way of structuring a big Sinatra app was (if you want, you can check out the code here). I also learned how to use MongoMapper, an ORM for MongoDB. At the start, I was using Mongoid, but I wasted an hour and a half trying to figure out a bug with the way it read our database configuration file, so I decided to switch to MongoMapper. This was actually a pretty hard decision because I’ve had a lot of experience with Mongoid, but MongoMapper ended up working really well.
One of the trickiest things about this hackathon was learning how to work quickly with a pure designer. Cheryl, the designer I’ve been working with for the last few weeks, was on my team and, while she is a beautiful designer, she knows little to nothing about code. Therefore, she couldn’t set up a live development environment on her computer, so we had to port all of her static designs in HTML/CSS to Haml views that used real data. At times, this was extremely challenging and very frustrating, but by the end I think we all learned a lot about working together.
On a non-technicial note, this hackathon really reinforced to me why I love this stuff. All day, I didn’t eat anything because I was so focused on what I was doing. And, with the hours ticking down, the adrenaline started pumping—giving me a rush that you can only really get through competition. In many ways, I actually think there are a lot of similarities between competing in hackathons and playing sports; a lot of the same emotions and feelings come about when you’re on the clock and winning or losing is on the line.
Overall, it was a great experience and I can’t wait to do it again…next weekend. As of now, I’m signed up for AngelHack, a 36 hours event from Saturday morning to Sunday night that is one of the “largest hackathons ever.” While the competition will be steep, I think it will be an awesome learning experience—especially if I get the chance to work with people I haven’t worked with before.
With 4/10s of my summer in NYC over, I’m really starting to settle into a rhythm . The days and weeks are speeding by, I’m learning tons of new things, and I’m constantly becoming more comfortable with what I do and who I am. I can’t wait to see how much I can grow over the next 6 weeks.