Amit Jotwani | Front End Developer, Developer Evangelist
November 23, 2011

Hoosier Hacks: The Combine and API Hackday Bloomington

 

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the beautiful city of Bloomington, Indiana, representing Mashery at The Combine Conference & API Hackday. If you haven't heard of API Hackday - it's an event that brings developers together for an all-day coding fest focused on building apps with APIs. Developers of all experience levels can share ideas, collaborate on projects, start new ventures and discover great tools and new APIs to play with.

The organizers at The Combine graciously allowed us to integrate API Hackday into the conference to get Combine attendees involved. There's something about being in a college town - the vibe, the energy, the architecture, the people, and most important of all, the raw passion and enthusiasm of the students. It's just awesome.

Day 1: Thursday - OPEN PITCH SESSION
The Conference opened with an open pitch session on Thursday evening, where startup enthusiasts picked up the mic and pitched their idea to a room full of entrepreneurs, investors and venture capitalists. Bloomington has a small, thriving startup community and I thought this was a great way to bring the startup community together. What better way to kickstart "The Combine" - an event about tech, entrepreneurship, culture and creativity.

Day 2: Friday - The Combine Conference
With an awesome speaker lineup - the likes of Merlin Mann (43Folders), Mimi Henderlong (Threadless), Micah Baldwin (Graphic.ly) - The Combine was a major hit. Here's a shout out to the organizers for putting up a splendid show. So detail oriented were the arrangements, they even had an iPhone app for the event, that pushed out notifications regarding the event - things like room change for a workshop were sent through the app. Very impressive.

Day 3: Saturday - API Hackday
The hackday started the next morning at 8 with the staple developer breakfast menu - lots of coffee, bagels & loads of enthusiasm, followed by API pitches. I did a quick demo of I/O Docs with the Klout API, making live API calls from within the documentation. The goal was to show how easy I/O Docs reduces developer pain and makes exploring new APIs easy and fun, thereby reducing the friction on developer's first API call.

Some people walked in as teams, some went solo. We realized that while people were keen on building something cool, some of them were looking for some ideas/inspiration. So, we began brainstorming together and throwing ideas at them. We even white-boarded a list of APIs they could use for various categories - Rovi/Rdio for Music, Rotten Tomatoes/Netflix for Movies, SendGrid for email, Twilio for SMS, New York Times/USA Today/Patch for News etc. That seemed to have done the trick and the hacking began.

After over eight hours of intense hacking, we had about 15 hacks. As you would expect at a collegiate hackathon, lots of hacks were focused toward solving the problems faced by the student community at IU. SodaLine was an app that lets you order soda on Indiana University campus using SMS. That's as simple and as refreshing as it gets. No surprise they ended up winning the Grand Prize for it's simplicity and direct solution to a problem that students apparently face everyday!

The award for best hack built using one or more APIs from the Mashery API Network went to Lawrence McAlpin, a solo developer who created a subscription-based e-commerce site using CheddarGetter's subscription API. Anytime you try to cancel your subscription, the app lets you know you should reconsider using humor -- by playing dark, ominous mood music using the Rovi Cloud Services API. Pretty clever & a fun demo, too. Nicely done. Congratulations, Lawrence!

Overall, it was a great experience in Indiana. From the open pitch session to The Combine event to the API Hackday. Got to hangout with some really awesome folks from SendGrid, Twilio and FullContact -- I am looking in your direction - Tim Falls, Brandon West, Devin Rader, Dan Lynn. Also, Indiana University has a beautiful campus. Just loved walking around the campus. Would love to return for the next API Hackday. Thank you for your Hoosier hospitality, Bloomington!