Roque Versace | VP, Sales
March 04, 2013

The Humanity of Hackathons


London Web Summit put on a Hackathon this past Saturday, alongside Mashery's Developer Outreach Team, led by Amit Jotwani.

It was my first full day at a hackathon and it was an eye-opener for me. What I saw and heard will impact how I raise my 9 and 6 year-old boys.

We kicked it off talking about some of the APIs available for use. Amit asked if anyone had an idea they wanted to share that was in need of developers and three ideas were presented. They were: 

  • Building a chaperone app that lets kids line up a chaperone without alerting their friends, to alleviate possible teasing.
  • A non-profit company wants to end extreme poverty and wants to build an app to help promote that idea, including ideas like going barefoot on the 15th of every month so that we can walk in the 'shoes' of those living in extreme poverty.
  • Building an app that helps people manage their medication and reminds people of what to take, the dosage and when.

Another stand out idea was from Hercules Fisherman, an artist and coder. He wanted to have an audio guide for an upcoming show in Berlin, so he created an app that lets an artist load photos of their art and audio about each piece.  How the app works is when someone points their smart phone at the art, they are given options to listen to the audio guide, purchase the piece or learn about the artist. 

I asked Hercules how he handled multiple languages for the app, thinking it would be very challenging.  He said,  "Actually, since I type what I want to say, I can use a translation API and deliver the translation in 20 languages." I commented that I liked how he broke all of these bigger issues into bite sized problems that he could solve with APIs, to which he responded by smiling and saying, "Yes, and it's actually very little code."

Himesh. How to describe Himesh. Early in the morning a father, Vidya Gholkar came to the hackathon with his 10 year old son Himesh in tow. They watched the early pitches and then went to a quiet room and set up shop. Vidya was going to work on the Twilio API and Himesh was going to build something using Scratch.

After a couple hours, I walked by and his father said, "Look at this, Himesh built a game!" Sure enough, Himesh had built a Formula 1-worthy course with a car he could race around the track.

Throughout the day other developers would approach Himesh, look at what he built and ask how Scratch worked.

At the end of the day, Himesh was asked to present. This 10-year-old boy stood in front of 80 strangers and demoed his game.  In addition to all of the applause, he won the "Best Designed app" prize - £500 in Amazon gift cards, but he walked away with a lot more than that.  He left feeling great about himself and being a programmer.    

Himesh also clearly won the dad lottery. What better way, in this world of uncertain economic times, than to put your child in a position to learn how to program and do it in a way that gives him so much positive affirmation.

I'm looking forward to sending my kids to Scratch Camp and bringing them to more Mashery hackathons in the coming years.