Neil Mansilla | Director, Developer Platform and Partnerships
November 22, 2011

A Tale of Two Tech Cities - API Hackday in Salt Lake City


During the past two years of participating and hosting hackathons across the country, I've formulated some internal generalizations about developer communities, mostly comparing Silicon Valley with various other cities. However, after co-hosting back-to-back hack events in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, I stumbled upon interesting unique characteristics within each city's dev communities that paint a deeper picture. The other week I wrote about the ReCommerce Hack Day in Las Vegas as part one of a two-part series. In this second installment, I dive into Salt Lake, where Mashery co-hosted a hackathon just days after ReCommerce.

API Hack Day Salt Lake City was held at Neumont University and organized by Kynetx, makers of the eponymous event-driven browser app platform. Over 40 developers attended, and prizes worth thousands of dollars were up for grabs. The event was entertaining, full of bright and wonderful people, creative apps and an abundance of delicious food. In those ways, it was very similar to the Las Vegas hackathon event -- but that's where the similarities ended.

If I were to characterize the difference between the developers in a Las Vegas vs. Salt Lake City way, it would simply be: front end vs. back end, respectively. The Las Vegas event was chock full of UI specialists and graphic designers, outnumbering coders about 2:1. SLC on the other hand was almost entirely comprised of core coders and hardware hackers. What were the reasons behind these polarized profiles? Nearly all of the attendees were local to each respective event venue, which led me to believe there existed a fundamental difference that each locality coveted as the most valued tech skills.

The team dynamics and openness to sharing ideas also differed sharply between the cities. The Vegas Tech scene that I encountered, both at FOWA and ReCommerce, revealed a burgeoning entrepreneurial community anxious to collaborate with an openness to sharing ideas and pursuits with others. The Salt Lake City developers, as friendly and congenial as could be, were mostly working solo on their projects. The entrepreneurial pursuits discussed were focused primarily on product and process improvements related to his or her current place of employment.

So let me cap off this comparison with some examples that clearly demonstrate the differences between these two tech cities -- the hackathon app submissions. In Las Vegas, the award for Fun and Most Weird app went to Rotten Huevos by Tyler Singletary, which leveraged the Rotten Tomatoes movie review API and the Manpacks subscription underwear API. In Salt Lake, a prize went to Sales Genie Sucker Trap by Annica Burns, a native iOS iPad app for real estate agents built to collect buyer contact information and send the results via e-mail using the SendGrid API. The Best Overall award in Las Vegas went to 1st World Wants & Needs, a social networking app that identifies ways to spend discretionary income, built by a four-person team utilizing APIs from Twitter, Zappos, Sierra Trading Post and Etsy. The Grand Prize winner in Salt Lake was SendGrid for Salesforce, a Java app built by a single developer that processes all outbound customer email through the SendGrid API within

Do you see what I mean? Horror movie reviews meets subscription underwear vs. real estate customer contact management. Social networking meets gift recommendation vs. SaaS enterprise CRM meets PaaS email distribution. In other words, Las Vegas vs. Salt Lake City.

Pitting Las Vegas vs. Salt Lake City in a write-up seems like good fun, but underneath there is value in identifying these differences and examining the factors behind them. Platform providers and consumers may be able to find the right resources for the job simply by selecting a locality with the developer community that best serves their needs. As Mashery continues to host and participate in hackathons in cities all around the world, I hope to continue identifying these distinguishing qualities, values and personalities of developer communities and sharing them with you.

Thanks to Kynetx for organizing a great event.  The following summary of submissions was taken from their blog recap of the event:

Grand Prize winner ($750 Apple Gift Card): SendGrid for Salesforce - sends emails directly to customers within, powered by SendGrid (Jon Jessup)

Kynetx Winners: FriendPix - replaces obnoxious ads with pictures from your Facebook news feed (Ed Orcutt) The second winner was Foo Foo What's New - an app that filters eBay search results you've already seen avoiding the need to wade through the same results over and over again. (Justin Shakespear)

Mashery Winner: WTFISPLAYINGTONIGHT - an app that allows you to call a Twilio powered phone number to get a list of bands playing tonight near you, powered by JamBase (Alex Swan)

SendGrid Winner: Sales Genie Sucker Trap - an iPad app for real estate agents to collect prospective buyers' contact information -- with results emailed to the agent on submit, powered by SendGrid. (Annica Burns)

Doba Winner: AloneSharks - Loan your stuff to strangers and monitor its return date using email + social media. If they aren't returned on time use Zappos/Doba to buy/replace the item, powered by Qwerly. (Robert Johnson)

Zappos Winner: FlyMyShoes - Get your shoes ordered from Zappos delivered by AR Drone. Using Kynetx, this app adds the AR Drone delivery option. (Loic Devaux)

Honorable Mentions: Sprinkler Controller - Arduino, Kynetx, Google Calendar, Twilio and SendGrid powered sprinkler system. (Sam Curren and Randall Bohn). Also -  an app for simple social surveys with geo-tagging and maps, powered by Quova, Google Maps and Foghat. (Jimmy Jacobson and Porter Haney)