Every year, I try and participate in at least one Hackathon. As a Product Manager, I find building and shipping a product as fast as possible is a great way to work on your ability to scope and prioritize features. This year’s hackathon was Buffalo’s Civic Innovation Challenge. Which consisted of building an Android App called “Good Neighbor” utilizing Open Data from the City of Buffalo.
Good Neighbor – Pitch Video
Rapid Prototyping Tools
The other benefits of Hackathons is the challenge of learning a new tool or language in a low cost setting. I played around with Monaca and Onsen UI 2 while building this app. Monaca’s web based IDEA for HTML5 apps was outstanding, I could make an update and instantly see it’s impact on my devices running their Android Debugger App. Onsen UI allowed me to quickly utilize their Cordoba modules that translate to Android and iOS native UI elements. I’d recommend both for your mobile prototyping needs. I built the entire Proof of Concept in about 6-12 hours total.
If you’re hackathon code would pass a peer code review, you probably didn’t push yourself far enough into uncharted territory.
Good Neighbor Features
With Good Neighbor, we wanted to create a multi-lingual app targeted at new immigrants and refugees to the City of Buffalo. The app acts as a portal in their native language, provide curated links and maps to essential civic services.
What was descoped?
“No matter how tightly you try and scope your hackathon app, you’ll always run out of time and have to cut features.”
On the user facing side, we ended up having to bail on the integration with google translate. It would have been an awesome feature, but we decided that there was more value in adding more content to flesh out the app for the English speaking judges.
On the technical side, we didn’t get to refactoring the app into multiple files, due to a fear that Angular.js might barf and we’d lose a ton of time on a technical “nice-to-have”. A trade-off we weren’t willing to accept for time that we could have been spending on building out content. Hackathons breed hacky code, but that’s the point. They reinforce the “Ship It!” mentality.