It’s been a while since I last published a post. I’ve been incredibly busy with running my startup Gogohire.com. But here is a summary of my hackathon wins since February! Will write up posts on some the more interesting/exciting hacks soon…
Overall First Prize at ATT Women in Tech hack – AT&T – September 2014
Won 1st Place and $3000 for Best App from a Women Led Team at ATT Women in Tech Hack 2014 in Palo Alto.
Winner at DataWeek Hackathon 2014 – Microsoft, IBM, Moxtra – September 2014
Won 1st Place $4000 Microsoft OneNote prize, IBM BigInsights prize, and Moxtra prize at DataWeek Hackathon 2014 .
Winner at TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon 2014 – ESRI, Concur, Mashery – September 2014
Won 1st Place $2500 ESRI prize, Concur prize, and Mashery prize at TechCrunch Disrupt 2014 Hackathon.
First Place in AT&T U-verse Virtual Hackathon – AT&T – June 2014
Won 1st Place and $10,000 for 3-month long AT&T U-verse Virtual Hackathon.
My interview was featured on a nation-wide tech news segment on TV:
Yep, we did it again. We won the hackathon at the TV Hackfest at AppsWorld 2014 conference in SF!
I had attended the conference last year and really found it worthwhile. They had great sessions at Android World, Developers World, and Enterprise World booths. There are sessions focusing on both technical and marketing aspects of mobile app development. I found the (still ongoing) debate on mobile HTML5 and Native development most interesting.
The sessions this year were very similar to last year so I didn’t spend much time and instead went to check out the TV Hackfest that was happening simultaneously. But I did have time to attend one good session from Twitter about how to overcome the >=5 day iOS app update lag. The speaker mentioned how the delay breaks the continuous integration flow designed to limit bugs in production. Android and HTML5 don’t have this problem. I have always wanted to see HTML5 as a universal mobile development standard that is as close to performant as native, with fast JS and non-crippled webviews. I can still hope!
The ~30 hour hack event took place just outside the main conference hall at Moscone West. The “TV Hackfest” was entirely sponsor based, and as such we started looking at the APIs available. Having never played with the TV app ecosystem, this hackathon was new to me technically.
We couldn’t come up with too many ideas on the first day and any that we did, we realized that the interface would be a pain to use for the user. This was the major issue. I felt that a lot of things you could do on mobile would be too distracting for the user who came to watch the show and really just wants to watch the show, not be overwhelmed with a mobile app beeping and buzzing with new info constantly (unless of course the show sucks and he is bored).
By the end of the first day and halfway into the second, we went with a TV app that shows tweets (live an historical) of the TV show you are watching. Using Alphonso (a sponsor), we could discover the show that the user is watching. Its likes Shazam for TV. This is really the starting point, as you don’t want users to have to type a show name every time they launch your app. We grab the tweets using the Zeebox API and show them in the corner of the TV with a translucent background.
We had something decent but I didn’t feel the idea was a killer. And with only a couple hours to demo deadline, I started to seek inspiration. Thinking about how interactive some of our past hacks were, I got the idea for a Like button for TV, LikeTV, not just for the entire show, but Like for each moment by moment. The idea being you get a second by second heat graph for a live show as users simply hit the Like button on our mobile app. On screen, we would show the number of likes live. We didn’t get to it in time, but adding a heat graph would be fun for the user to see. Just imagine the spike on a Superbowl touchdown pass!
This will be huge, with content providers being able to glean info on what is Hot or Not at a detailed level and for advertisers to measure which ads really work. LikeTV provides a much more precise and social mechanism than the traditional Nielsen metrics that only offer audience view rates and not the live barometer of interest.
With so little time, I quickly added the Like button to our native Android app and hacked up a simple mobile web app LikeTV.me so we could get audience participation, while my partner set up a PubNub enabled notification system for the TV UI (web), allowing instant updates. Having done HMTL 5 hacks often now, I got it up in minutes. Trick was getting a domain though in time. Using GrepDomain (one of my startup’s products), I found liketv.me was surprisingly not taken! Praying that the DNS would propagate in time (around 30 minutes to demo at this point), I went for it. Thanks to Namecheap, I had a live mobile web app running by demo time.
With some spare time left, I started thinking: wouldn’t it be awesome to add Pebble smartwatch integration? Imagine seamlessly just pressing a button without moving your eyes off the screen. I have been hacking with Pebble, having just published my first Pebble app Watchlight and related Android companion app (more apps soon at PebApp.com). Knowing how easy getting basic Pebble up/down button detection was and considering I had a native mobile app ready to integrate with, I quickly hacked up a Pebble app so that any button will call the same code to our web service to register a Like.
A smartwatch is one of the best ways to quickly provide input without too much distraction. I think wearable devices will offer a new level of non-distracting input that is natural. Soon, we will have sensors detect your emotion and smile to automatically measure your likeness of a show! But for now, with LikeTV, the user is still in control and can easily give input.
Having spent even the last few minutes hacking, we didn’t prepare at all for the pitch. We just winged it, and looking back at the video recording, it went pretty well!
When it came time to the awards, we won the Alphonso first prize and a giant check! Talking later to the awesome Alphonso sponsor team, they told me how the second-by-second likes and the Pebble app really sealed the deal in their minds. We discussed how in the future, we would want to group users who are watching at the same time and show a real heat graph.
To cap off the night, we went to LG’s building in SF demoing their new upcoming WebOS TVs. Wow, these were awesome! Their new HTML5 based UI is gorgeous. It was as smooth as butter and all of it running on a tiny dual core board. The input is provided by an air mouse using Bluetooth. I am sure mobile apps could use Bluetooth to interact with the TV as well.
Overall, this was a different hack for me and introduced me to the whole TV apps space. It will be exciting to see what happens in the TV world very soon.
Wow, what a fantastic week! Just got back from beautiful Salt Lake City after 5 days attending the DisruptFilm Summit. My friend and I were invited by a member of the Collective organization (we met her at the ATT Dev Summit hackathon just a week prior!). She was the technical organizer of the first-ever HackDance hackathon as part of the Summit in Park City, Utah. The summit started off with the 2 day hackathon.
Unlike all my previous hackathons, this one was organized quite differently. The hack was a social good hackathon bringing together celebrities in the film industry with entrepreneurs from the tech industry. The celebrity leaders brought their world-changing ideas and we hackers brought our technical chops. The idea being that unlike the typical hackathon-winning idea that gets stalled, the winning teams can actually continue working with the celebrities to gain a wider exposure to their product. After some great intros, we finally joined the SecondGov team led by Golden Globe winning musician Alex Ebert. He had just won the Best Original Score for All Is Lost soundtrack. Talk about a great mentor!
Let’s get to the hackathon itself. In the end, there were about 7 teams in total. My team consisted of myself, my serial hackathon partner JeanCarl Bisson, and a young couple Dru Clegg and Kyle Clegg, Dru a designer and analyst, and Kyle an iOS and Android developer. Since JeanCarl and I share full stack web dev skills, this was a great complementary team. As usual, we had plenty of great food and snacks to keep us going through the day and night.
The idea of SecondGov was to create an online virtual government that aims to mimic the aspects of a real government but removes all the bureaucracy and inefficiencies in our real government. Talk about a big idea! I was quite interested in SecondGov as I had already had a similar idea of a Kickstarter for government policies (with the public starting and supporting any policy or person). We were all excited to be hacking on this awesome idea. We started by figuring out what the concrete features would be.
Fundamentally, as a true democracy, in SecondGov, all people should be able to propose ideas and have everyone vote on them. I proposed a Stack Overflow and Reddit style interface, thinking the familiar interface would resonate with users easily and promote discussion. Our core interface would allow easy creation, up/down voting of proposals, up/down voting of comments independent of proposal votes, and user reputation ranks.
Dru got cracking on a great Bootstrap based UI (she had even built her own Adobe Illustrator components ready to use). We went with a card based layout for our home page to quickly highlight the top proposals and user profiles. We kept the colors and visual clean and light to promote a tranquil and collaborative atmosphere.
But we felt there was something missing, we needed that just one thing to make our site truly interactive rather than seeming more of a discussion site. We realized we needed to add elections! While I worked on the core HTML5/PHP website, JeanCarl got Tropo SMS integration working and we quickly had a live SMS and mobile web voting system. Now this was getting exciting.
Plantronics was again a hackathon sponsor at this event, and they brought with them their new headsets with motion tracking. I got the idea of having our mobile app respond to nods of the user’s head to quickly vote on proposals. As the SDK supported iOS only, Kyle was the man for the job. In the end, we had a great looking iPad app whose only input was shaking your head! I knew this would be an awesome demo.
Needless to say, after 48 exhausting hours of hacking, we were ready to get the pitch done. Luckily, we had Alex on our side and in just a couple hours or so, we pieced together a tight story and got in several rounds of practice pitching. Getting it down to the 5 minutes limit was tough considering our 4 part demo: intro, web app flow, SMS voting, and iPad live voting demo. Of course, as usual we avoided the slides.
Wow! Our pitch went perfectly, Murphy’s law was on our side this time. The judges asked some great questions. One of them was regarding how we bring the virtual government intro reality. I had thought about this earlier and was quick to explain that SecondGov could tie into the current government’s change.org platform (after they expose an API!).
At the award ceremony, SecondGov won the grand prize for the Social Innovation track! The award came with a cash prize as well as a potential investment from the Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center. We also took home some sweet gear for winning the Plantronics sponsor prize.
After the craziness of the previous 2 days, we finally had 3 days to ourselves before JeanCarl and I took the train back to SF. We made the best of our time enjoying the Sundance Film Festival. We watched a film screening for an amazing documentary Finding Strong, listened to a mind-blowing speech on leadership by the TED speaker and author Simon Sinek, and enjoyed the skiing scenery atop the St. Regis hotel. Down in Salt Lake City, we toured Temple Square, heard the choir at the famous Tabernacle, and went up the tallest skyscraper for a sweeping view of SLC. Finally, we had a peaceful and scenic journey back to SF on the California Zephyr.
All in all, this was the best hackathon experience I have ever had!