Whether you’re a freelance developer or a programmer in a large corporation, one surefire way to put your skills to the test is to join a hackathon. There are plenty of hackathons being held in the Philippines, especially now that the developer community is truly prospering.
As a veteran of many hackathons, I would like to share what I’ve learned so far.
MORE THAN JUST PRIZES AND GLORY
Let’s begin with the value proposition of a hackathon. While there is an increasing trend toward prizes (to say nothing of the glory!), there is much more to them than just that.
Joining hackathons gives us a chance to meet other talented and motivated people who are just as passionate about innovating things as we are. It is an amazing opportunity to explore new technologies, tools, and methodologies that we can take back to our day job.
Hackathons also force us to learn to solve problems fast and create something completely new, all within the time frame of 24 or 48 hours. And once you complete a working prototype, the overwhelming feeling of success is indescribable!
Generally speaking, hackathons also force developers to think beyond coding. Since most of these competitions want you to build a sustainable application, you must also focus on the financial viability of what you create. Needless to say, for a developer who is often wrapped up in lines of code, these are important lessons.
THINKING BEYOND CODING
For example, at the recent Hack the Climate 2015, our team - Jade Gaa, Xyriz Tan, Rhiza Talavera, and Anna Jane Matillano - who are all fellow developers at Voyager Innovations, wanted to create an app that can help in efforts to conserve the environment.
We thus created Re/cycle, a social cycling Android app that lets users earn points by biking into designated eco-zones on the map which in turn could be spent in the in-app shop for eco-swags and local indigenous merchandise. It also encourages users to help the environment by riding a bicycle instead of a regular car by computing how much carbon-footprint they were able to avoid.
In building a mobile app like Re/cycle, integrating a business model is always the hardest part. On one end, we decided to give local entrepreneurs and rural folks who manufacture quality indigenous products a mobile eCommerce platform as represented by our mobile eco-shop, and on the other, we would give bonus points to cyclists who ride with their friends along with a gamified levels, rankings, achievements, and social sharing capabilities.
IT’S NOT ABOUT WINNING
While we were declared the ultimate champion at Hack the Climate 2015, I would like to reemphasize that no one should ever join a hackathon in pursuit of a prize. Developers should view it as a training round to grow and develop our skills as developers and innovators. When you start thinking about it that way, it won’t matter anymore if you win or lose.
Instead, you get to focus on the big picture problem that you aspire to solve. In our case, the Re/cycle team was all composed of commuters. We knew how terrible the traffic in Metro Manila is and wondered how much carbon dioxide gets emitted by gasoline-powered vehicles. We thus wanted to give incentives to those who want to pursue cycling as their primary mode of transportation while also raising environmental awareness.
Because we were not focused on winning, we were able to truly immerse ourselves in product development over the course of the hackathon. We even conferred with the unofficial cycling team in our office about existing products and ultimately asked them for feedback regarding the features of Re/cycle.
I encourage any aspiring developer in the Philippines to join at least one hackathon for this very reason. The artificial constraints they set force you to buckle down, code for hours on end, and dream of solving the monumental problems that face our nation and the world that you would not anywhere else.
GERMINATING YOUR IDEA
At a hackathon, anything is possible. It’s just up to you what you will make of the opportunity. Yes, many of the great ideas and impressive prototypes will fall by the wayside in the wake of the hackathon, as excitement dies down and real-world responsibilities set in. But a few lucky ones won’t.
Some will take the germ of an idea built at the hackathon and truly run with it, creating an app that helps their community and maybe even the world. Will the next game-changing idea be yours?