NDC Hackathon: the developer’s perspective
By Zeljko Sucic
Arriving at the École Polytechnique in Paris, Saclay with approximately 200
people to participate in the NDC Hackathon was both exhilarating and a first
time experience for the entire 2e team.
There were four of us, so it wasn't difficult to split the load and make sure that every team member focused on what they know best, whether it's frontend, backend, data or other.
We decided immediately that
we'd make an app accompanied by a backend service and a management web site.
This app would allow end users to request trips based on Eventbrite or Facebook
events so that all they need to do is click a single button, and the backend
side would follow through on that request by making a real booking using the
NDC API and fetching some useful information for the traveler, like destination
weather data or potentially information on other colleagues who may be going to
the same event. We didn't want to overcomplicate the challenge and
considering we only had a 4 minute pitch, we decided to forgo the management
web site in favor of full approval and booking automation based on preconfigured
business rules. This meant we had more time to focus on logic rather than on
the management UI.
Of course, not everything went smoothly. One of the bottlenecks was our internet connection, which even at the best of times was slow and “laggy”, but we kept our frustration in check and just kept coding. The other was the fact that we weren't able to see each other’s computer on the wi-fi (i.e. the computer network was isolated). This meant that we had to deploy our backend differently than we thought we would, but in the end it worked out OK. It also meant that for demonstration purposes we had to use a USB cable to showcase the app on a real device, which doesn't sound like much, but it was a real challenge during the demonstration.
Our original plan was to finish coding on Saturday at around 11pm, so that we could get a decent amount of sleep and we could have some time to prepare the pitch. But whether it was excitement, dedication, or something else, we just couldn't stop. So we continued hacking at it until around 4:30 am on Sunday morning, and then just crashed for a couple of hours so that we could be back at École for the 8 am breakfast.
With only a couple of hours
of sleep, we felt like we were "all in" for the contest and we
continued working with the same drive regardless of the lack of sleep. It
simply became a personal challenge for each and every one of us, and we just wouldn't
give in. At around 13:30 we were applying the finishing touches, already very
proud of our creation, but without any notion that we might actually win.
Then at around 14:00 everyone assembled in the main atrium, and slowly, one by one, teams began presenting their solutions. We were second to last on the list of presenters, so we had a long time to mentally prepare ourselves to the idea of pitching to a room full of people. By the time we were called up to present, we were so tired we were shaking. We had prepared a recording of the app but took the riskier decision to do a live demo. With the unstable internet connection there was a chance that something wouldn't work and that we would end up there twiddling our thumbs for 4 minutes. Conversely we thought if we showed that our system actually works and was not just a concept but a real application with real functionality (albeit limited) we would stand a better chance with the judges.
I have to say that we had great help from the NDC Hackathon mentors who gave us
feedback on every step of the way and helped us develop the potential of this
idea to its maximum.
Three days later, we were still catching up on sleep but at least we can say "We'll always have Paris"
The presentation went great
and it seemed that everyone, not just the judges, liked our idea. During
the Q&A we got some really good questions from the judges about the future
of the system and its potential for making money. At that point, we felt that
we had at least done well.
While the judges deliberated, several of other contestant developers approached us and said that they thought our idea was great and that our solution was something they would definitely want to use. I guess this made us even prouder than if the praise came from a non-developer. In the end, it wasn't about winning or losing, it was about making something you can be proud of.
After about 30 minutes the panel of judges came back and started announcing the winners. When they said that the ubTrippin team has won the NDC Corporate Prize it was like an explosion of emotion. We went down to shake hands and receive the prize and really were left speechless. It might have been all the emotions or just the fact we were so tired, but it all seemed like a dream.