My Experience at the Realex FinAppsParty Hackathon

Last weekend I participated in the Realex FinAppsParty Hackathon. This was my second ever hackathon and I have to say- I’m hooked.

It’s so inspiring to see what some people can accomplish in a day or two. It’s also very liberating to be set loose on a challenge with a blank canvas to work with. Hackathons are the perfect place to dive in to that new tool or language you’ve heard about but never got the change to try. Lastly, they’re great for pushing your limits mentally.

Inspiration

It’s amazing what some people can build in just a handful of hours. Two particularly awesome coders I noticed last weekend were Matt Williams (who I teamed up with in my first hackathon back in October) and my teammate Sam.

Matt worked solo and built an incredible prototype, hooking up 3-4 pieces of physical hardware with an Android app. He beat dozens of other four-person teams to place third. The venue wasn’t really set up for hardware demos so the audience wasn’t really able to see Matt’s demo in all of its glory. If they would have, he probably would have won it!

Sam worked on my team (who am I kidding, he WAS my team) and managed to go home overnight to be with his family AND code an entire iOS app. In real life, he’s worked with huge clients in business and government, yet he still comes to hackathons because he just loves technology so much.

As I’ve said before, the best way to grow is to be the weakest link on the team. It’s really inspiring and motivating to be in the presence of people that are orders of magnitude better than you at something. Not that I’m a horrible programmer or anything (I can definitely hold my own when it comes to C++) but when it comes to web and app development I have a lot to learn.

Freedom

What other professions have not only the passion to show up and work on something for hours straight on the weekend but also the ability to? We are so lucky that software is so cheap. In my past life as a chemical engineer, this type of experimentation simply wouldn’t be possible. You just can’t whip up a chemical processing plant overnight like you can prototype an app.

Also, comparing every day life in software to this type of quick and dirty competition, it’s just so fun to be able to shed all process and structure and hack away. Don’t get me wrong, I love my day job, but it’s so liberating to be measuring progress in hours instead of days or weeks.

So Many Tools!

Over the course of this 20ish-hour hackathon, I played with the following tools and frameworks, many of which were new to me:

  • PHP
  • Java
  • IntelliJ IDEA
  • Apache Maven
  • Gradle
  • Spring
  • Realex Payments SDK
  • JSON
  • Xcode
  • Objective-C
  • Git
  • Heroku
  • XAMPP

I didn’t get too much deeper than a “Hello World” level on any of these, but at least now I have a rough idea of what they are and where I can find them if I ever need them in the future.

Pushing my Limits

I ended up staying up all night (other than a 15-minute catnap). I don’t remember the last time I operated on that little sleep. Including my full Friday workday at my regular job, I probably worked over 24 hours in a 36 hour period.

Yes, 8-hour workdays are long, but this hackathon showed me that if I need to, I’m fully capable of working some serious overtime in order to hammer something out. And that I can stay 100% sharp and focused, even on minuscule amounts sleep…

… on second thought, maybe I’ll take a little longer nap at my next hackathon.

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