Post-MHacks

What an awesome weekend.

Despite my best efforts to finish work ahead of time, I still had a lot to do to catch up after this weekend (including sleeping.. lots of it), which is why I haven’t had the chance to post until now. I’m a bit behind on my challenge, but no matter; two posts a day for the next three days will get me right back on track.

I read this really great quote about success yesterday:

Some parents are content asking their children, “Did you have a good day?” or “What did you learn at school?” Not at the Blakely household. The question Sara and her brother had to answer night after night was this: “What did you fail at today?” When there was no failure to report, Blakely’s father would express disappointment.

“What he [my father] did was redefine failure for my brother and me,” Blakely told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “And instead of failure being the outcome, failure became not trying. And it forced me at a young age to want to push myself so much further out of my comfort zone.”

Source

Spoiler: I didn’t win anything at MHacks. I didn’t even get to finish my main project. So here’s my theme for this post: What did I fail at during MHacks? What did I learn from those failures?

The very first thing I noticed when leaving was how bulky my pillow was. To streamline the flying process, I had opted to not take a carry on and instead boil down to the essentials and cram everything in my backpack. My pillow didn’t, so I decided to carry it. It’s made of memory foam, so it’s pretty thick, which made it bulky and difficult to carry, but I thought it’d be worth it. It’s like a gigantic sponge that sucks away your consciousness and blesses you the deepest of sleeps. After I experienced pretty uncomfortable sleep at HackGT without a pillow, I wanted my experience at MHacks to be a bit more luxurious. The pillow turned out to be totally worth it, but I didn’t know it at the time and I was constantly dropping it and letting it get in the way of everything so I made a mental reminder to take a carry on if my hands were going to be full anyways.

Failed at HackGT to bring a pillow. Learned to bring a pillow. Failed at MHacks by carrying a gigantic pillow so I wouldn’t overstuff my poor backpack. Learned to bring a carry on for the pillow so I wouldn’t overstuff my poor backpack. I printed out my boarding passes on paper when my electronic boarding pass on my phone works just fine (and I had a backup battery pack if my phone battery died). Waste of paper. Forgot to bring gloves, and my hands nearly froze solid waiting for the bus to pick hackers up from the airport.

Small things, inconsequential in their own situations, but they matter. Learning how to deal with small failures are a lot easier than dealing with bigger ones, and practicing the failing and learning process is necessary to deal with failures with bigger things. At least for me. Going in with this mentality allowed me to deal with the bigger ones later on in the weekend.

So, moving on to the bigger things.

We all met up at around 9PM on Friday evening – Dora, Vaishnavi, Bryan, Frederick, and I. It was a natural group here because the first three and I graduated from the same high school class, and Frederick was a talented hacker friend of Bryan’s. We all agreed to form a team to get together to work on our hacks.

After the Sponsor API expo and opening ceremonies, we all headed out to find a space to hack for the next 36 hours. It took us about 2 hours to settle in a spot, mostly because all the good spaces were already taken by teams who had gotten there earlier. Note to self: get hacking spaces at hackathons early.

We spent the next 6 hours throwing around ideas. Dora had some social networking ideas, and I had a list of different things saved in my Evernote ranging from calendar app reminding you of great things that happened in your life when you’re sad, to a voicemail to text app. The closest we got to agreeing on something that hadn’t EXACTLY been done before was a food app for college students that would suggest recipes based on inventory in local stores, cost range of the student, and cooking utensils available to the user (dorm residents like us may only have a microwave and refrigerator, while those in apartments have a full kitchen). But we quickly shot it down for not being truly original and just too difficult to pull off.

We only started to get stuff done when we relinquished the goal of trying to build a winning idea and instead focusing on finishing something smaller that would be satisfying to build.

So we ended up working on three projects – Dora and Vaishnavi on a Turmac Roll clone for iPhone, Bryan on a phrase guessing game for iPhone, and Frederick and I on a web application that would help users keep track of their extended family (born directly out of my frustration with my own ignorance of my extended family when I visited them over Winter Break).

Since Frederick was already well versed with Ruby on Rails for the backend, I hunkered down and began learning AngularJS, a frontend Javascript framework that would be ideal for the application we were building.

Halfway through the project we realized that the way we were writing our code made it almost impossible to couple together for the app. Frederick decided instead to work on an Android app and I remained working on learning Angular and implementing it for the web app. Because I didn’t have enough time to learn both Angular and a back-end software like Rails, I decided instead to opt for learning Firebase, a simpler way to manage data on the backend. I didn’t ultimately finish, but I learned a lot about web development. Mostly, how hard it is.

For the most part, we all remained close to each other throughout the hackathon, getting food for each other, reminding each other about event times, and helping debug each other’s code. However, our main work focused on our individual projects.

After the hackathon ended, I think we all realized how inferior in experience and knowledge we were in relation to the type of people who won. First place was an app that generated step-by-step instructions for any picture fed to it using Fourier series and on-the-cloud computing. Second place was a hack that broadcasted an Internet signal using FM Radio. Third place was a haptic feedback suit for the oculus rift. The rest of the top ten hacks and almost every single one of the prize-winning entires required technical talent, skill, or experience our team simply didn’t have. I was glad, after seeing all this, that we had all chosen to focus on what we truly enjoyed most.

As always, the biggest thing I got from the hackathon was motivation to become better. Achieving to implement even the bare bones of my web app was fulfilling enough to motivate me to work on it in my free time after the hackathon, which definitely wouldn’t have happened without the concentrated 36 hours, help from all the mentors, and the feeling of just being there with a thousand other people also working to build something they’ve wanted to build for a while.

Not shipping at MHacks may have been the biggest “failure” of my weekend, but going through the process, learning new software, making new friends and simply trying were my biggest achievements of the week.

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