LearnHackfests Are at the Heart of Creativity and Collaboration — and Beer Apps


Kelley King
writes on April 10, 2014

(Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.23rdstudios.com">23rdstudios|Paul Talbot</a>)

Quick Left of Boulder, Colo., hosted developers, designers and tech enthusiasts in January for a beerfest hackfest. During the three-hour hackfest, teams were tasked with designing beer-themed apps. One of the hacks was Beervision, which enabled users to take a photo of a beer that the app paired with a song based on the look of the beer. (Photo courtesy of 23rdstudios|Paul Talbot)

Problem solving is in Dan Mandle’s blood.

Years ago, Mandle converted a 2004 Volkswagen Golf from diesel to run on vegetable oil.

Today, the 26-year-old interactive developer for Movement Strategy in Boulder, Colo., downplays his work on the vegetable-oil-fueled VW but proudly cites the perks of such a solution.

“I got used vegetable oil from the university’s food services department and drove the car for free,” he says.

For Mandle, innovation is one of the reasons he enjoys working in development and design and showcasing his skills, especially at collaborative events like hackfests.

“I really like being able to think of new ideas and kind of throw stuff together to be able to create something that people can appreciate in such a small amount of time,” he says. “And, I also enjoy learning new technologies along the way.”

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Hackfests have become popular in recent years as the development and design community pits teams against one another to craft new and often unconventional technology.

The-Hackfest.com, based in the United Kingdom, organizes and lists national and international projects bringing attention to the diversity of events happening around the world.

According to the site’s manifesto:

Hackfests used to be the domain of coding geeks getting together to show off their talents. Whilst that remains the essential heart of a hackathon businesses are increasingly realizing their worth too — and grasping the opportunity with both hands.

Apple, Facebook and Google are just a few of the companies that have opened up their ecosystems and essentially outsourced innovation to the masses and have hundreds of thousands of developers and others building products for them on spec. These massive developer communities are helping them truly innovate.

From hours-long to days-long events, designers and business owners also turn to hackfests because they often showcase programmers’ talents or can be the impetus for bringing a new product to market.

Mandle regularly participates in hackfests hosted by Boulder’s Quick Left, a firm that specializes in custom app development and consulting. The quarterly events have featured projects like a beerfest hackfest, a Bike-Month hackfest and a lock-picking hackfest.

Mandle and his teammate, Brian Shaffer, have won several of the events and usually are at the core of the team but have worked with other developers depending on the challenge, he says.

For the team’s winning design in the Rube Goldberg Machine hackfest, they leveraged the GNIP Twitter Firehose API to watch for any Tweets that contained #RubeGoldbergStyle. Then, using the Twillio API, a phone call was placed and when answered, read aloud the seventh #RubeGoldbergStyle tweet. That then triggered another call to a phone hooked up to a Pebble watch, which vibrated down a ramp, fell into a container, hitting the enter button on the keyboard. That then stopped the timer and played the Looney Tunes’ “That’s All Folks” ending.

Events like hackfests provide opportunities for developers, designers and employers to mingle. (Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.23rdstudios.com">23rdstudios|Paul Talbot</a>)

Events like hackfests provide opportunities for developers and designers to mingle with employers. (Photo courtesy of 23rdstudios|Paul Talbot)

Another win for Mandle and his team included creating an app during Quick Left’s Bikes and Bytes hackfest that allowed cyclists to post what kind of ride they were taking on any day, whether road or mountain biking, to seek people with similar skills and plans.

“The cool thing about these is that they are borderline product ideas,” Mandle says. “We certainly could have turned to companies with the bike app and offered that as a product.”

Internet of Things Hackathon Finals

Mandle participated in the Internet of Things Hackathon Finals in Las Vegas. With his team, Mandle showcased their creation, Spotiparty. It is a social and collaborative jukebox that allows guests within a preset radius of the hub — an all-in-one PC — to join the party, add songs, up-vote and down-vote songs and rock out.

See a presentation by Team Spotiparty:

Quick Left began its hackfests when the company started in 2011, says Rachel Scott, director of marketing.

Scott says the events started as a means for Quick Left to host get-togethers, pulling in designers and developers seeking another creative outlet.

“Primarily this started as a community-centric event,” she says. “One part of becoming a developer in open-source communities is it’s amazing the information that is available to learn. The community is amazing in that it collaborates. Another reason we do the hackfests is that a lot of coders are not necessarily coding on something they want to [in their non-hackfest lives]. Whether it’s a financial application for a client or something like that. [Hackfests are] an avenue for them to have a creative outlet.”

Quick Left’s hackfests have grown over the years, usually drawing 100 to 200 developers, Scott says. Scheduling the events around promotions like Boulder Startup Week also brings attention from people not necessarily involved in design or development. During the May 12 Battle of the Games hackfest, Quick Left also will host a retro-gaming competition, in which participants can enjoy playing original NES, Super NES, Gameboy and more.

In addition to highlighting creative design and development or introducing people to the industry, firms also have used hackfests to identify new talent and creative prospective employees.

“Quick Left has hired at least five developers from the hackfests,” Scott says. “This is a vastly different industry in terms of recruitment and hiring. Hackfests are great from that perspective. They are great for new and seasoned developers and businesses.”

What Is a Hack?

For designers and developers, it is problem-solving with a clever or technical approach that can crack everyday or off-the-wall scenarios.

What Is a Hackfest?

Also known as a hackathon, hack day or codefest, these are events in which designers and developers collaborate on technical projects, often shedding their everyday personas to enjoy beer, pizza and energy drinks in a creative setting. The events usually start with one or more presentations about the project. Participants then suggest ideas and often form teams based on interest and skills. The main work of the hackfest then begins, lasting for several hours or days.

At conclusion of the hackfest, participants offer demonstrations and present results. The events often are judged by organizers or sponsors. Some firms host hackfests as recruitment events, seeking new designers and developers.

Quick Left Hackfest in Boulder, Colo.

Need an excuse to get creative in Colorado? Check out the next hackfest hosted by Quick Left from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on May 12. The event is a continuation of Quick Left’s popular quarterly hackfests that have seen designers and developers work a beerfest hackfest, a Bike-Month hackfest and a lock-picking hackfest.

On May 12, participants will be tasked with busting out their best hacked-together code with maze-solving, token-gathering and weapon-making skills as part of the Battle of the Games hackfest. Designers and developers can make their own adventure text games, tabletop games, MMOG or MUD games … all in three hours or less.

For more information or to register, visit http://quickleft.com/blog/battle-of-the-games-there-will-be-hackfest

Find a Hackfest

To learn more about hackfests in your area, search engines offer dates and details. Globally, The-Hackfest.com organizes and lists national and international projects bringing attention to the diversity of events happening around the world. Register at www.the-hackfest.com.


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One Response to “Hackfests Are at the Heart of Creativity and Collaboration — and Beer Apps”

  1. John Coffin on April 16, 2014 at 12:32 pm said:

    At work we have an annual codefest. It is a blast. Your article has inspired me to convince my coworkers to seek a local event that is not internal to a company.

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