Its been a while since I last posted from a series of a lot of posts. However, I’m here to talk about my experience at Code Michigan 2014! So sit down and save some time to read how it was.
Going into Code Michigan 2014, there we team jump ins and drop outs for backend development. By backend development, I mean anything beyond HTML, CSS and JS. Anything past those is spooky and scary to me because I’m a UI guy. So we had a full team up until the last person dropped out due to work related issues. That being sad, the idea we all came up with had to be narrowed down to something quick and easy that a designer and a developer could do in a weekend. So after a few sit downs and meetings, we came up with the idea of Kid Karma.
**Spoiler Alert **
Here’s the video for a short view
I’m just going to explain what it was we did as a team. The app is called Kid Karma. A points system in which kids could earn points for doing good deeds. This could be cleaning your room, having good manners at the table and any other good deed. The points can be redeemed for non-monitary rewards such as extra time playing video games or watching TV. The main concept being to reward good deeds with good deeds and not have to spend money. Something even low income families could do. Afterall, this was geared towards the state of Michigan! The idea is to change the childs behavior, enforce positive habits and built character.
To make sure we used a Michigan API, we chose the Michigan Schools. The use would be when someone enters their childs profile, they choose what school they go to. The app would then take the Good Deed information along with points received and push it back to a database to collect it all. This database would show what schools have kids participating in Kid Karma as well as how good they are doing in the app. The hope is that the school would have on record the number of incidents schools have with children. They could track how well someone is doing on the Kid Karma app and then compare it to behaviors at school. If they child does well then it’ll show in school.
Back to the weekend! Also a reminder, I am a UI Designer, so my role in this entire weekend was that of a UI and even UX Designer.
Friday, October 3rd – Game Time
I drove downtown after work to make it in time for the opening remarks. Of course there was construction on Woodward, so I had to drive around it to make it to the Detroit Opera House parking garage. As I was walking in, I could hear others talking about app ideas. Awesome! People were showing up! It was held at the Grand Circus, 4th floor in downtown Detroit. I signed in on the bottom floor and got my swag of a t-shirt, sticker and lanyard. I also signed in my teammate since he would be showing up tomorrow morning. I took the elevator up and stepped into a familiar place. This is where I spent weekends at my previous 2 hackathons, Code Michigan 2013 and Startup Weekend Detroit 5 (2014). I also spoke here at two meetups for Refresh Detroit and Metro Detroit WordPress User Group. It was a good familiar place and I felt pretty comfortable there. I found a table to claim my own for the weekend.
After the opening remarks, dinner was served! Mexican food from some place I didn’t ask about. It was pretty decent. I’d regret it later that night. After dinner I started on sketching stuff down and creating wireframes. My teammate had some rough ideas he did earlier in the day that took him a few hours. So by generous hackathon ethics, I didn’t even look at them until exactly that time frame after the event started. There was lots of talks with volunteers and other people about my idea and it seemed to get good reception! I finished up all my sketches and a volunteer came by and as I told him the idea, it turns out another idea simliar to that has already been created! So I had to check it out for myself. After going through it, it seemed to be more chore based and had some bad UX moments from just signing kids in. It was a pretty cool app and I may use it myself, however the idea that good deeds deserve good deeds was the motto. Monetary gain was not what we wanted to express in our app, so I continued!
The night slowly died down as people started to pack up and go home for the night, while the meager few stayed awake at their computers doing there thing. I kept up by listening to an audiobook by Scott Sigler called “Nocturnal”. Its a fantastic listen and I’m near the end of it! I remember buying that book for my wife thinking it was about vampires, but from what I know so far its not even close to vampires. I spent that Friday night completing the UX of everything along with the wireframes and putting everything into an interactive low-fi rendition of it in Axure. Man I love Axure!
The time was around 2:30am and I figured I’d try to get some sleep. The area had half the lights off and only 3 people were awake working that I spotted. I had an umbrella just in case it rained. I found a spot in the hallway that actually had some sort of carpeting and opened my umbrella to block out the hallway light and laid it on the floor. I used the tshirt I got as a pillow and put my hoodie down and attempted to sleep. I think I finally fell asleep at 3:30am and awoke at 4:15 in pain. Floors suck. I noted to self, go home and get pillow and blanket. Make sure to also bring inflatable mattress next year. I sat up and decided, sleeping wasn’t in the cards tonight. I was able to wake up within a minute or two. Apparently sleeping on the floor gives me no reason to sleep in! This is probably a good thing for a hackathons, or if I have to get up super early in the future for anything. So back to the table I went!
The lights were still off in my section of the room. A guy near me was playing some old soul and jazz music. It was soothing and I was hoping he turned it up. After he noticed me awake and working, he asked if it was bothering me. Nope! I told him I was about to ask if he could turn it up! So I got to hear some nice jazz from about 5 to 6:30am. Then I decided I wanted to stream the channel 7 news online to see what was going on outside this building I spent the past 12 hours in. I spent the entire morning creating visual look of the main app. Breakfast was scheduled for 8 but showed up around 9:30 to eat. It was quiche and banana bread and muffins. I was hoping for pancakes and bacon. I never had a quiche before so I tried it annnnd I very politely spit it in my napkin, tossed the rest and took a few more pieces of banana bread. Did I mention I’m an ultra picky eater? I am!
I got a call around 10:30 from my team mate saying he just got home from last night and was ready to come up. Knowing I was in a funk, I decided to upload all my stuff to google drive and head home for some shut eye. It was a fuzzy drive home and as soon as I got there I fell asleep like a rock for 2 hours. I woke up to a quiet house and a phone call to get back in the game. Eric drove by to pick me up since parking costs were bad and it was just easier that way.
We drove back downtown to get back to our app and get it finished before the end of the day so we could get onto the video. When we got back we set up our gear for the day. I walked into the kitchen area to get something to drink when Tammy, the head go to person, introduced me to Maggie Durant. Maggie is the Co-Founder of Circuit Learning and occupied one of the spaces in the floor below us at the Grand Circus. It was cool going down there and talking to her about Circuit Learning as well as the Kid Karma idea. We both had the same mission of helping kids better themselves in life!
Back to the grind! After setting everything up and reconnecting finally on a one on one basis it was dinner time. What was on the menu? Dangerously Delicious Pies. We both tried the BBQ pie and from the taste, it just wasnt right. I’m a bit of a picky eater, so I stick with meat, cheese and potato things. I love BBQ so I figured this would be up my alley. Unfortunately, it was very bland BBQ. The crust was excellent though so I know these guys are doing something right. I plan on going back for some of their dessert pies thats for sure. After a few bites and not eating the rest, we decided to head to cheli’s chili for some burgers. Mmmmm Burgers.
Grand Circus time! It was starting to get dark and we were on the edge of finishing it all up. I polished off the badges and icons while Eric put the finishing touches on the layout. I started up a storyboard of how our video would look and what it’d say. I got to work and opened up After Effects after what seemed to be years since college. I stumbled a bit and had to google things here and there, but it all slowly fell into place to get what I needed done. Between 9pm and 1am I put together a quick simple video that just needed to be dubbed.
We were looking to get some quiet, so we went down a floor level to record audio. The first take matched up nearly perfectly to my voice, so little animation editing was needed. Next up was getting it all done with Eric. He was still working on a few things so I went up to the floor we started on and feel asleep in the hallway. This time I brought my pillow and a blanket so I didn’t have to lay on the hard floor. At about 3am I finally got to sleep. A beautiful 2 hours later I woke up at 5am refreshed and ready to get at it. I went back down to the 3rd floor where Eric was passed out sleeping. After waking him up, we recorded the walk through process.
It took a while to use the laptop to record and get a good view of him displaying it all. We probably should of done a screen capture, but where was the fun in that? This is solid working proof!! After a few attempts, we got the video done and I added into the main video! Now it was the true test. Rendering video! I was smart enough to make sure to render every 5 minutes so there wouldn’t be any major issues at the end. However, it had to spend a good 15 minutes rendering a few times before we got the video ready for youtube. Pretty fast I’d say.
During the rendering time, we had random people stopping by and we were chatting it up about our apps. Just when it was about done rendering, a guy pointed out that there was another app that did something similar. We knew earlier, but it still stung just a bit. Afterall, we had this idea for so long and thought it was one of a kind! We weren’t phase though, the show must go on! We were able to finish out the video and post it to youtube! We’re finished! All we had to do was submit everything and we were good to go. We did that with just an hour and a half to go!
Now came the waiting game! Breakfast was served of what was mostly Bacon and eggs. Well, thats the only thing I really ate. Bacon! The rest of the morning was just spent talking with other people and watching videos online to pass the time. Later at around 1pm they started to gather everybody to the main TV as the judges went to go decide who would win. Everybody talked a bit about their app and then they showed their video.
By the time it was my turn, I was so spent I’m not quite sure what I said. I’m sure it related to the app somehow though. At least I hope it did. Then a raffle was on for a Nexus tablet. Who won it? Eric won it! So he is now the proud owner of an awesome tablet.
After what seemed like a while, they gathered us back up and announced the winners of the Marquette location. The first place winner there was a grave locator app. We were still waiting for Newaygo, so they dropped the winners for the Detroit location. Third place was a michigan trivia app, second place was a scrapyard theft app and the first place was a challenge idea for a farm to table app. They were all pretty good apps. There was another half hour wait for Newaygo to get their winners together and they finally got into a google hangout. It was about 3:30pm and everybody was beat tired. The winners for our location were already announced and the only thing worth hanging around was to hopefully see the Detroit location take the grandprize.
It seemed like the other location had no idea what was going on from our view as we were staring at a blank room for a few minutes, only to see a few people come in and say they didn’t make a decision yet and they’ll come back. The TV went off. At that point, running off 4 or 5 hours of sleep and some people running off none, half the place just started to clear out. Everything was supposed to have been done by now and for those tired people, it wasn’t worth sticking around. The Detroit Lions T game was letting out soon and the Tigers game was about to begin. Traffic downtown was a nightmare and it was about to get 10 times worse if we stuck around. Most people had the idea of being tired and waiting to hear someone else win along with traffic, wasn’t a good way to end the weekend.
We never did find out how Kid Karma did or what we could of done better. I planned on sticking around, but if the judges knew there was an app similar to ours that was already out? The old saying goes “Don’t assume because you make an Ass out of U and Me”. It was safe to assume, we already knew why the judges didn’t pick us to win. We were fine with that and we were just looking to get some sleep.
What we learned is that Code Michigan is a great time and a fun time. Its an awesome experience. In order to win, it seems that you need an idea that could benefit the state of Michigan directly tomorrow. Of course its a civil hackathon and the idea is to help the state of Michigan, but being creative people we like to go beyond that. We like to think of ideas that can help the morale of the state as well as the state of life.
Overall, it was a great experience and I might just go for a third round. For now though, I’m glad I went and will dream about the next hackathon or my next big project.