Capital One has definitely moved all the way up there in my book for being a cool and innovative bank for sponsoring such a kick ass hackathon.
Here are the challenges:
Our team originally planned to build an app for millennials to help them save without really thinking about it or doing much. After surveying people around the neighborhood waiting for brunch and shopping at Whole Foods, we learned that millennials are either already saving religiously or just can’t/don’t save. (Read: They either wouldn’t use our app or didn’t need to.) We did learn, however, that 70% of the parents we interviewed who have trouble saving really wanted help with saving for their kids’ college tuition. So we pivoted from helping millennials save money to helping families kick their fear of finance.
Adam: Experienced back-end developer
Chao: Amazing designer – close friend and colleague of Will’s
David: Awesome designer/Research
Jenny (me): Back-end developer – since I worked on the front-end last hackathon
Justin: Strategist/Research – Product Manager by profession
Mike: Strategist/Research – Finance expert (not in picture)
Will: Android Super-Ninja – Boss by profession
Genius Fund (http://geniusfund.instapage.com/)
The Android app we built has a beautiful UI/UX designed to be like a fitness tracker focused on maximizing the user’s motivation to consistently hit their saving goals every day. We utilized the LevelMoney, Nexmo, and Plotly API’s. The back-end is built with Node.js, with pieces of pubnub, plotly, and many other things here and there. We are one of the few, if not only, team that built an Android app, which probably helped with us standing out.
Things We Tried to Do
Adam and I wanted to use Parse in the beginning so that we can have a cloud based app and wouldn’t have to use Heroku, but we ended up using Heroku because we already knew how to use it. I tried to integrate Pusher that I learned to use at Makers Academy and then PubNub that a senior dev recommended I check out, to get real time transaction updates, but it didn’t really work out. Plotly was successfully integrated by Adam, but we couldn’t it get looking beautiful, so we decided to not show that. We also planned to use Redis and MongoDB, but experience has proven that hackathons are great for making you choose what’s nice-to-have and what’s need-to-have. Though we learned a lot and were lucky to have a chill team, sticking to doing a few things with fewer tools as awesomely as possible is a more likely recipe for success.
Advice to Hackthon-Goers
- Justin and I rehearsed over 20 times starting 2 hours before our demo and got a consistent 2 minutes 45 second timing. Our presentation ended up getting to 5 minutes and we didn’t even get to do our super cute team high-five+knee-pop that we rehearsed. I cannot stress rehearsing and expecting your demo to take 1.5 ~ 2x the canned rehearsal time enough.
- When unsure of which languages or tools to use, go with the tools the more experienced programmer(s)’ expertise.
- Have a designer. Even better to have 2. Seriously. I read on a blog somewhere while researching for my first hackathon to join a team with a designer and this advice has held very valid for both hackathons I’ve attended.
- At least skim over the API’s even if you have no idea what you’re doing or looking at. Both hackathons I’ve attended had more than 5 API’s + tools involved. Though you don’t really know which ones would be relevant until you form a team and have some sort of idea, the more you can prepare ahead of time, the better off a start you’re at, of course. I’m already a newbie, so I can’t afford to be even more behind by neglecting my due diligence.
- Make an account on the platform the hackathon provides for finding team mates early. I filled out my profile and information as much as possible. Photo is a must; skills for sure. It shows you care. Obviously.
- A strategist/PM reached out to me 1-2 days before the event. I ask if it’s okay if I’m a junior developer, and they always say, “Not a problem at all. We’re all here to learn and make new friends.” Deniz, from my first/previous hackathon reached out to my 2 days ahead of time; and Justin, reached out to my the day before. They were both incidentally the only PM/strategists that reached out to me. I always joined their team. Joining the PM that reaches out to you, alone, may be a good enough sign you’re going to have a good time.
- I’m new at programming, but I’m not ashamed or sorry about it. Be open about it and if people don’t look insanely busy or stressed, ask questions and ask for help. We’re all here to learn, and I realized that I actually taught some of the experienced engineers I worked with something new.
- PAY ATTENTION. Check important links immediately, and write important shit down. Don’t assume all the slides and information would be provided for sure. For example, the other team who shared the co-working space after 9pm with us totally panicked when they couldn’t find the API link that they wanted to base their whole app on on Saturday EVENING. The link on the handout didn’t actually link to the API. It was briefly presented at the kick off of the event, and I was the only one who noted it down in both teams. Someone even asked if the kickoff slides would be shared, after they realized they neglected to note some pretty important information like API keys and how to access the non-public API’s, and the organizers said yes, but I’m still totally unaware of how or where those slides are shared.
- Devs, don’t be precious with your code. There were no problems on our team, but it seems the more precious people are with their stuff – be it code, designs, names, features, ideas – the harder time they have when pivots are made. And there are always pivots. Always.
Unimportant Important Stuff
- Nexmo t-shirts are top-notch. Do not pass up a chance to grab one. THEY. ARE. SO. SOFT. The design is great too. I feel more cool than like a walking billboard.
- The food Capital One provided is also top-notch. Best food I’ve had at a tech event. Thai food for the kick-off on Friday. YES ASIAN FOOD. I ate two plates and forgot to take photos. Anything that isn’t pizza and beer just makes me really happy nowadays.
- PCH has an amazing space. Front cafe is across the street and the outdoor space is fantastic.
Pics or they didn’t happen:
Experience & Thoughts
I’m not exactly sure why I’m always so lucky. First hackathon, amazing experience. It made me want to go to MORE hackathons as soon as possible. This hackathon is my second, and yet another AMAZING team.
I worked on the front-end at my previous hackathon, so I thought it would be good to pop over to the back-end side this time. Trying to work with Will to build an Android app may also be biting off more than I can chew, but getting some exposure to Node.js and learning from Adam was manageably challenging.
Having many Capital One people at the event was extremely helpful. Ron Secrist (like Ryan Seacrest), Toby Russell, and Lin Yang was essential to the insights we came up with for building initial idea and pivot. It was also a great feeling to know that there was someone from all the featured technical partners with featured API’s. I particularly enjoyed speaking with Tim from Nexmo and Gregor from LevelMoney.
Some of the API’s were still in development, and I noticed a lot of engineers struggling to figure out which API(s) to use. I met one engineer who was trying to figure out which API to use Saturday morning. It would have also been really cool if we could:
- make some transactions and move money around
- more/real data – we couldn’t use our personal accounts even if we were willing to; we integrated plotly but because of the limited data, the charts didn’t look that cool
- work with more banks – not everyone uses Capital One
- allow us to create some fake user accounts – so that we can perhaps involve money and people, since it is called the People and Money Hack
This hackathon is not an all-nighter style hackathon, which I am thankful for, and it worked out alright. We just went to co-working spaces after 9pm, which PCH closes, so that worked out pretty well for our team and one other team. Another way how having social, personable team members provided a very practical advantage. We worked until 2am on Friday and 12/1am (daylight savings!) Saturday evening. This helped the team well rested and fresh the whole time.
Results are going to be announced soon – gotta go!
We won 2nd place for Kicking the Fear of Finance!!!
1st Place for Money for Millennials: Sway – SO AWESOME. Should definitely check this one out. His presentation skills were on point, too.
1st Place for Kicking the Fear of Finance: SaveSense
Didn’t catch the second place winner for Kicking the Fear of Finance, but I feel honored to rank amongst these teams and individuals and humbled by what these teams have built over the weekend. I’m pumped for my next hackathon!