PalmBeach Tech Hackathon competition

Knowledge, like air, is vital to life. And like air, no one should be denied it.

I have spent a lot of my tech career learning to do something from nothing and finding solutions to technical problems that benefit myself and others. It has been a rocky road and has had its ups and downs but there are moments in my career that have made pivotal changes in my career. Starting a career in technology or trying something new with tech is always a mixture of exciting, terrifying, and educational. Trying new things can be scary. What makes it worth while are the memories and meaningful relationships that come from those experiences. I pride myself on my ability to adapt abruptly to situations around me. Joining Palm Beach Tech Space’s first Hackathon in 2016 is definitely one of the events in my life that will go in my book if I ever write one. Here are some takeaways I learned about people, programming, and patience, during the weekend of the Hackathon.

The Palm Beach Tech Space in downtown West Palm Beach FL. is a great community that I found while roaming through my meetups app trying to find a group of tech-minded individuals who I can hang out with weekly. I knew that I needed to find some way to stay focused in my studies and still have fun, so why not meet with like-minded individuals that would help me flex my tech knowledge and keep my skills sharp with the growth of technology. As a somewhat blind fan of 501(c) non-profit organizations I figured I would give it a try and maybe be a member of the board after learning a lot and be able to contribute to the county that raised me (high expectations for a young padawan like myself). The first initial review of my feelings towards the Palm Beach Tech Space can actually be found in their About section on their website (link below). The people really do focus on working with businesses in the area to provide solutions to businesses in the area from their talent pool of awesome people like Joe Russo (executive director) and Jeremy Lawson of Cosmic Strawberry

The Pleasure of the people

Going into something blind without optimism and an open mind only leads to time wasted and feelings being hurt. I have learned this over the years and made sure to remind myself of that. With that in mind I walked into the Palm Beach tech space late (due to an issue at work) and with a vision of how friendly people may be and how optimistic I should be even though I wasnt confident in my skills and knew that I couldnt code my way out of a paper box. My wordpress skills were as good as any random search on stack overflow and my php skills were are good as the hello world script I created that day during my lunch break, but I didnt let that stop me from finding defensive mechanisms to get others to talk about them so I dont have to talk about my skills.

None of that matter when I met Jeremy. He approached me with a handshake and a “Damn your pretty tall”. When he explained that he had just finished discussing the ins and outs of the hackathon and whats about to happen I realized that hes not just a random guy that gives handshakes, hes one of the people who helped with the organization of the Hackathon (a key player). I wasnt expecting someone that big of a player to say hi to me or tell me more aobut his business and other people in the area. That night when I left i felt more confident that if people like him were in charge then I wouldn’t have trouble talking to others or getting work done.

The next day, Day 1 of the hackathon, I was grouped up with a small group of people, who I would later learn were the best group to be a part of.

Hackathon Days One and Two

The first day had started and the Hackathon was underway. Ill try and break down rules and regulations from memory. The hackathon had a list of 3 different projects that non profit companies needed assistances with. It was up to you and your group to come up with a group name and assist in building 1 of the 4 projects. The winner with the best solution to a project would win 1st place. The three projects consisted of the following:

  • Create a self-guided tour for the Loxahatchee River Center
  • Create a way to capture guest feedback for the South Florida Science Center
  • Create a way to track the results of the River Center’s 2017 Jr Angler Fishing Tournament
  • Create your own idea to benefit both organizations PB Hackathon Solutions

Halfway through Day 1 we had a member of the Hackathon Leave halfway through, which at first was understood because he had to handle a family related issue. We soon realized that when he left he had also left the development environment that we were all writing our code to and the tools we were all using to try and get things done. I had gone halfway through created a login page with HTML. A simple page with text fields that took me way to long to get done. When Miguel (his name may have been something else but my memory evades me as I write this) left us we had to change our project. We chose to Create a way to track the results of the River Center’s 2017 Jr Angler Fishing Tournament, but now, it had become a crisis of, find a solution to get back to finding a solution. Each member of our team had a unique set of skills (not as unique as Liam Neeson but still pretty sharp). Melanie had skills as a C++ developer. Denis had skills in mobile development with IOS and swift, and Ed was a jack of many trades with skills in Xampp and web development. Myself, a Linux enthusiast with some front end and little backend skills in Wordpress and PHP. Since we quickly got together and agreed to follow Miguel and Melanie’s leadership by working in miguels docker container and going on breaks every 2 hours to to discuss progression and keep continuity with our goals and projects,

The principles of Programming

I decided to take initiative and propose that we switch the project from a text and type in notepad project to a Wordpress project allowing us all to work together on a project that we can check together in an interactive manner. During one of our break sessions I quickly spent 99 cents on a domain and used my Godaddy Linux server and domain expertise to whip up a Wordpress server on the new domain and add each of my teammates to it. In my thinking I could convince them to make the switch on the next break out session and show them how easy it would be since I already did all the heavy lifting… and it worked! We were quickly on our way to a new development environment that we can all work on together. I took the principles of web desing and development that I new from the knowledge I had leared about designing web apps and websites to lead me through the smoke. Wordpress is an easy blogging platform with prebuilt plugins we can use to create a light database for the participants in the tournament. It is already responsive enough for user to be able to use on their mobile devices when they are out on a boat fishing, and its content management structure should make it easy to build or find a plugin to display a point system for catching and collecting fish. Wordpress is also used on 1/3 of all the sites in the world and has documentation thats easy enough for whoever was going to manage the site to understand and apply changes. Most people on my team had prior knowledge of wordpress and considered it an “easy way out” which lead me to believe that as a last ditch effort we would be smart enough to get it together if needed, and it fit for our situation.

Day two arises and we still have no product to show. I quickly turned that around and found a way to focus on finding the right theme and plugins for wordpress that the others can use to help add users and give a demo of the application that we were going to present. During another one of our break out sessions we realized quickly that we didnt have to show a working solution we just had to show a solution. If we could do that and impress the judges we can then focus on the actual project if the non-profit likes what we did.

The Patience in problem solving

My front end experiences, with the assistances of Dennis, my backend experience, with the experience of Ed, and the overall structure and presentation of the structure (the backbone of the entire project) was delegate and designed by Melanie. If they didn’t go with my idea to switch to Wordpress I would have gladly heard other opinions but in a limited time frame and the wealth of knowledge we had together, we were able to win 3rd place. Our breakout sessions allowed us to be patient with each other and focus on different aspects of the project so that there was no confusion or concentration on the clock that was ticking in our minds. We not only won 3rd place but we attracted the River Centers attention and the Hackathon lead to creating a friendship with this team and meeting at the Loxahatchee River center and discussing the project in further detail.

Excerpt from Hackathon Site

1st Place: Rick Blalock

Created an application featuring a virtual tour and customer feedback system for the River Center & Science Center utilizing IBM Watson. View Project

2nd Place: Rich Andrews, Rishi Gohil, and Divyang Purohit

This team of FAU graduate students & graduates created an interactive Facebook chat bot using ChatFuel for the Science Center. View Project

3rd Place: Melanie Kafka, Denis Zabavchik, Tedley Meralus, and Ed Janeczek

These “Wordpress Weekend Warriors” created a website and full blown iPhone application to help easily manage the River Center’s 2017 Junior Angler Tournament.

A special thanks goes to the Palm Beach Tech Hackathon Committee:

Jeremy Lawson, Cosmic Strawberry Edgar Garcia, HedgeCoVest Jason Thomas, Thoughtly Damian Montero, Nebular Paul Vedder, VX IT Joe Russo, Palm Beach Tech Melinda Velasquez, Science Center Kristina Holt, Science Center And a huge thanks to our sponsors:

Cosmic Strawberry City of West Palm Beach Comcast Arrow Consulting & Designs Palm Beach Code School Levatas Florida, Power, & Light MyTaskIt Subculture Coffee

In conclusion, if you are having any second thoughts about trying something new or want to grow in the career your in, or just interested in making friends, you should step out of your comfort zone and try your hands at something new. Being a part of the hackathon has not only boosted my confidence in web development but has shown me new ways to structure my ideas and turn them into solutions for other people. Login to the meetups app and try something new, I promise you wont regret it.

More blogs coming soon.