Here's What It's Like To Build A Software Program Over The Weekend

hero app

Photo: Boonsri Dickinson, Business Insider

10 years ago, it was cool to work on Wall Street. But today it seems, everyone wants to build the next Facebook.Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg described the “hacker way” in the IPO filing. Others who have experienced the hacking culture, describe it as an environment in which engineers are encouraged to move fast and be bold.

But what does it really feel like?

After spending 20 hours at AngelHack, the largest hackathon in the nation, we discovered it’s not as glamorous as The Social Network made it seem.

It was a crash course into what it takes to build a product from scratch. 

Armed with a monster team, including famous hacker George Hotz and a Facebook engineer, we built an app called “Hero Me.” It determines your intelligence level, your fitness level, and your charisma based on your Runkeeper, Klout, and Foursquare accounts. 

The drama began Saturday morning when our team assembled. They were:

  • George Hotz is a true hacker, best known for hacking into the Sony Playstation, but he’s also worked at Google and Facebook. He said it was the first time he had come to a hackathon weekend like this. (We hacked with him before, but that was only for a few hours.)
  • Todd Perry used to work at Facebook and has done work for Quora. Perry is an expert on the coding culture in Silicon Valley.
  • Roger Pincombe, an experienced developer who flew in from Atlanta, took charge. He had been brainstorming and had his pitch clearly thought out: make it easy to make apps. No one else was buying it though.
  • Pascal Levy-Garboua, a French entrepreneur, quietly listened in.
  • Will Bunker, co-founder of the largest dating site, which later became Match.com, came to see how he could help out. Bunker suggested an algorithm for love.
  • Clint Hill, a user interface engineer at Facebook, joined us. He started at Facebook six weeks ago, fresh from Kansas City, Missouri.
  • Chris York, a designer who worked for health startups such as 100Plus and WellnessFX.

Read on to see what happened next→

It took about three hours to come up with our first idea: making an app that would let anybody build a program.

Then Hall and Hotz began arguing about Phonegap, a service that lets you can take HTML code and turn it into any kind of app. It got quite philosophical:

Hotz kept saying that nothing we were suggesting was innovative enough.

He was right. But it depends on how you define novelty.

“I want to optimise for winning,” Hotz said.

Tension was building in the room as we couldn’t settle on an idea. That’s when 24-year-old York burst in. He had been looking for a team to join, so he asked if he could pitch his idea. York said he wanted to build an app that can turn your online activities into a game. It would score your activities and then motivate you to improve certain aspects of your life.

It seemed like a manageable idea, so we all agreed to build it.

However, Pincombe was stubborn and preferred to work on his own idea. So he walked out.

“You just have to divide and conquer, you don’t have time to debate,” York said. 

Hotz and Perry worked on the back end. York worked on the design. And Hall, who was working on the user interface, emerged as the leader of the group.

As the sun began to set, team members who didn’t feel involved began to drop out. Bunker left because he wanted to spend the rest of the weekend with his kids. Perry left and decided he didn’t want to come back on Sunday. Hotz had to pick a friend up from the airport and he said he might come back for day two. 

The rest of the team went home around 9 pm. 

Hall stayed at the hackathon until 3 am.

So how did it all turn out?→

Hero app

Photo: Boonsri Dickinson, Business Insider

Hall, York, and Levy-Garboua were the only ones to show up on Sunday.

We began to scope our competition. We were competing against three Pinterest related ideas: Tweetdeck for Pinterest freaks, Pinterest for the enterprise, and hot or not for Pinterest. We thought our idea was better.

That’s what happens once you start building out an idea. You grow to love it, and then you start to think that it is amazing.

York had been thinking more about what our app means.

“The words that we chose were adventure, charisma, intelligence, and they resonate strongly with people. Adventure… a lot of people in Silicon Valley go on crazy travel trips. Everyone tries to have an interesting life,” York said.

Charisma… Steve Jobs used to electrify a crowd and people here want to be rock stars. Intelligence…everything is about intelligence. People are trying to outsmart each other. It’s a knowledge economy, so intelligence is the most important asset in this economy,” he added.

In the end, the design looked like a retro video game.

But it still didn’t work. The data from Runkeeper, Foursquare, and Klout weren’t plugged in. It just looked pretty. We couldn’t do the heavy lifting without Hotz and Perry.

Finally, it was 8 pm and it was time to demo our app to judges.

It was nerve-wracking to present our idea to a panel of judges, with $75,000 in prizes at stake. 

Here’s how that came out:

We were happy that we got to see an idea turn into a working app, even though we didn’t win.

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