The first Chamonix hackathon!

This weekend saw the first Chamonix hackathon happen in Chamonix Sud and the soon-to-be-launched Ski Locker co-working space! The concept was to get a bunch of us cham geeks together over a weekend and see what we could build that would benefit the people in the Chamonix valley. Everyone that wanted to take part headed to The Jekyll Friday evening to go through a few ideas over some beers and nachos. By the end of the evening we had three clear ideas to mull overnight individually and decide on what to actually build on Saturday morning.

Saturday

The Saturday morning was typical Chamonix style. A proposed 8 o’clock start time saw me stumble in at quarter past nine to see Patrik getting set up. My first priority was breakfast provisions; a quick trip to the boulangerie for croissants, pain au chocolat et du lait was in order (I treated myself to a pain au chocolat aux amandes. Cheeky)

Jacques had arrived upon my return, so we all started bouncing thoughts around for the first project – an app for bus and public transport times around the Chamonix valley. Although the Chamonix bus website has had a recent update, it’s still not possible to do some of our key use cases easily, such as know how to get to a particular place in the valley.

Hibri and Shankar showed up over the course of the next hour so that, by midday, there were five of us discussing how best to tackle our chosen problem. It was also around then that Petter arrived, who brought the beer, crisps, and coffee and was happy to start with just tidying up after a bunch of IT nerds…

We split up to tackle different parts of the app that needed to be built or designed: identifying data structures, front end interface, user experience and data processing as the components that needed to be worked on in order to produce an MVP by the end of the weekend….

A day of discussion and coding saw two of us work on some complex timetable data modelling and geolocation, one work intensively on an angular.js + Cordova frontend, and three of us trying to conceptualise a simple but complete front end for potential users of the system.

The whole day was an interesting experience, with different opinions being expressed, assumptions being proven wrong and unknown complexities springing from what we had thought were well considered ideas.

Despite that, everyone worked hard and an evening pitstop in Monkey Bar for burgers, fish n chips, satay and more revitalised us for a late night charge.

And during all of this time, Petter put in a lot of work to make the ski locker co working space a reality and bring it to life, planning the floor layout, looking into office equipment and coming up with the basic structure for a website.

Sunday

After a tasty, energising English breakfast at L’Atelier Café and another relaxed Chamonix start to the morning, I got to the Ski Locker not-too-early on Sunday to find Patrik and Jacques already deep in the code. I had seen on our chat rooms that people had been working into the night. Patrick had put a mammoth stint in, only leaving the Ski Locker at 2a.m.!!

It’s always amazing to see how much progress can be made on a technical project in a couple of hours; when I’d left on Saturday night, there were some initial steps in functionality, but nothing had been hooked together, and there certainly wasn’t any semblance of a functioning app. But when Patrik took me through things on Sunday, I was blown away. All of Jacques and Hibri’s data work had been fully integrated into Patrik’s Angular app, and there was a proper workflow through the app to select the start and end of a bus journey in Chamonix!

And this awesome effort is what hackathons are all about.

So an afternoon of intense productivity drew to a close. A lot of work was done to consider how to hook up all of the aspects of data and functionality. Some serious thought on design and user experience had been done by Shankar and Eystein as well, with sheets of paper with sketches and rough workflows strewn all over a desk. Unfortunately, it was not possible to get any of this into the app itself over the weekend, but it can easily feedback into tightening up the app for a proper release. Personally, I have had a very mixed day, having worked on pulling together a template for the Ski Locker website (okay, so I set up a base line from a template downloaded from Creative Market), I had some input on the UX discussions, I was a beer bunny later on, and I also had an epic day on Ingress, pushing forward the cause and levelling up in the process.

Possibly my favourite conversation over the weekend was, as we were leaving for the Jekyll on Sunday evening: Petter: “We might need to fix the data a bit”, Jacques: “Well, we’ve already fixed the data quite a bit..”

The app framework meant that a finished version could be installed on both Android phones and iPhones, so a few of us loaded up the app and we decamped to the Jekyll for Sunday Ribs (I was the sole attendee who opted for spicy sauce over barbecue sauce….) We all had a play with the app and chatted about what we thought of the weekend. The overall opinion was positive, but it’ll be a hard thing to replicate, given the many distractions interests people can find in Chamonix. A hackathon is perhaps the poor relation in a comparison against skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, mountaineering, paragliding, or cycling. But everyone that came was committed for at least some of the event, so it does bode well for future hackathons.

Downsides? I would consider the single most disappointing aspect to the weekend the lack of pizza. As in none. I’m dumbfounded as to how that happened. Pizza is as integral to a hackathon as milk is to Reblochon. So this is the area that needs the most improvement next time around!  Perhaps a mention of being holed up in a basement for a weekend of beautiful autumnal weather is worth a passing mention, but that is part and parcel of a hackathon, n’est pas?

Favourite tune of the weekend? That and freak out award goes to Eys’s suggestion “My horse is amazing”. (It is one of those NSFW vids)