Behind the Code: HackVAN

Hacking in Style at A Thinking Ape

Last weekend Vancouver, BC played host to the HackVAN hackathon.  HackVan brought together developers, designers and create people from across Canada to spend eight hours coming up with some crazy ideas and getting them prototyped.  Twilio was one of many platform companies that were supporting this event, including Microsoft, Yellow Pages, Freshbooks, PhoneGap and several others.

HackVAN was organized by Boris Mann of IQMetrix and was held at the offices of A Thinking Ape in the Gastown district of Vancouver.  HackDays has posted their recap of the event, but I thought I’d take a moment to highlight a couple of really cool people I met at the event and why I think hackathons are so important.

Getting a Call from the Angry Mum

I met Godfrey Chan early on at HackVAN and I think it’s fair to say he’s a pretty unassuming person.  But his demo and presentation at the end of the day had me rolling on the floor laughing.  His app? Angry Mum.  It’s a service that allows you to schedule alarms, but here’s the catch: there’s no snooze button.  You have to answer a simple question (1+1=?) and if you answer incorrectly your mom (or guardian of choice) is immediately notified.  Hence the name “Angry Mum”.

Beyond coming up with a hilarious idea, Godfrey wrote a great app that was written in Rails and had a completely responsive design that looked great on both PCs and mobile devices.  I think it’s great when people let themselves be creative, have fun and focus more on building cool technology demos than worrying about business models and monetization.

Hardware is the New Black

Alejandro Hernández was dubbed the “hardware guy” because he brought an Arduino with him to HackVAN.  This happened to be his first hackathon, and I’m really happy he enjoyed himself.  I’ve been writing software for 16 years, and I have little to no experience with hardware, robotics or mechanical engineering.  I think this is true for most developers, especially those who started post-Internet.  Hearing Alejandro talk about the things you could do with an Arduino was really exciting and it made me realize what a black box hardware is and how much innovation could flourish if more companies built platform for people to build on.

More Coding For More People in More Places

Thanks to Boris from IQMetrix and Kenshi & Sonia from A Thinking Ape for a great event!

Towards the end of the event, I was asked to share my thoughts on why Twilio supports hackathons.  My answer was simple: Twilio is only what people make of it, and hackathons are the perfect place to validate that our platform is as powerful and easy to get started with as we think it is.  I personally love hackathons because they offer evidence at that the barriers to using technology keep falling and how creativity, drive and imagination are become more and more important.  I was told repeatedly that Vancouver is turning a corner in terms of being a great place for technology and startups, and if HackVAN is any indication that is definitely the case.