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AngelHack London 2016- Explor-ing the Possibilities

Shane Gryzko is a Canadian software engineer living in London who loves traveling, cycling, coding, user experience, and, of course, hackathons. Read about his adventures at ShaneG.ca!

Last weekend, I went to AngelHack London. This was my third hackathon. Unlike my previous hackathons, I decided to go in with an idea this time.

The Prep

I moved to a new flat in March and I resolved to keep my bike commute exciting and to discover as much of London as possible by taking at least one new road each commute. I wanted a way to keep track of my progress on this goal, perhaps with a map showing all the roads that I had covered.

In the week leading up to AngelHack, I sketched out a bunch of pseudocode and class diagrams to efficiently calculate which sections of each ride overlapped with previous rides and which sections were new. I was very excited to sink my teeth into this logic, hopefully using C++ and test-driven development, while the rest of my team built a beautiful, usable interface for it.

The Pitch

At the hackathon, after the rules were explained and the sponsors talked through their APIs, participants were invited up on stage for “one-minute pitches” to recruit teammates. I jumped on the opportunity.

I was the first one up and after what felt like about 9 seconds of me mumbling about bikes, the environment, and design, I was promptly shot with a nerf gun and told that my time was up.

The Plan

Despite my incoherent pitch, several people approached me after my pitch. However, even without time constraints, I was still mostly met with blank stares when I tried to explain the idea. Apparently, not everyone likes the idea of extending their already very lengthycommutes just to see a few nice sights. One team member, Elliott, from the video production company Biscuit Bunker, helped to refine the idea and focus on a much simpler minimum viable product. He also came up with the hip, tech-ish name “Explor”.

Armed with a game plan, we split things up. Unfortunately, two of our five team members had to leave unexpectedly, even before dinner!

The Picnic

And then there were three. Pictured in the tweet below are Carlos, Elliott, and me, feeling fresh but somehow looking more bleary-eyed and delirious on Saturday evening than most participants would later look on Sunday afternoon following many more Red Bulls than hours of sleep. I guess the camera caught me mid-blink:)


Carlos had to leave relatively early as well, but thankfully he whipped up an initial html mockup for us.

The Process

I found it so much easier to communicate my ideas to my team through sketching than through words or code. Here are a few of our sketches.

IMG_2993

Elliott had made it clear from the start that he wasn’t a programmer and would not be coding, but could help with graphics and UX. So he worked on our logo and design, and I set out to chip away at tweaking the JavaScript code I copied from the Google Maps API’s documentation.

Once that was mostly done, we started to look at Carlos’s mockup, but neither of us had done much with html or css before.

The Progress

Two amazing AngelHack ambassadors, Harry and Aaron, heard us struggling and offered to help. They made it clear that while they couldn’t code for us, they would be happy to talk us through a thing or two. I can’t thank Harry and Aaron enough for their patience and kindness in helping us along. I gained a lot of confidence in web development and Elliott literally learned to code html and css overnight. By the morning, he was combining our pages, making the styling consistent, and just smashing it in general.

The Product

At the absolute last minute, we remembered that we had to submit a youtube video before our demo. Elliott once again stepped up and somehow made this awesome little video in five minutes flat.

By the 1pm deadline, we managed to have a very simple (but definitely demoable) product, live on the web.

Our demo went well and while we couldn’t compete with the incredible work that some of the other teams did over the weekend, we were very proud that we managed to put something together and we learned a lot in the process.

Thanks, AngelHack!

The Postscript

I’m considering finally implementing that complex ride comparison code that I planned and/or building on the Explor prototype, so if you want to talk commuting, offer advice, or lend a hand, please get in touch!

 

 

Shane Gryzko

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Written by: Shane Gryzko

sgryzko@gmail.com

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