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Digital Reasoning Joins Local Coders at HackNashville

What Is HackNashville?

One might describe it, if one were a programmer, as pure awesomeness – a feeling of being one with the Force for 48 hours of pure happiness and joy.

Of course, the only time that feeling is applicable is right after you demo your app for which you sacrificed 2 nights of sleep, personal hygiene, and proper nutrition.

Then you just want to sleep.

In reality, HackNashville is a time where people share a deep passion for creating products that, they hope, people will find useful or entertaining.  It starts Friday after work and then continues the entire weekend until 7:00 PM Sunday evening when all the teams gather to show off what they accomplished and a winner is announced.

Everyone is welcome… as long as they intend to build something.  Marketing folks are shown the door.  Recruiting folks are held at bay with flamethrowers.  Anyone with a suit is eyed with deep suspicion, and only if that person can show some street cred with the appropriate stickers pasted to their Mac will they be allowed inside.

Why Does Digital Reasoning Sponsor It?

I believe there are two reasons why Digital Reasoning feels it’s important to sponsor the event:

First, the people of the company are dedicated to making sure that the talent in this wonderful city of ours has places of refuge and inspiration.  Places free from timelines, status meetings, and other endless distractions that fill up our daily work lives.  Absolutely amazing things come out of events such as HackNashville, and since many Digital Reasoning employees participate, we feel it’s only natural for Digital Reasoning to support their efforts.

Second, we feel that what’s good for the community is good for us.  We’re constantly working with other technology leaders in our community to ensure that the exploding technical community in this area has the proper resources.  Also, we want to work with the best folks, and only by making deep, personal connections with all of the people in our community do we ensure that we’re part of a team that keeps this region attractive for businesses and programmers that want to make a difference in the world.

Let’s Hear From The Attendees

Six Digital Reasoning team members attended this HackNashville  – Abe Music, Steve Brownlee, Charlie Penner, Jared Bunting, Jeff Stansberry, and Andrew Kengeter.  Goals ranged from wanting to build an entire product in 48 hours to just wanting to help out in any way possible.

Here’s what some of them had to say.

Steve Brownlee (me)

I’ll just say that this was the best HackNashville yet.  As more of these community events are held, more people are coming into them with great ideas, and with more confidence to share those ideas.

I had to leave before the final voting ceremony, but after reading Twitter, and talking with my teammates the next day, I could tell that the bar was significantly raised from the last event in terms of the number of entries and the overall quality of those entries.

I’m proud to be part of this community, and I see it growing exponentially during the next few years.

I worked on a team that built a Google+ Hangout application named Review.  A buddy of mine, Brendan Wovchko, had a nebulous idea to make scrum meetings, held using Google+ Hangouts, easier to coordinate.  He knew that there was a fairly extensive API for Hangouts, and thought that there might be a way to automate the things that teams find annoying about Hangout meetings.

I had just had a demo meeting at work the day before, and the facilitator’s futile attempts at coordinating whose microphone had to be on, whose speakers had to be muted, whose webcam should be on and sharing the screen, etc., had everyone in the room ready to throw our laptops out the window.

The first night, the team spent several hours not coding.  Weird, right?  Actually, no, it was the smartest thing we did.  We brainstormed possible features, trimmed out the fat, prioritized what was left, and then decided what we felt we could get done in 48 hours.  Finally, each team member took responsibility for certain areas of the application.

Then we went home and slept.

Bright and early the next morning, we all showed up and just started working.  First, a lot of research was done to see if this tool could integrate with that framework, or if APIs had obvious methods for doing certain features, or what platform had the easiest deployment workflow.

Once we found some preliminary answers to our questions, the code started to fly.  Django apps were created, user interface frameworks were deployed, Google applications were registered, Campfire rooms were set up, logo ideas started to bubble up, business strategies were investigated, registration and billing workflows were created, and a myriad of other things that we had designed the night before.

By the time we all started hitting our respective walls, we had accomplished some major goals.  We had a working API for almost all the features we wanted, we had a Hangout application with a few features wired out, and a registration system that would let people pay for access.

Then we went home and slept.

I came in a bit later Sunday morning since I wanted to spend a little bit of time with my family.  I also came in feeling like I was way behind where I wanted to be.

Luckily, I had an awesome team.  After trying a couple more things out that didn’t quite work the way I expected, another feature was discovered by someone else, and within 5 minutes we were up and rolling again.

I was able to bang out about 50% of the functionality we wanted in the UI in the next hour, which then let our visual designer start writing code to make it look pretty (and it did).

By the time we started talking over how we wanted to demo the product, we had a working application.  It didn’t have 100% of everything we designed on Friday night, but it did accomplish the #1 goal of making scrum/demo meetings vastly easier to coordinate over Google+ Hangout.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed the entire weekend, and have the highest regard for everyone I worked with.  We stayed focused, had a little fun, ate some delicious food that was very bad for us, and even drank a little beer in between it all.

Charlie Penner

While this was my first HackNashville event, it will not be my last.  I came into it expecting to spend just a few hours on Friday night to see what it was all about, but as various ideas were being pitched, I realized I wasn’t going to be able stay away.  Due to some previous obligations I was only able to stay through Saturday, but the time spent there was awesome.

On the one hand, what we were doing is essentially what we do on a day-to-day basis at Digital Reasoning – designing and building software to solve problems.  On the other hand, there’s something distinctly different and exciting about having no constraints other than your imagination and 48 hours.  Working with a variety of skillsets on a single team (backend, frontend, devops, QA) all with a laser focus on getting something built quickly is an experience that was well worth the price of (free) admission.  As we each worked individually in our areas of expertise, it was exciting to see the individual pieces come together to build a complete application.

If you’ve been on the fence about attending HackNashville (or other events like it), my recommendation is to jump in and do it.  Even if you’re not full of ideas for things to build or problems to solve, there most likely be one or more people there with an idea that resonates strongly with you, and your contributions will be most welcome.  More importantly, you’ll probably learn something you didn’t know before and have a lot of fun doing it.

Jeff Stansberry

Hacking is a misnomer.  When people hear the word “hack” they think of a lonely geek sitting in his/her basement pounding away at a keyboard, soda cans and candy bar wrappers piled up as high as the desk, all the while trying to steal some dark government secrets or shut down a major power grid.  Completely false.  The truth is we eat chips more than candy bars.

In reality, hacking has evolved from its darker, more sinister meaning to something more akin to creative destruction.   I had the fortunate opportunity to work with some incredibly creative minds Friday and Saturday until a family emergency pulled me away for the weekend.  During those 10 hours or so, I was witness to a rapid “hacking” together of ideas, code, marketing strategies, mobile applications, and pricing models all in the attempt to create a complete product with both a mobile and web presence… in less than 48 hours!

The project started out with the team forming organically around a product idea. Then there were some late additions to bolster the groups skills.  In the end, we started hacking with two mobile developers, one product owner, two front-end developers, two project managers, and a back-end developer.  It was quite a team and there was a lot of energy and excitement.

Ideas were thrown against a whiteboard; some stuck while others were scrapped.  We ended the first night at midnight so we could get a full night’s sleep.  This was a wise choice.  Saturday morning at 9am we were back at it fresh.  User personas were modeled and workflows were developed.  Once that was complete, we all had a clear picture of the application and we swarmed the problem with vigor.  Unfortunately, I was pulled away but I heard the development was vigorous through Saturday night and Sunday.

So, hacking isn’t about destroying things, per se, rather it is the process by which a group of talented and enthusiastic creatives from all aspects of development come together in a very short time period to accomplish a pretty daunting task.  I’m already looking forward to the next hack!