The second hackathon ever to hit Fargo went down last Wednesday night, December 3, consisting of four hours of hardcore brainstorming, coding, and snacking. From 6 – 10 PM Myriad Mobile’s headquarters were filled with over 50 people, some competing and some cheering from the sidelines, for a night that critics are calling “the event of the year.”
“It was the event of the year!” said Annika Nynas, Director of Events for Emerging Prairie and co-organizer of the hackathon.
The night kicked off with Blaine Booher, co-founder of Hack Fargo and brainchild behind bringing the event to Fargo, describing how the night would go down. He ensured everyone had received the healthcare and agriculture related APIs sent out beforehand, which served as the building foundation for the teams.
Booher encouraged everyone to talk to each other, share their ideas, and form teams if not already in one. When those action-packed four hours are over, he explained, each team will give a three minute presentation on their work, which is then judged by the seven worthy judges: Blaine himself, of Clifton Labs, Josh Christy co-founder of Codelation, John Stineman, Executive Director of Heartland Technology Alliance, Shannon Luney from Todaymade and Girl Develop It, Gary Inman, Senior VP, IT at Bell State Bank, Rachel Back co-founder of GoodSurv, and Jake Joraanstad co-founder of Myriad Mobile.
A few questions were asked – yes, you are allowed to use pre-existing projects, just not something you’ve already made – and then, with the Black Keys pumping over the speakers, they were ready. Leggo!
It was easy to spot the hardcore hacker teams right away. Heads down, fingers clicking away, oblivious to the mingling and munching around them. One guy even brought a full scale iMac computer to the table.
Then there were the others, throwing around ideas, enjoying the abundance of Rhombus Guy pizza (delicious), the New York style vanilla ice cream (with gummy bears to boot) and all those Doritos (cool ranch and nacho cheese, of course).
Sometimes a new team would appear, sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor, crowded around a laptop, brainstorming like mad. Those who weren’t on a team also floated from team to team, offering advice and help if needed.
Over the course of the night WDAY appeared briefly to interview Blaine and get a shot of the hackers at work (see their coverage here.)
As the night wound to a close, the teams were noticeably quieter. It was full blown crunch time now, and everyone knew it. Finally, around 10 pm, Booher announced it was time for the 15 teams to share their work.
The innovative projects that were presented that night were nothing short of mind-boggling – at least for a lot of the non-programmers in the audience (such as yours truly) who had no idea something so creative and useful could be built in such a short span of time.
There was the app that detects motion of your smartphone as you’re driving, using sharp drops to determine where the roads have potholes.
Or an app – developed by team Rogue Squadron – that allows you to type in a food and see why and how often it has been recalled from stores.
Or the one-man team who said he’d had an idea for a tic-tac-toe game that he finally developed during this hackathon, wherein you could play and never hit a Cat’s game.
These and a few others – like locating local farmers markets or a map illustrating where viruses are breaking out (yes, they said, this would work in an post-apocalyptic setting) – are just a handful of the ideas presented that night.
Taking the win for ‘most polished’ was the app “Show me the Money,” designed by David Lannoye and Aaron Axvig.
Lannoye said he began thinking of the idea when his parents inherited a piece of land and didn’t know how much it was worth.
“Farmers are always wondering how much their land is worth,” he said. This app could solve that problem.
‘Most creative’ went to one-man-team Vincent Mammano-Lupo’s app, called iOculist – the new convenient way to take eye exams outside of the doctor’s office. The app allows users to take a series of eye tests such as the eye chart, or a test for color-blindness.
“If you can see this image, it’s because you’re color blind,” he said, pulling up an image from the app.
“Oh, sh*t,” said someone in the audience.
Last but not least was Muhammed Saho and Jeremy “Jo Jo” Simpson, with their ‘most likely to change the world’ app called PillC.
This app, which Saho explained as especially useful for those who are blind or elder folks with seeing disadvantages, is designed to recognize the pill you are about to take through a scan. It then audibly states what medicine you are holding, and the quantity at which you should take it.
For instance, once Saho had already scanned a ‘Tylenol’ pill, the second scan prompted the phone to respond, ‘Sorry, you’ve already had enough Tylenol for the day.’
The winning teams received a voucher for a movie and popcorn at the Fargo Theater, a free pint at Fargo Brewing Co., and an Amazon gift card.
The events primary sponsor was AT&T. Chris Tiedman, public affairs representative for AT&T, attended the entire event and said it was “awesome.” He was particularly impressed by the ideas presented, some of which he could see being commercialized in the future.
“It’s just cool seeing what’s happening to the city because of groups like this,” he said.
Other attendees agreed that they would like to see more hackathons in the future – and next time, with more time.
“If you want people to play with really cool APIs, you need more time, like a whole day,” said Sam Stutman.
This is true for most hackathons, which can span up to a whole weekend long. Booher agreed.
“We hope to have more events, ideally with a longer time limit so that groups can specialize and focus on larger problem domains, and spend more time flushing out details,” he said.
However, as the debut hackathon, both Stuntman and Booher agreed this was a big success.
“This was a lot of fun, good music, and there was 24/7 communication,” Stutsman said. “I really enjoyed my time here.”
“I think the coolest moment was just watching the excitement in the groups as they were presenting their projects,” said Booher. “There’s an element of pride in showing off what you accomplished to a group of peers who can truly appreciate your work.”
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Other sponsors for this Hack Fargo hackathon include The Title Company, MSUM, Sundog, Evolution1, RealTruck. Special thanks to Myriad Mobile for hosting the event. Without these sponsors the event would not have been possible.
Photos courtesy of Marisa Jackels and Dan Francis Photography.
On the cover: Sarah English and her Matrix glasses.