by Collin Ferry

You’re Already Ready for Your First Hackathon

I’ve always envisioned hackathons as being highly technical, events where just walking in the door implied serious knowledge of all types of programming.

Even though I’d been curious about these pressure-chamber creativity competitions, I’d always assumed that my skill-set — a jack-of-all-trades amalgamation that included almost no coding experience — wouldn’t add much value to a hackathon team.

“Hackathon shame” was just one reason why I recently decided to teach myself to code using Free Code Camp. Their front end development curriculum was extremely challenging, but the community helped me sustain the momentum I needed to finish it.

And, months later, I felt that I had finally crossed the valley of misunderstanding, which falls somewhere between basic HTML tags and advanced JavaScript algorithms.

This process gave me enough confidence to finally attempt a hackathon — and man should I have done so sooner.

I submitted a last-minute application to jump aboard the StartupBus heading from San Francisco to Boulder, Colorado. In total there are six buses, each carrying a couple dozen participants, who form teams and attempt to create a startup in 72 hours. While on a moving bus with unreliable internet and live product pitches every couple of hours.

Yeah, we haven’t been sleeping much.

As it turns out, building a technical product requires way more than just strong developers. Our 5-person team includes three people who are non-technical.

For the past 48 hours, we’ve been building and iterating on a product called Tub.

Tub integrates with “saved for later” content via tools like Pocket, Instapaper, YouTube’s watch-later feature, Chrome plugins, Twitter and more. Our research has shown that loads of people save content to enjoy later, but most of them never get around to it.

We believe that there is time to consume the content you want. The problem is that your time is fragmented.

By hooking into technologies — such as Uber’s new TripExperiences API — Tub’s chatbot delivers content based on your mood, and how much time you have available. One such fragment of time is when you’re waiting for an Uber to come pick you up.

Tub Mockup Using Uber API

We’re also building an SMS delivery feature using Cisco’s Tropo API, for users who want to text back and forth with Tub.

With Free Code Camp, I built out JavaScript applications that touched a variety of APIs, such as OpenWeatherMap, Twitch, and Wikipedia. So I already had experience building API integrations.

I was excited to learn that Uber and Cisco were sponsoring the StartupBus, and providing engineering support to teams who incorporated their APIs into their product idea.

There will hopefully be more to this story, but for now, the SF StartupBus has rolled into Boulder. We’ve pitched Tub to live audiences in both Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. And tomorrow morning we’ll pitch to TechStars, and see how we fare against our competition.

Don’t drown in an ocean of content — get in the Tub! We’re on Facebook and Twitter, and you can sign up for beta access at www.FillTheTub.com ?

New products and services need hackers, hustlers, designers, and managers to get into the world.

Go ahead and enter a hackathon in your area. There’s a good chance you’re already ready to withstand the pressure and bring a project to life. You just don’t know it yet.