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My First Hackathon – #hAKathon

I did a hackathon this weekend. (It’s funny. I did a whole lot of work to get skills-based volunteering practiced among librarians, and I ended up doing my first successful SVB as part of the software community, instead. Ah well.) I wasn’t initially planning to participate in this one—something about having said “yes” to too many things and needing some down time—but my husband and a couple of friends convinced me, claiming there were no designers signed up but a dire need for logos and other images. (I wasn’t really the only designer, just the only designer on my project. :)) Honestly, the prospect of playing in Photoshop for a day and a half was pretty attractive to me, though I don’t know why I assumed I’d stop there.

I worked on a project called “Weed Warriors,” sponsored by the Anchorage Park Foundation (APF). The goal was to have a website and/or mobile app where people could sign up to remove invasive species from APF-identified patches of land. We forked our code from Adopt-A-Hydrant, because the idea is sort of similar—adopt a thing, and take care of it. But fun fact: nobody on the team knew Ruby or Rails (or Heroku, which has yet to bite us, but will probably eventually become an issue?), which Adopt-A-Hydrant is built in. This made things a little tricky.

A local Code for America volunteer, who had worked on Anchorage’s Adopt-A-Hydrant (also, my partner in crime for Anchorage Programming Workshop) kindly set us up with a virtual machine to work in, which saved us a lot of time in setting up our own environments. Or it would have, if we didn’t spend so much time floundering around, trying to get it to work [without asking for help].

Although I did spend a bunch of time making logos and modifying/resizing images, which was super fun, I probably spent more time fighting with development tools, which was … less fun, but probably more character-building. We had a pretty big misunderstanding around how Ruby/Rails handles databases—I use “we” and the past tense loosely, here; I never did get 100% cleared up on it—so I ended up spending a fair amount of time reverting changes in GitHub and expunging-then-rebuilding my VM. Good times.

I also made changes to what I’ll loosely refer to as “the code.” I edited a couple of .html.haml files, including fixing the site’s Terms of Service, and I fixed the definitions in en.yml (and the other languages, as best I could). I didn’t do anything I’d be comfortable describing as “Ruby development,” but I didn’t stay out of the code base, either. (Which is normally something you want from your designer. ;))

Here’s what it looks like:

Compare to Adopt-A-Hydrant for an idea of what I changed.
Compare to Adopt-A-Hydrant for an idea of what I changed.

Honestly, I didn’t end up doing much about the overall UI—just really basic cosmetic stuff. I’m going to suggest—and hopefully help implement—a few changes, but I didn’t go too crazy, this weekend. It took a lot of time for our team to get up to speed, though by the end, it seemed like at least most of them really understood how to make the database changes we need. We’ll have some other hurdles, like how to get this hosted properly, but I fully expect to have a functioning product … eventually. We all agreed that we aren’t willing to stop with an incomplete, undeployed project.

I’m currently working on a script to pull data out of the Excel spreadsheet we were given and add it to the Ruby seed file (I’m not even sure if that’s a generic term, or specific to this project), so that we can add all the known patches in the city. I say “I’m working,” because I guess I’m out of practice in this kind of thing. Or I’m just really, really brain-tired. I can’t seem to get it working. Maybe next weekend.

Anyway, the event was fun, and I’m really glad I participated. There were 7ish women out of 37ish people signed up, which is… about the national average, I guess. Roughly half of them were in one group. But the room, overall, was a little more gender balanced, because a lot of the nonprofits we were volunteering for had women as representatives. I am hoping that, within a year or so, the Anchorage Programming Workshop will have convinced a larger group of women that they can contribute to this kind of effort. (Although our project felt hard, just because we didn’t know the language, there were definitely some that were very newbie-friendly.)

Unrelated to my project, I learned that there’s something called “Google Fusion” that could do wonderful things for future projects.

Published inalaskageekeryprogrammingtechnology

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