DeveloperWeek Kicks Off with MBaaS-heavy Hackathon

Mark Boyd, February 17th, 2014

DeveloperWeek has started in San Francisco, promising to offer a wide range of activities during the week, including two days of packed conference sessions, coding workshops, tech start-up open days, and evening hiring mixers. To kick start the week of events, DeveloperWeek hosted a hackathon at the Rackspace offices in San Francisco’s SoMa district.

Although a number of API providers sponsored prizes and had Developer Evangelists on-site to assist competitors (including Evernote, Context.IO, Gnip, SendGrid, and Dun & Bradstreet), it was the number of mobile backend-as-a-service (MBaaS) vendors representing that had hackers bemused. Kii Cloud, built.io, Parse, OpenShift, and Microsoft Windows Azure were all on hand to encourage developers to use their mobile MBaaS platforms when designing apps.

Overall though, competitors were less enthusiastic. While built.io and others had a chance to discuss how they could support developers to build apps, perhaps most competitors had arrived with a mindset for which MBaaS wasn’t in their game plans. “I used Windows Azure, mostly to get a chance at their prizes, but it was a pain in the ass, and they couldn’t offer much support,” one developer told ProgrammableWeb. “If I was making an app in future, I might use Kii Cloud.”

IMAGE: DeveloperWeek hackathon kicks off. (Photo courtesy of Tony Blank)

Seeing how developers onboard: The benefit of hackathon sponsorship

New MBaaS market entrant built.io focused its engagement on seeing how developers would onboard with their product.

Matthew Baier, COO, and Nishant Patel, CTO of built.io saw the hackathon as a chance to get a feel for how developers start using their MBaaS platform, although in a hyperaccelerated simulation where new users are onboarding and building an app in 30 hours.

“Our platform already provides 60% to 70% of what developers need to build apps, but we learned we could give them another 10% to 20%,” said Patel. “We had lots of ideas for bite-sized videos and a lot more sample apps we can add.”

Baier agreed: “We can make it frictionless for developers to build apps on the built.io platform.”

Context.IO’s Developer Evangelist, Tony Blank, also used the hackathon to look for new ways to make it easier for developers to get started using its API. “A lot of questions that I was getting were things we should have a self-service knowledge base on,” said Blank. “There were a lot of basic questions, and I see a couple of actions I can take to improve things. That’s the real benefit of hackathons: You are beta-testing your documentation and really seeing how people have to get an API key and go through that whole process.”

IMAGE: A packed room for the start of the DeveloperWeek hackathon (Photo courtesy of Tony Blank)

Trends in developer languages and app design

Scott Motte, developer evangelist at SendGrid, saw a fairly standard split in the developer languages of choice among competitors: “There was a lot of Ruby on Rails, a little bit of Node.js, and then Java for Android.” Regarding database usage, Motte noticed that “it was mostly Amazon, although Heroku is always popular even though they aren’t here.”

For app design, Motte found himself speaking to developers about the Evernote API. “There was a lot of Evernote…. We had one team that tried to do a calendar app that would send notifications to both Evernote and e-mail (via the SendGrid API), and then the note would be updated in real time as people replied by e-mail with their RSVPs. Overall, the contestants I saw were mostly showing a mix of mashups, really demonstrating what’s possible with APIs.”

Daniel Young, a developer at Retailigence entered the hackathon because he wanted to “work with a team that would use my company’s API.” His team’s app centered on doing cross-queries in a SQL database to learn the product preferences of app users, so that the Retailigence API could feed suggestions of nearby location-based offers for more personalized shopping.

Winners

This machine learning of an app user’s likes and dislikes was a common theme among competition teams, with Melon, (a team that met for the first time at the hackathon), for example, taking home the Gnip prize for creating a “Tinder for food” app that learns what your favorite meals are and can tell you which nearby restaurants to visit.

PaidNote was one of two winners of the Evernote-sponsored prize. “They created a market layer on top of Evernote,” said Chris Traganos, head of Developer Outreach at Evernote. “The idea is that as a self-publisher, you can sell your class notes in Evernote, and it securely distributes the notes into the buyer’s notebook. It shows how you can use Evernote as your publishing platform.”

IMAGE: Head of Developer Outreach at Evernote Chris Traganos (center) with Pavel Kravchenko (left) and Lilia Vershinina (right) from Videal at the DeveloperWeek hackathon

Other winners included Wazoo, Let’s Meet, and Dinder for Devs. A full list of entrants is maintained on Hacker League.

DeveloperWeek continues until February 21 in San Francisco, with the main conference sessions being held this Tuesday and Wednesday. ProgrammableWeb will be live blogging throughout the event.

By Mark Boyd. Mark is a freelance writer focusing on how we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly about API business models, open data, smart cities, Quantified Self, and e-commerce. He can be contacted via e-mail, on Twitter, or on Google+.

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