Yesterday I did the final interview for a position we're hiring for on Active.com. I pulled one from the Google playbook, and toward the end of the session we had dialog that went something like this:
[Me] "Tell me something you think I don't know"
[Candidate] "What, like about me?"
[Me] "No. I mean some historical fact or process or something."
[Candidate] "Oh. Well...do you know how nuclear fission works?"
[Me] "No man. Tell me about it."
The candidate then described how nuclear fission works. His interest had been piqued by the recent disaster in Japan, so the topic was fresh in his mind. But this was an impressive response to a discussion that could have gone down any number of paths. I love to see this kind of creativity and interest in how things work in people we look to hire.
At the end of last year, our division announced its first internal hackathon. Members of the Media and Marketing development team could form teams of two or go at it alone. In 33 hours, the teams were to code and present a working application that was somewhat related to our business. A six-member panel would judge the three minute demos and the winner would win an all-expense-paid-for trip to the Web 2.0 Expo.
A few ideas bounced around my head on what to hack on, but nothing stood out as something that would be useful. One day a friend posted on Facebook that they were taking a road trip soon and needed campground recommendations along the way. I knew that ReserveAmerica was part of our company and they are the go-to resource for all things campground related. They had the standard search tools for campgrounds but the tools didn't lend themselves to easily discovering campgrounds along a specific trip route. I knew they had an API we could tap into and a hackathon idea was born.
After brainstorming with a fellow developer, Chris Ferguson, we set out to develop a mashup of Google Maps and the ReserveAmerica Campground API. The app would allow a user to map a route between their destinations, search for campgrounds along the route, check campsite availability, give driving directions, and allow the user to share their trip. We knew that to get the app to a polished state for demo would be a lot of work, but with a little bit of caffeine and determination, it would be doable. On 12:01am on the day of the hackathon, we started hacking.
After nearly 33 hours of non-stop coding, we had a prototype to demo for the hackathon judging. Our presentation went well except for being over the limit with our Yelp API key. The people in the room seemed to like our idea and we were at least hopeful of being selected as the winner. There were other strong demos/apps presented by other teams and we knew the decision would be a tough one. After all of the demos, the judges began deliberations and came back with the winner.
Even though we weren't selected as the overall winner of the hackathon, there was definitely interest in putting our idea out as an actual product. Several demos were setup to show the app to the people over at ReserverAmerica and to the chiefs of the company. The app was well received and our GM put into our 2011 Q1 roadmap.
We have spent our latest sprint getting the app ready for production. We refactored a lot of code and removed things that were hardcoded in the night. We also ran into some use cases that we hadn't thought of during the hackathon. Although we had the app in a workable state for the hackathon, getting it ready for production deploy took quite a bit of work. The beta version of the site is avaiable now at trips.active.com. Please check it out and make sure you click on the Feedback tab to let us know what you think.
Here's a screencast of a walkthrough of the beta product:
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