What is a “hackathon”? To the uninitiated (like my team was), the term comes off as slightly intimidating. What will we be hacking? Foreign elections? Were we going to create and disperse competitive phishing emails? The word always paints a picture in my head of a bunch of greasy, red-eyed programmers sitting around furiously clicking away at a keyboard until someone does something that I assume is good. Then, everyone gets up and claps, and said person walks off into the sunset, a hero. Honestly, this was relatively close to what happened with our team, Vaxx Overflow™, just on Zoom.
It was the closing of week 8 in Code Platoon, meaning we were in the crawl, walk, run phase of learning how to develop full-stack applications from scratch. I would put most of us at the level of an embryo that just developed a detectable heartbeat. Brenden Schumacher, a member of Code Platoon’s November cohort, put out a beacon to assemble a team to participate in this year’s Fall-In Veteran’s Hackathon.
I won’t get into the details of how the six-person team was created but try to imagine a montage similar to the formation of The Avengers, including the adoption of a talented UI/UX designer named Michael Stedman, whom we met just before kickoff.
The hackathon weekend began with a ceremonial beer shared among the team and a bunch of ideas being tossed around until eventually, one stuck – a platform for Covid-19 vaccine providers to recycle canceled vaccine appointments by tapping into a database of eager Covid-19 vaccine seekers. People looking for a vaccine are prioritized by health, age, and location. Then, if an appointment is canceled, the approved individual can claim it at a moment’s notice. With that, the first order of business with any successful app is a great name, cue Vaxx Overflow™.
With the idea in hand, we got to work.
Surprisingly, and without much prompting, everyone gravitated toward some facet of the VO’s development. The app was built with Django on the backend and React on the frontend, including a functioning text notification system. Luckily for us, we had gotten our hands dirty with Django for a couple of weeks and just wrapped up our first week on React, so you could call us pros by this point.
The flow and visual design of the app was designed almost entirely by our MVP, Stedman, and the backend and frontend programming was split between different members of the group. Eventually, we came to a final product that met every requirement we set out to hit. In addition, the app featured a provider interface, and a patient interface, both of which are easy to navigate and nice to look at! But we weren’t finished yet, as this was a competition.
Next up was a presentation of the app to a panel of judges (See video below). With 12 teams in total competing in the Fall-In Hackathon, we had to make sure we didn’t have any hiccups if we wanted to stand a chance.
Now, I am new to this feeling, but I think it’s common among developers. The one where you finish some app or feature and you go to push it off to the next phase, and it feels like you finished constructing a house of cards. But then, you think, “Ok, if I just step back slowly and don’t breathe on it too hard, everything will be fine. It will all work out ok”. That was the feeling we all had leading up to the presentation.
I had notes written to guide me from beginning to end, and for about an hour leading up to the presentation, we obsessively clicked through the app and checked it for any bugs or issues. Everything looked good! But this is the real world, and the presentation ended up being a barrage of ‘likes’ and ‘ums’ and 30 seconds (which felt like an eternity) lost to navigating around a broken link that we somehow missed during our final preparation.
We waited through the rest of the presentations and gauged our competition. When all was said and done, the judges unveiled the winners, and to our surprise, it showed Vaxx Overflow in 1st place! So what had started with a beer and a good idea ended with a new friend (shout out to Stedman), some new skills, and $1000 prize money…and another ceremonial closing beer.
Over a gritty two days, a group of Veterans scattered all over the country participated in a hackathon only HALF-WAY through a coding Bootcamp and managed to create a functioning application with an actual use case, AND WON! Not only does this speak to the level of talent coming out of Code Platoon, but the quality of education in software engineering that anyone can get from the program. I implore any Veteran or military spouse to apply themselves and join Code Platoon today!
Michael Orland is an Army veteran, nurse, and mechanical engineer transitioning into a career in software engineering. He is a member of the November Platoon cohort at Code Platoon.