Over this past weekend Nokia hosted a hackathon in Durban, South Africa. Previously they have held similar events at other cities across the country, and are still having one up in Johannesburg soon. So there are many just like it, but this one was mine.
For those of you who don't know what a "hackathon" actually is, you might be surprised to hear that it's got nothing to do with hacking in the security sense. It's actually just a bunch of people hacking away at whatever the objective is, for a period of time. So, this particular Windows Phone hackathon was coders getting together and making phone apps from 4:30pm on Friday, straight through to the same time on Sunday - essentially 48 hours straight of coding joy.
The Durban event was held at the Moses Mabida Stadium - the stadium built for the Fifa 2010 soccer/ football (fight!) world cup. It wasn't on the actual field or anything- rain and computers just don't go- but rather in the room that the players do their glory walk onto the field from.
This hackathon differed from some of the international ones I have seen because this was exclusively for students (I had to use my slate as a cleaver just to get past security). Very few of them had prior knowledge of the platform, and many were actually rather new to programming. Over the weekend the guys from Microsoft did WP7 workshops to get them up to speed, and a bunch of us were there to provide support when people were stuck. The point in the whole thing was to get students excited about the platform, and to give them a jumpstart onto the WP7 bandwagon. They were each given a Microsoft DreamSpark account (which gives students all the MS software free, including a free AppHub account), and encouraged to publish at least one app onto the Windows Phone Marketplace by the end of the weekend. Nokia definitely succeeded in both of these, as many people told me how impressed they were with the platform after the weekend even though they had previously written it off, and most got at least one app submitted for certification on the Marketplace by Sunday.
In terms of organisation, the event was top-notch. There were XBOX 360's setup with Kinects for when people needed a break, along with beanbags and foozball. They also played music 24 hours. And without fail, every couple of hours food was served. It felt like as soon as one meal was done, the next round of snack were up. And the constant stream of sugary drinks didn't help the waist-line either - but then again, i guess that's what the Kinects were for. Finally, there was a snooze-room with mattresses, that looks oddly like a slumber party in Amsterdam.
Almost all of the attendees used Twitter, so on a projector up-front was MetroTwit Show displaying everyone's live tweets in all their [sometimes scary] glory.
There were of course prizes for the best of the best, as follows:
- 1st: XBOX360 and Kinect bundle, with a Nokia Lumia 800
- 2nd: Nokia Lumia 800 with an Incredible Connection voucher
- 3rd: Nokia Lumia 800
- Best tweet: Nokia Lumia 800
We will try to do a follow up post with more details on the apps that actually won, once they have been certified and are live.
There is no doubt in my mind that Nokia is doing this whole marketing thing right. The fact that they are doing events like this across South Africa, plus that they actually have tons of marketing going on here, is just plain impressive. Students are a good market to aim at too, because chances are that each of the attendees from this #lumiahack have gone and told their friends about the "little OS that could".
This should have been up at the beginning of this week, but my local gym has no WiFi and I've been attempting to burn off the copious amounts of food and soda that Nokia forced on us (ok, that might be poetic license... I'm a coder). Plus typing is rather hard from the foozball bruises.