Coding in Shanghai: Javascript Hackathon

One Friday night, googling (or, baidu-ing?) for “things to do in Shanghai,” I found out about a hackathon being held the next day: 24 hours using MeteorJS to build a web app. Perfect! I’d built a dirt simple sign-in sheet with NodeJS and Javascript, but my code was already getting messy so I shelved it until I was ready to rewrite it from scratch. The hackathon was just the excuse I needed to try a modern framework (i.e. someone else’s code that does most of the work for you) to rewrite my sign-in sheet for the FabLab’s many machines. And hey, if it’s polished enough, maybe other FabLabs would want to use it, too.

I was finally getting used to Shanghai’s metro system and found the Agora Co-working space without any trouble. It’s a beautiful office with a garden out back and the wifi was the fastest I’d gotten anywhere in China. I liked the place right away.

This was my second hackathon (after the People’s Music School Hack Music) so I was a little more proactive about introducing myself and what I wanted to do. Pretty quickly, a small team assembled around my laser-sign-in sheet project, but it was a bit every-man-for-himself as far as learning MeteorJS goes. We were all there for the same reason, to try out the new framework, but without any kind of guided introduction / classroom situation, we were left to read the docs and getting starter guides, which isn’t really a group project.

But after a couple hours, I felt like I was learning a lot and my teammembers felt they had worked through enough of the tutorials that were ready to work on something together, but then we were all new at collaborative coding, too! Especially for a one-page app, it’s difficult to divvy up the work. We didn’t figure that out until after an hour of learning to use github (another good learning experience, though, cloning and committing and all that, that’s definitely a good thing to work through with other people in the same room instead of just reading a getting started guide.) Once we could finally push and clone each other’s code we arrived at the question of how to split up the work. We all took a stab at creating a good foundation to work up from, but were all using our own preferred approaches and stepped on each others feet when we tried to merge our ideas together, so when were getting settled in after dinner and my team members asked what we should work on, I said:

“I want to suggest that we all do whatever we want to”

And that worked out pretty well. A sign in sheet is a simple enough app that we could all write it from scratch, and this way we could experiment with the approach that interested us instead of trying to come to agreement on what tools to use together. So from then on out we worked on our own thing, snacked in the kitchen on occasion, and put on our headphones to focus whenever we wanted, and I think we all had a good time. I stayed up late and slept on that giant beanbag in the first picture.

In the morning I showed my progress to a few guys (it works, but it doesn’t have a way of saving the data or reseting each day, yet), but had to bid them farewell before the end of the Hackathon to get across town for the Shanghai Maker Carnival. It was great to find some friends in such a big city and feel like I was on a programming team (however dysfunctional) for a day.

Pictures posted on their Meetup by Julian:

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