Back in November 2013, Hacking Health came to Toronto. Marisa Cicero and Amanda Hignell, two social workers with St. Michael’s Hospital, came in with a simple pitch: Put their paper-based Baby Passport, a help guide and information tracker for mothers-to-be of no fixed address, on smart phones. At the end of the weekend, they had not one but two apps, an award for Best Solution for Consumer Health & Patients, and a lot of potential. That potential has been met, because Thursday, 13 February 2014, three months after it all started, those two apps went into the Windows Phone store and Google Play.
When it all comes together
It was incredible to be a part of this process, and I can tell you that a lot of that success comes down to Marisa and Amanda. They did a lot of things right. When they went to Hacking Health they already had the basis for a project. There wasn’t a lot of basic groundwork to do and that meant there was a lot of time saved for developing the apps. Further, while they knew they wanted the Passport in app form, they were very open as to what would meet that goal. All of a sudden, that time saved by having the ground work done meant the developers had some leeway to experiment and put together something a little more involved.
There was another factor that Marisa and Amanda brought: Passion. The Passport is a great tool that is making a difference in women’s lives, and Marisa and Amanda really made the team feel that. As a result, everyone on the team had that passion to make this come together.
While I can’t speak to the rest of the team (they were all incredible, and without them there wouldn’t have been an app, let alone two), there are a few things I can recommend to help make your hackathon development a success.
- Grab the low hanging fruit: With the Baby Passport we have a few pages that are text only, and they were done first. I couldn’t even navigate to them when running the early builds, but they were out of the way.
- Get it done: With Windows Phone, the UX is usually built in XAML, the logic in C#, and you combine them with bindings and View Models. If you can do this quickly, do so, but for us it was faster to hardcode almost all the text in the XAML. Not the best design choice, but it was quick and didn’t require debugging.
- It’s no good if it doesn’t work: You may have a really cool UX idea, but if you can’t get it working it’s no good. Time is a huge constraint so work towards goals, not tools. For note adding we wanted things to look a certain way and act a certain way. When I couldn’t get it right, one of our designers said “just make it work”. It was implemented in 10 minutes and I was on to other things.
- Get fancy on a budget: By saving time in the first three suggestions you’ll gain time to add a few fancy features. One was the dynamic countdown timer. With the time gained by using the first three suggestions, I had the time to put it together and debug it. Additionally, I was able to go back to a few items and implement better data models and clean up the code. We even got into a few of our nice-to-haves.
The Follow Through
That all got us through the hackathon, but that passion I mentioned is what kept us on track. We wanted this app done and were committed to getting it to the store. At this phase you work like you would on any project. The big thing to remember is that good hackathon practices aren’t always good project practices. Your first job should be to clean those up. Also, now’s the time to add all those killer features and elements you couldn’t get working at the hackathon.
For me, I was lucky as my company, SELA Canada, donated my time for a short period to get this app to market. This meant two things: I could complete app at work, but I was on a timeframe as it became a work project. It also meant I could bring some other resources to bear put together the app that Marisa and Amanda wanted. We had the Windows Phone app complete just before Christmas.
My experience at Hacking Health was incredible. The team I worked with were all passionate about our project, and our leaders, Marisa and Amanda, really brought us into it. They kept us running with stories about the Passport mothers and ample levels of sugar, caffeine, and energy drinks. I’m really glad Hacking Health came to Toronto and that I went.
If you’ve been debating on going to a hackathon: Stop. Just go. Just remember, grab a project and run with it.