For the 36-hour period between Wednesday morning, November 8th, and Thursday evening November 9th, I happily hacked away at “The Schedulator” – my hack for Yahoo!’s university hack day. My concept was extremely simple – mash together Berkeley’s online schedule of classes with Yahoo!’s calendar. Why? Frankly, I’m sick of picking classes using Berkeley’s Web 0.5 interface (schedule.Berkeley.edu), and then going through a 30 minute process (if I’m really fast) to import all these details into my Palm Pilot / Google / Yahoo calendar. And if you have all three of those, expect it to take 3 hours to get that scheduling information everywhere. Cmon, what’s the digital age about, wasting time? So! A purely utilitarian hack to a very much pressing personal problem – save some time and import your schedule into Yahoo!’s calendar with a couple of clicks (don’t forget the sweet AJAX!)
My hack involved a lot of screen scraping – until Yahoo! releases their Calendar API (which I discussed with Jeremy Zawodny) I will stick with Ruby’s WWW::Mechanize and good ol’ net/http. This makes any hack very unstable, unfortunately!
Berkeley (to prove that they, although they claim to be number one, falls just short of the mark) ended up having no hacks submitted on time – yes, not a single one. I contacted Yahoo!’s reps beforehand, explaining that my dearest Physics Professor (who rocks btw) scheduled a midterm right through hack day presentations, and can i please come over to Stanford to present?
Everything worked out nicely, and I ended up winning a nice big check for first place! Very impressive, considering that my hack demo ended up with a nice big Exception error message! Stanford’s firewall screwed over my WWW::Mechanize hack (which was completed around 5am… might explain that!) and I couldn’t import the data into Yahoo!’s calendar. All in all I proved my concept though!
SO, what did I learn in this process of a Yahoo! Open Hack Day and the University Hack Day?
- Presentation is key. If you can’t demo your hack, you probably won’t get far. On the same level, a good demo is worth as much as a good hack!
- Hack something different. Yes, this is very logical – duh! And my hack did not even satisfy this – its a very straightforward app, nothing “wow!” – but its worth thinking long and hard about what idea you want to show.
- Don’t be afraid to do anything! In contradiction with above, don’t sit around waiting for the perfect hack, just hack it! You will be surprised with what you learn
- Collaboration is great. Team members, friends, fellow programmers, what have you – they make the whole process much more fun and much more creative!
- network network network! The people you meet and the people you know can help you and guide you, so make contacts, get their cards, email and visit!
- Ride the wave. This Web 2.0 thing is still new to developers at the college level. Ride this wave while you still have lots of space on the waters!
OK, that’s all I can think of now. I won’t say too much about how disappointed I am with Berkeley’s response to this awesome event, and that I’m pleasantly amazed by Stanford’s nice people and (since i’ve been there many times) sweet sweet campus.
All in all, The Schedulator, written in Rails, will become part of thecafetable.com soon enough!