Bronco Appathon 2015
04 April, 2015 - 6 min read
Nearly a hundred times had I gone through the app and tested this one feature, the Android Contacts app. The second I pressed it the emulator froze, my heart skipped a beat. My palms were already sweaty from presenting in front of so many people. Laura looked at me and knew something was wrong, I closed the app, waited a second and attempted the button click once more.
It froze once again, for another 30 seconds before Contacts crashed. I had no idea how to fix this, an error that we could never had imagined happened during the worst time.
In 2011 I signed up for my first Bronco Appathon with a friend. Little did I know how much this would have an impact on my future. This friend would become my roommate for the next three years, I would fall in love with the entire mobile development field and ultimately pursue it as a career.
My first Appathon was started with humble beginnings, a small list of links that freshman of Boise State could visit to learn more about the school. Various links were all over the Boise State Website. Our app was the one place where you could figure out the gym hours and the cafeteria hours. It was a big deal for us, just figuring out how to build the Android app was a challenge. We finished it and drew the short straw to present first. We had no idea what to expect, this was our first Appathon, and it was the first Appathon ever. We did not do well with the judges but it was the first time building an app and it would not be the last.
The second Appathon I signed up for in 2012 we decided that we needed a bigger idea. We had more development experience, more people, and we were confident that we would do better than in the past. We brain stormed some ideas and came up with the app Health Walk. It would track your movements using a pedometer and graph that against the calorie intake of food you entered into the app. We ran into technical difficulties in our over ambitious idea and were unable to present because we could not get the Android app to run.
The third Appathon we were determined to do better than the two before. We had a new team, a new idea, and we decided that we needed something more than just engineers, we needed a graphic designer. This graphic designer would help us create branding, create a color scheme, and make our app the real deal.
After working the entire weekend we created Localize which we dubbed as "A local social network". We were extremely excited about our idea and it paid off when we got a great buzz and reception by the audience and the judges. We walked away with third place and best design. I also walked away with the desire to win, I had one last Appathon, and I wanted to go out with a bang.
Suggest was our attempt to fix annoying group messages by suggesting an activity to friends by filling who, what, when, where and why. We believe that every action starts with a suggestion and our app Suggest allows you to do that.
Keeping plans simple with Suggest will promote more meaningful activities between people.
The team was gathered together weeks before the Appathon began and this year we chose to have one graphic designer (Laura), one entrepreneur (Jackson), and two developers (Hank and I). This gave the team great balance, but it cut the number of developers in half then a majority of the teams.
Hank and I decided as a team to write for the Android operating system as we both have more experience in this development area. We used an Amazon Web Services EC2 server with a MySql database and a tomcat web server for our API.
I first started with writing the database tables and writing the API service for Suggest. This took me longer than I would have liked, almost a whole 24 hours went into writing the back end. Once I was finished with the back end Hank was making tons of progress on the front end and I needed to start to connect the pieces.
At about 2 AM on Sunday (about 10 hours until presentation) Hank and I looked at each other and knew we needed to make major progress to be ready to present. We created a priority to do list with five items on it and then we started to grind out code. We checked off the first three items before 4AM, with only two more to go we were looking good. By 6AM (about 5 hours until presentation) when we started to practice our presentation we had a nice MVP of Suggest.
We practiced Suggest's presentation for more than an hour, it was the most important part we had learned in three years of previous Appathons. We had the best presentation I had seen in all three of my Appathon years and I was very excited to show the judges what we had come up with.
Our team name was called, we walked up, and started the well rehearsed presentation. The first use case brought us to the first crash. The Android emulator I was using must had been corrupted some how because the second I clicked on the Contacts app it started to freeze and eventually crashed. It was embarrassing, but it was not a show stopper. I killed the Suggest app and tried once again to run through our use case. The Contacts app responded the same with a crash.
I started to grow very nervous as the crowd reacted to our app looking extremely buggy. Luckily one of the judges said, "Murphy's Law! It's OK!" I restarted the emulator completely and was able to run through our use case. I knew it looked bad, but I was hoping that somehow we could show Suggest's true potential.
Presenting an app that you had slaved over for 72 hours straight with only a couple hours of sleep was stressful. It was more than stressful, it was down right absurd, but for our team it was what we decided to do for the weekend.
We watched other teams present and I grew nervous as the competition was growing. The judges announced that Suggest won second place! I was ecstatic, all our hard work had paid off big time.
I thank the Bronco Appathon judges, contestants, and organizers for without the Appathon I would not be the developer I am today.