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Hackathon report: HackTX 2015

Idea

My team and I started thinking of ideas on the drive down to Austin. We ended up deciding to do something that would automate the scheduling of meetings.

Project

We started writing a Python/Flask app hosted on Azure. Getting the project deployed initially was easy, as was setting up continuous integration. Last year, we wrote a PHP web app, and none of us were able to use our computers to test. In essence, the production server was also our development server. Using Flask was awesome because it comes with a development server.

Wes started to work on the UI, I worked on figuring out a way to read people's emails with Context.IO, and Evan worked on user account management. He started to use Flask-User, but then we couldn't get it to work on the Azure configuration we had set up. It was late at night, I wasn't sure what other library to use, and Wes was starting to hate Python, so we made a hard decision and switched everything to PHP.

At this point, we had to set up DeployBot to do continuous integration, and we went back to the issue of not having servers to do development on. As a result, the git log got pretty terrible.

I got a script to check a user's email inbox for emails that looked like someone trying to schedule a meeting and set it up to run on a cron job while Evan worked on our SendGrid integration.

The actual scheduling logic came into play much later in the day than we would have hoped. Luckily, it didn't turn out to be too challenging, so we were able to get it implemented and finally create our app's core functionality.

In the end, our product was definitely more hacky than any of us would have liked, but it worked well enough to demonstrate.

Presentation

Once again, presentations were "science fair" style this year, which was great. Several judges came around and asked about our project. Our pitch was something like this:

I've been doing job hunting lately, which involves a good amount of emailing back and forth to coordinate interviews. This process is a tedious chore; sounds like a job for computers! We built Schedule Ninja, an awesome computerized ninja that slices and dices your meetings so you don't have to.

Users log in with their Google account, which we use to pull in their availability through Google Calendar. We read their email in order to find messages that look like someone trying to set up a meeting. From those emails, we generate a request on the user's dashboard that they can either accept or deny. If they accept the request, Schedule Ninja emails the requester back with the user's availability and asks them to click a link to confirm their meeting time.

Schedule Ninja can also be used to request a meeting with someone else. The user types in an email address, and we detect whether that person is on our service. If they are, we are able to avoid email altogether, compare the two people's schedules, and set up a meeting for them automatically.

We got some great feedback from several judges who wanted to sign up for the service immediately. That felt very validating; we had built something users actually wanted! Unfortunately, we didn't place overall, but we did end up winning sponsor prizes from Microsoft and Indeed.

Conclusion

We had a lot of fun and built a useful product in 24 hours. Big thanks to the HackTX organizers, Context.IO, Square, Microsoft, and Indeed for all their feedback and help. If you've not gone to a hackathon, you should definitely sign up! They're super fun!

If you want to get in touch for any reason, I can be reached at [email protected] Thanks!