To infinity, and beyond!

Designer Olivia Cheng and her Codecademy team’s project Mars Watchtower was selected as a winner for Virtual Participation in the International Space Apps Challenge. We interviewed her to find out how the magic happened.

What led you to apply for the hackathon?

I saw it on Twitter and thought to myself, “Wow, it would be so awesome be involved in that” and then, “Well, why not?” I couldn’t attend any of the physical hackathons, but I saw there was a virtual location option. Couldn’t hurt to try!

How did you find your team?

I reached out to the Codeacademy group The Open Source Project to see if anyone would be interested, and got positive responses. I thought it would be a good fit since any project submitted to the Space Apps Challenge would be open source, and our team ended up with 5 members total.

What was it like to working together virtually?

I always planned on contributing to one of the GitHub projects started by the group, but I hadn’t expected to work with other members in real-time—there’s a big difference.

Because of the time zone difference, we took shifts coding—one of us about to sleep would fill the other people in on the progress and what tasks remained. There were hiccups, of course—occasionally someone would accidentally overwrite another person’s code, and sometimes a whole page of code would get wiped if Cloud9 IDE crashed while saving (oops!).

Any advice for people who want to do a hackathon?

Plan well. Do as much planning as possible ahead of time or in early hours because you have limited time to do what you need to get done. If you’re in a team, have a project manager to coordinate everyone’s efforts. Collaborating online can be a lot harder than in person, especially when you can’t just walk over to your teammate to quickly discuss something, so set up a workflow ahead of time.

Mars Watchtower team

We ended up using Workflowy for managing tasks and Cloud9 IDE for sharing code. Cloud9 IDE allowed us to write, edit and run our code with other team members simultaneously without the hassle of setting up individual local environments.

So… what’s next?

I’ll keep the project up on GitHub here so that team members (or anyone else) can continue to contribute. Although we didn’t win any global awards, our work paid off—we were selected as one of four winners for Virtual Participation.

As for the Codecademy group, I’ve been talking with the leaders of The Open Source Project and there are some ideas floating around to kickstart some projects in a hackathon-style… so we’ll see where that goes :)