A big group of us spent the weekend at Over the Air, which is a brilliant mobile development conference and hackathon based in Bletchley Park. This is a little recap of all the fun (and work!) we got up to.
In case you didn’t know what Over the Air is, let me enlighten you. It’s a mobile development event with lots of world-class speakers, including a 36 hour development ‘hackathon’, and in our case, an incredibly good time.
The First Morning
We made our way over to Bletchley Park; the weather was good, spirits were high, and the day kicked off with a talk on Hacking Science & Space Exploration from Ariel Waldman . It was a great opening and talked about what other hack days had accomplished, inspiring my curiosity, and showing that even things that seemed pointless were still really cool.
Raring to go, we all split off to our choice for the first lecture. I went off to the beautiful ballroom for HTML5 on Steroids, which was some guys from Nokia demonstrating their extremely fast map API that is currently in beta. After that I made my way over to the marquee tent for Responsive Web Design – the Specs Behind the Sex from Bruce Lawson. Boasting around 100 slides, the talk was well paced and included some gems of CSS to come and the controversy with others, with a big hint of bitterness due to the lack of Opera support.
Then along came the very welcome - lunch. We all ended up on a little hill outside the marquee destroying our sandwiches and discussing the day. At this stage I signed up for the hackathon without any direction or knowledge of who would be doing it with me, so I went with the team name ‘Wendy’. Looking back at the collaboration we went on to achieve, team ‘Sequence’ would have been more fitting. During lunch we also set up camp Sequence complete with a gazebo, Welsh flag, and benches, though sadly lacking the torches we needed to make it an old siege camp!
After lunch I joined my colleagues on the Bletchley Park tour. It was nice to hear about how they cracked the enigma code. Though a lot of it went over my head, it was great to hear about some of the amazing people that worked at Bletchley Park during WWII. Following this came Facebook Open Graph: from Zero to Hero in 60 Minutes from Simon Cross, detailing the power of Facebook’s Open Graph and why we should use it, which really helped me to make sense of the Action to an Object philosophy. Watch this if you are working on making Facebook apps or even thinking about it; it’s a great place to start.
Simon Cross detailed the power of Facebook's Open Graph and why we should use it, which really helped me to make sense of the Action to an Object philosophy"
On my return to camp Sequence I was absolutely blown away! My team had covered my tent in a Happy 21st Birthday banner, put balloons up all over the place, brought out a cake, and sang happy birthday to me. I had no idea and was so humbled by the effort. I would like to thank everyone here again for what they did – among the best moments for me to take away from my short time here.
A Busy Night
At 6pm we all went for the second Facebook talk from Simon Cross, How We Build Facebook, which was incredibly eye opening to see how they work and the tools they used to make it all possible. Everyone was so intrigued and wanted to know how they could take some of this and apply it to their work. It was awesome to see how much power developers have, but also how much culture plays a part in the company.
The whole of Bletchley park proceeded to sing happy birthday"
After dinner came the Ignite talks run by our own Claire Scantlebury, which came with a little surprise as she rose to the challenge that she couldn’t embarrass me and told the whole of Bletchley Park it was my birthday, who then proceeded to sing happy birthday. Alas, I was not embarrassed but it was another fantastic highlight of the event. I couldn’t stay for long at the talks though as I was excited to start on our app idea! I left in search of my coder in arms, Matt Hunt, who I found talking to one of the knowledgeable Facebook developers about our idea, and we made our way into the house to find a spot with power sockets. When we found it, boy did we find it!
How Many Beers
After setting up our area, we needed to touch base with the Facebook guys again. This really was an insane experience - developing with a senior Facebook dev from San Francisco who was so friendly, patient and clever. We couldn’t have got where we did without them, from their knowledge and also their drive and faith in us. It really helped pick me up when I couldn’t get over something and had to develop until 6am, at which point I passed out in an armchair. We all put in some serious hours, but a big kudos goes to Matt Hunt for developing the lovely Android app, Matt O’Keefe for getting stuck in with the design, and Steve Brewer for basically creating a Windows phone SDK for Facebook and making the app which got us a win!
I would say the next day I was woken up, but it was about 1 ½ hours later for me, and then it was a struggle to gain consciousness. I caught up with the team after breakfast, we got another room and got back to it! Matt O’Keefe stepped up to do the styling of the web app, whilst I was busy ripping my hair out over the functionality, but everyone tried to help any way they could, even running to the van to get us some apples! It really was a massive joint Sequence effort.
Our presentation was up first...
Sadly, I was too engrossed in working on the How Many Beers app to go to any other lectures, but we all powered through until the presentations at 2.30pm. Our presentation was first, with an intro from Hayley, and quick demos of the app from Matt Hunt and myself before our time was up. After that we got to sit back and watch the other 38 entries – some fun, some serious, and some incredible feats of mixing up all the tech challenges. It made the event so great that people had spent so many hours pouring their hearts and mind into something.
I think I speak for everyone when I say that it was an absolutely awesome experience, and I can’t wait until next year!
Our photos from Over the Air can be found on our Facebook page.