Lessons Learned: Social@Changi

We only had a month to prepare. Our idea evolved over time. We ended up pursuing the idea that formed less than a week before the hack. I highly advise against doing so.

But then again, spontaneity has its benefits. And the hack? A “mini” social platform for travellers.

A little over a month ago, an announcement was made. A hackathon based on a theme for the 6th busiest airport in the world. I’m talking about Singapore Changi Airport. In this post, I share my experience and lessons learned taking part in that event. The theme was about engaging travellers arriving, transiting, and departing through the airport. If you’ve been there before, you would think that they already got everything covered. I mean, just look around when you do get a chance to go back there, the airport is like no other! There was no doubt in my mind that I should join this hackathon upon hearing the announcement. So along with my colleagues, we decided to sign up without any hesitation.

Our “MVP” was basically a chat room where users can enter any room tied to a particular topic, say Movies or Gaming which the airport already provides, and they can chat about it; maybe you’re bored waiting for your flight, and you want to go play a game or two and want to challenge someone. You either make a new friend, or just have fun! Plain and simple.

But before the final idea, we actually had to go through discussing others. We looked at how we can convenience the travellers through electronic filing of Embarkation/Disembarkation forms. We thought of providing an indoor GPS to guide them to places in the airport. Then one of our colleague even suggested a “Treasure Hunt” inside the airport. These were all really good ideas. The problem is that we couldn’t decide, and we kept on moving from one to another. The last one was the Treasure Hunt one, but we couldn’t come up with the mechanics or wireframes… it seemed too difficult to juggle between this and work.

As we were still finding the “right” idea, we already decided what tech to use. We went all the way with native Android. It was a split-second decision, well at least for me. Just pure mobile app, not even planning to write a single backend code and just delegate that to some Backend-as-a-Service provider. That part we kind of argued about. Honestly, when a friend of mine proposed the same idea for another app, in my mind I was like “What?! Is that even possible?” But all of my doubts disappeared after seeing the benefits we had using it in our hack. It turned out pretty good. Then it was just a matter of breaking down the app into quick mock-ups over a piece of paper, screen by screen, component by component. And it was up to us what we want to do in the components we took care of.

We hit a little bump along the way. Developing in Android with a team, I didn’t think it would be a problem not syncing up with the API versions to use. I bought an Android phone not just for this hack but have been planning to get a jumpstart on Android development, and I was using this for the hack. The phone only has KitKat, but we were using some Lollipop features for the Material look and feel. We couldn’t downgrade or else it would involve a lot of rework, so I had to ditch my phone. I guess we kind of passed this one okay; the venue closed so we had to continue remotely from our homes, and so I continued from my desktop which is a real horsepower compared to that 4 year old laptop I used. I switched to the Android emulator for the remaining development.

By 4 at dawn, we wrapped up and hit the sack. It was surreal, we didn’t think we’d get it up and working this quickly having no experience with Android development.

Next day was preparation and pitch time. I woke up at 10:30 and our team’s pitch rehearsal was scheduled for 11:10 (I thought it was 11:20.) It went well, we didn’t pick straws on who was going to be the frontman. Our tallest guy did it, I wasn’t ready for it. We got really good feedback and the app showed promise, personally I think too since who would’ve thought of networking in the airport when everyone is busy minding their own time right?

The moment came and it was our team’s turn to pitch. We failed to capture the audience and judges… it kind of went monotone, no highs and lows. While we were waiting for our turn, one thing I noticed is that stage presence IS really a big deal in these events. Some people start loud stating the problem and then easily take the audience for a ride and convince that their solution is the only solution. Others, well they just have that bright personality that lights up the room. I envy them. How do they get so much confidence in talking to a large audience?

All in all, it was a fun ride! Can’t wait for the next gig! Until next time, adios!