AngelHack thoughts on SchoolSeer

Last weekend was AngelHack London. A friend talked me into signing up, one thing led to another and before we knew it we were five people dedicated to improving communication between parents and teachers. 24 hours of hacking later and we came up with SchoolSeer, a site that allows teachers and parents to send messages, view grades and attendance records of their children. You cna try out the demo version here: The login is guest/guest.

We started out five fresh people at the Bloomberg building in Angel. One of us had something urgent come up, leaving us with four people: three back-enders, one front-ender, no designer/ux guy. We were busy discussing our database model when lunch was announced, and 10 minutes later all the food was gone. The organizers mentioned there'd be more food in an hour but we didn't wait for that, which turned out to be the right decision as that was soon gone too.

Since we arrived quite late all the good spots were taken, and we had to settle on a table to the side of the main presentation area, next to a giant speaker. It could've been worse though, as the main hall with all the developers was even louder. We were just starting to make progress when the internet connection died, and it kept dying on us every couple of minutes. The organizers promised improvement, but we decided to ditch the noise and head over to Potato HQ, where we did all the hard work.

As it grew later and later our dev speed slowed, and the early hours of the morning were the worst. Right after that we started preparing the presentation and generating dummy data that would impress the jury, but that took a lot longer than expected. Or perhaps we underestimated the fatigue. In any case, when we were ready to head back to the AngelHack building there were only two of us left, tired and worn out, but psyched up to do our presentation.

There were technical difficulties yet again. My friend's old MacBook did not have the right connector to connect to the projector, and even the adapter dongle thingie he brought did not work. My laptop had the right connector but could somehow not show an image on the projector. The guy who helped me try and set it up blamed it on my laptop rather than admitting they should've sorted out a proper projector. Instead, we could only display a blurry image by pointing a videocamera to my laptop's screen. Ugh.  The projector had an 800x600 resolution so it might not have been a big loss.

Despite the blurry image, Brian managed to get the point across pretty well as I drove the laptop. They let us talk on for a bit longer than was the rule, which we took as a sign that the jury was interested. We left the jury a note apologizing for the poor presentation, suggesting we show them in person instead, but haven't heard back from them. Shortly after our presentation I headed home as I was dead tired. Brian stayed behind a while to try and get in touch with the jury, but apparently they disappeared soon after the result was announced, delayed by hours.

The whole experience was definitely memorable, and I was astonished at what our team managed to produce in such a short time. But to be perfectly honest, I don't quite get the point of the hackathon. It's all about nerf guns, shitty music, a crappy internet connection and coding in a sub-optimal state. I'm glad to have had the choice to relocate to a nearby office to get some actual shit done. I think our end product reflects this mindset. Although I do think we've got to spend more time on presentation in the future.

Our efforts will not go to waste. We've learned a lot of things from the hackathon, and we'll strive to get more (well, any) feedback on our project, and hopefully propose it to schools and investors. The best is yet to come :)

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