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Sabio = Winning

By Julia - March 11, 2014 No Comments
I’ve won every hackathon I’ve ever entered.

OK, I’ve done two, but that’s still pretty rad, especially when you consider I learned to code only six months ago. (Thank you, Sabio!)

You might be asking, What’s a hackathon? Sounds naughty, and possibly illegal. Au contraire. Think hack as in, “finding a playful way to solve a problem,” and –athon as in, “a code-‘til-you-drop marathon of app-building.” We developers team up and get free pizza, coffee, and sometimes (or always, in the case of Sabio grads) some prize money to compete building apps for the government, while the government gets free-ish (minus some pizza) work out of programmers. Uncle Sam gets intellectual property; developers get Nerd Cred. For America!!!

The hackathon this weekend was a 24-hour contest from the US Dept. of Energy, giving us data about people’s electric bills for our app-building pleasure. Hackathons are all about problem-solving, so it may go without saying that the #1 problem everyone thought to solve using electric bill data was, “Why the &^#@ is my electric bill so high?” (You know you’ve been there.)

My boyfriend and I, both of us recent Sabio grads [no, we didn’t meet in Sabio, though that’d make a great story], went to this hackathon hoping we could team up with some seasoned developers. We both have only six months’ experience, so we figured we’d be junior devs on some senior guru’s team. That’s not how it ultimately played out, though; instead, we were sought out by A Guy With An Idea who recognized us as members of the winning team from the only other hackathon we’d ever attended. (That winning team last time was our Sabio group, by the way.) As a result, we became this guy’s developers for the weekend—the only two on his team. Yikes! The pressure was on.

Though not a coder, our Idea Guy was no slouch; he has an engineering degree related to electrical signatures, and had a great idea to use the government data we were given to identify which appliances were using up energy in someone’s house, graphing the data with watts over time. For example, a heater would show a particular pattern of use; it turns on when it’s cold, using a bunch of energy, and off again once it gets warm. That would show up on the graph as a big spike, or several big spikes in a row over time. A washer/dryer would use two consecutive bursts of energy over a couple of hours—one burst each. That would show up on the graph as two bumps in a row.

Sure enough, when he got into the provided data and downloaded his personal info from his house [yes, the government gave us this data to play with], clear patterns indeed emerged. We could see spikes of usage as he ran his heater overnight (on and off and on again), then one bump each in the morning and evening when he used his oven to cook breakfast and dinner, then two more bumps for his washer/dryer cycle in the afternoon. Cool!

He wanted to create an app where you could log in, see this data for yourself, and get personalized recommendations from the app to cut your electric bill down. Could we help? We’d try!

The next 24 hours were a blur. We coded our butts off until 5AM the first night, then got back up at 9AM and kept going. We ran into maddening stumbling blocks trying to use unfamiliar tech. We cut corners. We got frustrated, over-caffeinated, and upset with one another. We ate too much pizza. By the 5PM cut-off time the second day, with our fledgling app precariously held together with the code equivalent of duct-tape, I was exhausted, pouty, and anxious. Would people notice that this was a beginning-coder project and shun us? Would a horde of nerds point at us on stage and yell, “N0000BZ!”? Why, oh why, did I give up this beautiful L.A. weekend I could have spent with my dog to do this stupid thing?

But then—we won! What???

We were judged by our peers on idea, execution, and use of the data provided—and they voted us best. I was stunned, but I suppose I had no reason to have been. Six months of Sabio experience, hard work, and a winning idea paid off. We actually had the chops to code a working app, ready for demo, that solved a common problem in 24 hours.

Thank you, Sabio!

Six months ago, I was miserable at my non-tech job and looking for A Way Out. Six months later, I’ve won top place in two hackathons and am beginning my new job as a professional developer in two weeks. It’s hard to express in one blog post how that has completely changed my life. It’s not about prize money or Nerd Cred or helping my country or saving money on my electric bill, though that stuff is all nice. How many things in your life can you name that are unusual, fun, lucrative, challenging, outrageous, collaborative, prestigious, instructive, award-winning—and all those things at once? My old job was the opposite of all those things, and Sabio gave me The Way Out I was seeking.

Team Sabio 4 Life!

If you’re struggling with finding that kind of something in your life, you owe it to yourself to check out Sabio. If I can win a hackathon, so can you.

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