Subito, Scrawler & Skirmish

Week Nine at Enspiral Dev Academy #

During this week I’ve experienced the full spectrum of emotions available to humans. That sounds exciting right? But think about it, that is an overwhelming amount to feel in such a condensed period of time, but I got the set. Luckily I had an arsenal of engineering empathy skills to fall back on and avoided going completely insane. The reasons for all the feels? It was final project week.

Subito #

As I briefly mentioned in my terrible last blog post, I was fortunate enough to have my final project pitch idea selected as one of the three projects. I’ll talk a little through the process of how pitch day worked and how I came to be team-lead of Subito.

  1. Pitches kick off
  2. 10 minutes of Q&A between cohort members
  3. Idea ranking by cohort (write your preferred three ideas to work on)
  4. Coaches select project ideas and teams based on cohort preferences
  5. Teams announced.

To be honest I was a bit surprised when my pitch was selected. It was a pretty fuzzy one minute pitch, based on a half formulated idea that had come to mind about fifteen minutes before I took the floor. The premise was a web app for flash deals. Something that could help businesses either clear stock fast, or smooth over lulls in trading through listing deals with a maximum of a four hour lifetime. I guess the most relatable way I found to explain it in the earlier stages of it’s life was a more localised and geographically focused, shorter version of GrabOne. And from the consumers end I wanted to build something that as a user I could take advantage of current sales/discounts/deals available in my geographical area based on categories. Too much to ask? I didn’t think so.

Neither did my team. My team was the most eclectic of the three. We were also technically the weakest, as we were all “zeros” when we came in, having no tech background whatsoever. Although we had been learning at an incredible pace we had never taken the technical lead roles in any past projects as this was always assumed by someone with more of a tech background. But now was our time to shine and really test each other on all this knowledge we had been accumulating over the last eight weeks. Not only this, we were also split with two Sharpies and two Rubists. We did have a challenge on our hands…

When we first touched base we realised that planning was going to be crucial to our success. We progressed with an agile approach and an LDD (learning driven development) mindset. Before I forget, my team consisted of:

By taking a learning first approach I think this alleviated some of our concerns around actually getting out a deliverable. We more took the mindset that learning a shitload was better than getting together a good looking app that was still above our heads.

Easy to say, but hard to execute.

I felt like there was constant friction between my internal “knowledge-seeker” and the “idealist”. I’d be lying if I said I put learning ahead of the end product 100% of the time. I grappled with the fact that visually representing the original idea may be hindered by the approach we took -but I did my best to silence those thoughts (or at least keep them in check).

In the end I had nothing to worry about. We ended up with a stunning, fully responsive, very functional web app that did everything we set out to do AND all learnt more than we thought possible. I think this came down largely to the tight scope we placed on the project coupled with the large investment of planning time made at the beginning to get everyone on the same page.

Stack #

I guess you want to know a little more about what’s under the Subito hood? Well really quickly….

This is by no means an exclusive list, but just a bit of the tech we touched. We all touched most of it, even the sharpies walked through the Ruby code!

Scrawler & Skirmish #

The last week myself and fellow devs fell into three very separate and distinct black holes. And as a result I actually didn’t talk to anyone other than my team mates and the occasional coach. It seemed as though everyone was assigning every waking minute of the day to their project and their project alone and that fraternising with other teams was not really an option.

This lead to a lot of intrigue. As I mentioned in one of my prior posts, I’m not a fan of anticipated surprises. I did my best to decipher the going-ons of the other teams by examining residual whiteboard scribblings and through the occasional glimpse of a UI or two but my report on their actual experiences is very flaky. What I can offer is a bit of a pre and post match breakdown on the two of them:

  1. Scrawler

Scrawler was the child prodigy of Regan Young, who pitched the idea under a different name.

Originally coined Poo Chat the premise of the app was (and arguably still is) enable communication between random individuals who are con-currently sharing very similar life experiences.

Yup, pooing.

The user is able to enter a chatroom via a QR code that team Scrawler has conveniently stuck in various lavatories around Wellington and for a ten minute period they’re able to talk to other toilet users about whatever they desire. This idea was immediately very popular when pitched. I think the cohort could see the viral possibilities of something so farfetched. My original thoughts were around the potential application of this technology. Sure, toilets are one take on it but it’s got more value than that and I was really hoping that the idea would be selected.

It was selected and the team of five (Regan, Mike, Ben, Gen & Hannah) worked furiously all week to get an awesome deliverable out. They actually managed MVP really quickly, using Firebase and a lot of JS with a C# backend. They were also able to implement a few extra features such as immortal vs mortal comments, meaning that comments with enough upvotes persisted beyond a users ten minute session. On top of that they also enabled drawing mode, where if during your ten minute session you tired of chatting, why not draw a pretty picture?

They also focused on having a great UI, which had to be suitable for mobile (for obvious reasons) and their branding, with personalised QR codes and a sweet landing page tied everything up into the most professional fecal-related app that I’ve ever seen. I would suggest checking out Scrawler here as I’m sure I’ve missed out a lot more of the good stuff that their team got up to.

Oh, and if you’re after a QR code to experience the app first hand, next time you’re in the bathroom at your local in town, have a good look around. I can guarantee you will find one in both the mens and ladies at The Southern Cross.

  1. Skirmish

Alright, if I had only a little to say about Scrawler then I have even less to say about the almighty force that is Skirmish. The boys (Richard, Andrew, Taylor & Nick) worked their usual dark magic to produce something pretty special, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

For those of you who ever wanted to follow in the Brains footsteps and take over the world the board game Risk may satiate that desire a little for you, I know it keeps me at bay. But EDA can do better than board games. Fellow dev, Richard Wood pitched his idea of Skirmish as essentially an online version of Risk. If my idea hadn’t got through I would have loved the opportunity to work on this project. Not only because it is a brilliant idea, but also because Richard would have been great to work with, I especially appreciate his devotion to testing.

You know that whiteboard peeking I confessed to earlier? Well these guys had their architecture and user stories laid out for the world to see, but I’ve got to admit, it was pretty irrelevant for spying purposes as they had a pretty complex system going on. I would expect nothing less from these four. They are some of the fastest learners I’ve ever met. Taylor and Nick in particular emulate everything “dev”, Andrew is a future Jony Ive and Richard covers all bases as an excellent scrum master. I was very curious as to see what they would produce during the week but also genuinely thought there was a chance that they may stumble upon the secrets of super conductivity based upon the elvish that was on that white board.

I didn’t really check in with them much over the week. I did peek at Andrews work tackling the Google Maps API and some of his JavaScript code which was fantastic, but on the whole I didn’t see too much of their product until presentation time. At this point it was great to see a live demo, which included chat functionality. Again, I fear I have undersold this project due to my naivety, so would implore you to check out the project here.

Sleep #

There was little of this going on over the last week. It always impresses me how much you can do as a human being. I’ve never achieved that much in such a short time period before and although I realised that this was a very artificial experience, it was a great experience to have nonetheless.

I probably slept an average of four hours a night. I usually take a while to wind down after working so even if I left EDA at a reasonable hour (e.g. 1am) I wouldn’t be able to sleep until around three. I’m very aware of the unsustainable nature of this, but over a week, it wasn’t too bad. It does make Friday afternoon a bit hazy in terms of recollection, but sometimes you’ve just got to do these things. What really helped is that the whole team took on this mentality, everyone was willing to push hard to achieve our learning objectives and make the most of our final week at EDA.

One thing that helped immensely was an idea that Melissa formulated. It was a really simple idea, but I think one of the best things we initiated as a team. Team Meals. We were all responsible for making a home cooked meal once during the week.

This set aside a time in the day where we could all enjoy each others company, not as developers, but as people.

I can’t reiterate how beneficial this was for our team dynamics and mental wellbeing and it also ensured the team was eating right for at least one meal a day.

Speaking #

One of my favourite things to do is present. It’s a weird juxtaposition from some of my other stances I’ve inherited from being a kiwi, but I do really enjoy it. When we were able to put a full day aside on Thursday to nail presentations this made me a very happy dev.

We used prezi largely because I’m obsessed with it and divided our week up into segments to speak on. We really just wanted to take the audience on the journey we’d been on and hit home how much knowledge we were able to solidify through building Subito. The whole thing was recorded on two cameras, but as chances have it they both cut out during ours so I can’t share it with you.

I was really proud of the team on the way in which they delivered Subito to the rest of EDA and some guests. I think we were able to do our week justice in 10 minutes of talking along with a short demo. We got some great feedback from the cohort and coaches and I still can’t believe what we were capable of doing in just one week.

Closing Thoughts #

It’s still a little surreal that EDA is over. I basically lived at 15 Walter Street for the last nine week, I’m a little institutionalised. I’m going to miss everything about my life at EDA, both the good and bad. I’ve grown so much as a person, been pushed to my limits daily and am still alive.

I guess I’d really like to thank everyone who made this experience possible and those who made this experience magical. EDA is an opportunity like no other and I’d encourage anyone thinking about it to reach out to them, even just to chat. The people who run is are amazing:

and some of the most talented people I have met. I mean this in a sense greater than code or development. I mean this in the human being sense. And to my fellow devs, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, actually no I won’t. You know how I feel even if I struggled a little to express it Friday afternoon.

Already there are discussions of how we hold on to what we have pioneered through an alumni community. I’m now also looking forward to helping the Kereru anyway that I can. After being given so much, I feel it’s the least I can do.


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