Today we’re joined by Tomas Ordonez, the creator of Chicago’s Hackatrain event coming up on June 16. Tom is the co-founder of Marketaero.com: the amazon of aircraft parts for airlines and is an alumn of Code Academy Winter 2012.
He co-founded Aeronautic Investments, an aviation parts distributor in Miami. Tom also works on StartupMVP.me, to educate entrepreneurs in lean development and Ruby On Rails. He organized the 1st Code Retreat in Miami gathering the software development leaders of the community.
WB Chicago:Hi Tom, thanks for joining us today on the Workbridge blog. So the Hackatrain is an all-day event where coders ride the Chicago L while building applications. Is there a story behind how you came up with this idea?
T.O: I started to code in my commute for a couple months. I commute on the Brown line from Lincoln Square to the loop.
I would code as fast as I could before I had to put my computer away and get out of the train. Wifi was never an issue. If I really wanted to get online I would just use my phone as a hotspot.
I also had to make sure my battery was charged. But this was not much of an issue either. My laptop goes for 3 hours if I am only coding.
I started talking to developers and they said they code during their commute as well, both on a CTA train and the Metra.
This is when I thought of the idea of bringing developers into a train to replicate the conditions of a commute. I am testing the idea that under pressure and with few resources you can produce some awesome stuff.
WB Chicago: For people interested in participating in the Hackatrain event, how would they go about it? Are there certain credentials someone should have in order to sign up?
T.O: Participants come from all programming backgrounds. Java, C#, PHP, Ruby, Phyton, ObjectiveC, Rails and other languages.
The Hackatrain is not your typical hackathon. It is not a competition or a challenge. It does not have judges. The Hackatrain proves that people can build code and awesome products while commuting.
You can bring any project at any development stage. At other hackathons, people say you are not supposed to bring a developed project. The Hackatrain is the opposite. Bring anything.
The official tee-shirt of the Hackatrain. Get one when you sign up!
WB Chicago: Hackatrain obviously makes me think of hacking, which can be seen by non-technical people as something very destructive and counterproductive. But this event is all about creating solutions to Chicago’s transit needs. What’s your opinion on the hacking stereotype and how would you respond to it in regards to the Hackatrain?
T.O: Tuesday at NEOCON 2012 I met someone at lunch and I explained to her what a hackathon was. She didn't know because she works in a different industry. A hackathon comes from hack and marathon. The word hack is used to represent code to build software applications. A hackathon is a marathon of code. They come in all kind of shapes. 12 hours, 24, hours, at office space, at buses, even in trains!
A hackathon brings software developers into one place to build software. It is a great way to learn from each other. Software development is a giant octopus with tentacles. There are too many things to learn and by building these types of events, you can bring developers from different backgrounds to learn from each other. Pete Morano from Hackatopia organizes a lot of these and developers learn a lot from them.
I organized a similar event in Miami back in December of 2011. It had a similar theme but was more educational. It was called Code Retreat and was an original idea of Corey Haines from Chicago. He traveled all around the world teaching developers how to write better code.
WB Chicago: I’ve battled my fair share of CTA problems, between over-crowded trains, phantom busses, and broken equipment. Do you see any of the teams in the Hackatrain coming up with solutions to these (or other) issues?
T.O: There are a couple of teams who proposed some apps about the CTA:
"Meetup inside the CTA train: Sit next to someone awesome".
I am very familiar with this situation. Even though I code a lot in the train now. Sometimes I wish to sit next to someone awesome to talk with. I tried doing this a couple of times and people look at me weird. Once I told a guy "Hey nice day uh?". He looked at me like he wanted to punch me. Once I asked a girl "How was your day?". She got up and changed seats. Most of the people commuting are attached to electronic devices. Maybe they need this communication channel to start a real life interaction.
"FixmeCTA: Take pictures of broken stuff at CTA stations and report them"
I think this idea is very cool. I looked around and the CTA does not have something like that. They could even use it internally to maintain the tracks and report back to their home base. Or just concerned commuters that would like to help the CTA. It would be like a crowdsourcing issue-reporting app.
WB Chicago: In the end, what do you hope to achieve with his event?
T.O: Keep on building the technical community in Chicago by enabling a place for people to learn from each other under extreme conditions: A moving train, with limited wifi and power. Prove that you can build awesome software while commuting.
WB Chicago: After the Hackatrain, what’s next for you? Hackaplane? Hackaboat?
T.O: Code On a Plane. I cannot use the hack word here for obvious reasons. :-)
I already tested the idea and it can be done. I did it a few weeks ago on a business trip from Chicago to Mexico. I am thinking of doing a CodeaPlane that goes from Chicago to Miami to Sao Paulo. Have a big party there and then come back. Some people are already interested!
Click Here to check out and sign up for the Hackatrain!