VanHackathon 2017 — The Hackathon Without Borders

My experience in a fully remote hackathon.



In the last weekend we had The VanHackathon. It’s a hackathon to connect talents to opportunities abroad. The event started friday, April 7th, at 7 PM, and was over at the same time on sunday.

Companies like Booking, Thinkific and VanHack itself created their challenges and helped developers in the project development all the 48 hours of code.

Booking.com challenge

The teams were created basically through Slack, where communication between vanhackers takes place. Some people already knew each other, some were even coding side by side in these two days, but that was not my case.

We assembled our team the monday before the hackathon: fparreira, PHP developer; mc9, designer and full stack developer; and me, front-end dev. With these skills, our team was complete. We met via Hangouts on thursday, got through some points, and it turned out we had our expectations very well aligned!

On friday, after a couple hours the event has started, we got to know that our back-end dev would not be able to attend the event due to health issues (he is ok)… This is where we lost our minds a little.

I know that feel Bob

After a brief moment of mourning the death of any hope we had, we still chose one of the most difficult challenges out there. The technical challenge itself wasn’t that scary, as we were advised to use JavaScript throughout the application (Node.js and MongoDB on back-end, AngularJS on front-end), but the business was too specific. We had to conceive an investment app with social features, where people would see what other investors are doing (including professional ones) and even mimick their actions in the system.

  • Where do we start?
  • How does this investment world work?
  • What do users of this kind of applications expect?
  • What information would we have access to?

These were only a portion of the many questions we had, and some of them we didn’t even know how to express. Even so, we chose this project as it fit our team (status: still looking for a back-end dev), the size of the challenge it brought to us and its usefulness — I’ve never heard of any application in this segment with this social extent, and that always adds to a service.

We studied about the business, cleared some doubts with the company staff (that were always willing to help, thank you!) and then we put ourselves to work. Carol went to sleep as she had not slept the night before, and I kept working to advance the back-end stuff, learning Mongo on the way.

In the other day, kind of hopeless, I told in the Slack group that I was in need of a Node dev, and then appears mak_chang, a dev that added so much in the project that I can’t even express it. No exaggeration. Chang understood the business quickly, helped in the mock-ups and developed the Node APIs. The project is safe!

In the end, we developed a functional prototype to show the idea we had of an investment system that hung into a social behavior. I submitted the project at 6:58 PM on sunday.

The main thing we learned (remembered) in these 48 hours was that business problems are much more important than technical problems. We worried a lot about them, but this have made it clear that what moves a system is its business, not the language in which it’s developed (this is a note to myself, I still have difficulties in detaching one thing from another).

Another one to notice: in hackathons, don’t make projects with obscure business rules, as it will spoil your performance. And in the case the rules you chose to work upon are too complex (even if you know them really well), break them down, implement only the most important portions. It’s a hackathon, mock things where there aren’t any crucial information, focus on the functionalities that make your solution to stand out. This is hackathon basics, but it’s always good to remember, right?


It was an awesome experience, as always, and I can’t wait for the next one! Our project is up, for anyone who has interest:

- Back-end: https://github.com/the-artisans/buzzer-back
- Front-end: https://github.com/the-artisans/buzzer-front
- Website: http://buzzerapp.surge.sh/ (remember, functional prototype) 😄

You can also see the available challenges, they are very interesting and practice is always welcome!


Friendly tip: VanHack — the company behind The Vanhackathon, that connects talent to opportunities abroad — has a super cool sale right now for their premium account until thursday, April 13th. There you have English lessons with native teachers, CV and cover letter reviewing, beyond a very nice community of vanhackers, all for $45,00 (canadian dollars, of course). If you plan to have different experiences, go take a look. I’ve just signed up! o/