GoCodeColorado

My Experience


What was GoCodeColorado?

Recently, the Colorado state government became the first to officially start a statewide apps challenge, called GoCodeColorado. Within this challenge, there were 5 different problems given to competitors to solve using public data-sets provided by the Secretary of State, including ones like business site location and higher education. It involved three main components:

  • Challenge Weekend
  • Mentor Check-In
  • Final Competition
Our team, StudentLink, debugging code

The challenge weekend was similar to the typical hackathon, except for one differentiation: it kept long-term sustainability in mind. It was held in 5 different locations across Colorado (Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Durango, and Colorado Springs) to ensure maximum participation, and the top two winners from each location would proceed on to the final competition.

David Viramontes, our full stack developer, getting some advice on our product’s flow

The mentor check-in was an event where the top 10 finalists came together at Convercent’s Denver office to meet reputed and experienced professionals in business, marketing, media, and technology. There, we got advice from many different perspectives that enabled us to improve the way we went about building our product, and also the way we presented our app in our final pitch.

The Final Competition, held at the Denver Art Museum.

The final competition was the culmination of it all- just a few days ago, the judges had the opportunity to view the final app in production, and a third-party company (Xentity) was given the task of reviewing the code and testing it for any security issues. It kicked off with a keynote from Google’s Strategy and Operations Principal- Patrick Ryan. One of the things he said made me love Google even more, but more importantly, the tech industry in general:

“At Google, we are in some ways still a research company- we are building self-driving cars, creating drones that bring WiFi to places like the Southern Hemisphere, we are making the future of wearables, and on the side, we run a pretty successful search engine.

It made me realize, that although there will always be things like Flappy Bird that seemingly make a lot of money for no intrinsic value, as cliched as it may sound, technology is really changing the world, as much as the idea is made fun of. This competition is just one instance of the idea, where real Colorado businesses will be directly benefited by technology and data. We then got to see the top 10 pitches- they all blew my mind away and I’m sure the judges had to make some pretty hard decisions. In the end, the top 3 teams (in order from 1st to 3rd) were Beagle, BizLink Colorado, and localsage. They definitely deserved to win, and I look forward to see where they take things.


What I Learned

Being a part of one of the top 10 teams in the state of Colorado was definitely one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had, and I was able to learn quite a few things in regards to technology, business, and startups. Although StudentLink didn’t win, here are some of my takeaways:

Flat structure doesn’t always work.

At the challenge weekend, our team had one evident strength- we were all developers and we came there to build something cool. This helped us make the most of our three days and in the end, we had the coolest prototype possible. Other teams consisted of a variety of people- developers, marketers, project managers, etc.

After we made it to the top 10, we decided to retain our “flat” structure, lacking any real management or organization. Although this worked for three days, working for a month like that had its issues. For one, we had a hard time staying on the same page, and on occasion we’d all be working on totally different aspects of the application, making it hard to get any one feature definitively done. We definitely could have used some project management help, and perhaps a clearer idea of leadership so personal bias never came in the way of our goals.

Don’t be afraid of criticism, and don’t be afraid to criticize.

Constructively, of course. Something that could have helped in the process would have been to be honest about what we didn’t like about the app or the presentation of it. A lot of time was spent in motivating each other and praising our work, but in some situations, a little criticism would have helped ground us and make us strive for better.

Start small.

One of the things we got caught up in was perfecting our algorithm, upon which our whole application was based. Due to the complex nature of it, it wasn’t something that could be perfected in a month, yet we tried to come up with all the features we wanted anyways. This hindered our progress in terms of building a true Minimum Viable Product, and our app lacked some of the polish others had.

Beagle’s homepage, perhaps the most minimal and simple out of any of the competitors.

The winner, Beagle, on the other hand, consisted of two simple views, one the homepage, and one a page explaining how to embed a Beagle Score in your website. But it worked perfectly, and the one feature it promised to do was executed flawlessly.

Innovation isn’t a location-based thing.

These days, a lot of my friends interested in technology and startups will say things like

I wish {{ where I live }} was as innovative as the Silicon Valley

or

I live in {{ random(place) }}, but my heart is still in Silicon Valley

I think this type of thought process is what is supposedly keeping innovation stuck in Silicon Valley/SF, where really, anywhere in the world can be a center of innovation, thanks to the connectivity the Internet brings us. GoCodeColorado was a great example of this, as it wasn’t California who was the first state to officially run an apps challenge- it was Colorado who challenged the status quo of how the government goes about building technology. Even within Colorado, the two most well-known startup hubs are Boulder and Denver; however, the top 3 teams were from Colorado Springs, Durango, and Fort Collins.


Overall, the GoCodeColorado experience has been profound and impactful on my life and career, and although we didn’t win, StudentLink is going to stay alive and better than ever. I also want to thank the state of Colorado, the Secretary of State’s office, Commerce Kitchen, and all of the sponsors for putting on such a great event, and I look forward to coming back next year as well.