For the Love of Food: Building Ask Irene

How a team of n00bs created a decent web app in just two weeks

The team + Juan 🍟

A few months ago I had the opportunity to build a project that had been on my mind for a while. I am obsessed with food and the potential a meal has to transcend the act of eating, to help you connect with people and generate meaningful memories — whether they are good or bad. So what do you get when you mix food and experiences? A restaurant. As you can imagine, I eat out quite often and I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some really mind-blowing meals — and I am not talking about places like Osteria Francescana but mostly dodgy-looking spots that happen to have outstanding food.

A direct result of having visited so many restaurants worldwide (and especially in Barcelona) is that people kept asking me for recommendations. What place should I take my out-of-town family that’s typical but not touristy? What’s the perfect spot for a first Tinder date? Where can I go to impress my coolest friends without trying too hard? I was honored to receive these questions and I loved answering every one of them. But I felt I had more to offer. I wanted to help more people have experiences beyond food itself.

In case you’re wondering, the answer was Semproniana.

I work at Ironhack Barcelona as Program Manager, so when two students from the Web Development bootcamp (Dominik 🍕 & Torgeir 🌮) offered to build my idea as their final project I couldn’t say no. Some time back this barely formed thought had been given form and even a name that my personal tech guru (Marc 🍜) helped me come up with while walking the streets of Warsaw. The only thing missing to make it real was having someone who could actually build the app and now I had not only one but two developers. And so Ask Irene was created.

In case you don’t know how they work, Ironhack’s Web Dev bootcamps have a pretty clear structure: the first two weeks the students learn front-end (HTML, CSS and JavaScript) and on the third week they build a game (some as amazing as this one). On the fourth and fifth weeks they learn back-end (MongoDB, Express and Node) and on the sixth they build their first complete website. Finally, on the seventh week they learn the missing A in the MEAN stack: Angular. The last two weeks are devoted to the final project and believe me when I tell you that students take it really seriously. I didn’t want Dominik and Torgeir to help me without receiving something in return so I focused on creating the best UX, UI and content I could to enhance our project and their hard work.

Lucky us, we also have UX/UI Design programs at Ironhack so I counted on our part-time TA, part-time teacher, full-time twerking expert (Sofía 🍑) as an advisor. Starting by this part, it was truly amazing to see the process from the inside and feel what the UX/UI students were feeling while working on their projects.

If you have ever used Ask Irene (please do so in mobile, we’re working on it being responsive), you’ll know it offers an experience that’s quite simple and to the point. There are many apps that allow you to look for nearby restaurants but I’ve never truly liked any of them. They are not customized enough, they lack a sense of curation. I wanted to create the opposite and avoid by all means the overwhelming amount of results these apps where offering. In the end, you can go to just one place at a time so you only need one: the perfect spot. How to find it? Having many filters that will narrow down my overgrowing database to a few selected places that meet your criteria — as simple as that.

Fast forward two weeks and we had a working MVP that even looked cool and was being populated with real data. After working at Ironhack for a year it still amazes me what our students can achieve in 9 weeks. Ask Irene has a lot of room for improvement (from my side too) but this was built in just 2 weeks! By guys who had been coding for less than two months! I can’t help but using exclamation marks!

Ask Irene was selected for the December Hackshow — and we didn’t even bribe the jury.

I can only add a huge thank you to everyone that was and is a part of Ask Irene, everyone who gave me feedback and everyone who has ever used the app. I enjoyed every second of building it, every hour not slept and every screen drawn at Bologna airport. My advice to anyone who made it this far in the article and wants to really understand how you can work 12+ hours a day and keep wanting more? Live it. Discover what you love doing, join a bootcamp and have one of the most intense, rewarding and life-changing experiences you can find.