This weekend, South Florida’s computer programmers, graphic designers and entrepreneurs were building the apps of the future.
For some, the future looked like a smartphone-controlled blinking ball rolling around a room, bumping into walls. One group of app designers said their program would instruct the ball (called a Sphero) to measure the dimensions of a room — or of an entire apartment — and instantly display a corresponding map on your phone. With that map, you could march into a store and order just the right amount of carpet. Another team built an app that would make the ball dance. Yet another app could instruct Sphero to change its personality, follow you around like a pet, even cry.
Those were a few of the dozens of ideas being sketched in notebooks, designed on chart paper and coded on laptops at the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park over the weekend.
The event, which attracted more than 160 participants for the closing presentations on Sunday, was called the AT&T Mobile App Hackathon. It wasn’t about maliciously hacking into computers, but creating teams and cooking up clever phone apps on the fly — and competing for $5,000 in prizes. There were apps — all built in a weekend — to help you precisely handle your schedule, check in at events, crystallize ideas, get more out of an art exhibit, or even — perhaps — help save your life in an emergency.
The gathering was also an opportunity for Miami tech startups to promote the city’s growing technology scene. Milana Kuznetsova, CEO of ESENEM and one of the organizers of the hackathon, started her company in Miami last year. She helped organize the hackathon because she wants to help grow the local technology industry. “Miami will be the future tech hub of Latin America,” Kuznetsova said. “That’s why our vision is to create a network and create the community.”
To help foster a connection between Miami and Latin America, simultaneous hackathons were held in Argentina, Chile and Colombia, with more than 100 Latin American programmers and designers participating in the joint event. The Latin American hackathons were simulcast over the Web, and participants in all the contests could connect via Twitter and webcam.
“Latin America is a talent pool we want to tap into whether virtually or through recruiting to work here in Miami,” said Wifredo Fernandez, the organizer of the Latin American hackathons and co-founder of The LAB Miami, a co-working space in Wynwood.
On the opening night on Friday, participants heard from speakers and mentors who offered guidance on how to build projects, but also on what it takes to run a successful tech startup.
Andrej Kostresevic, founder of South Florida-based mobile application development company New Frontier Nomads, was an invited speaker and a judge. With 10 years of experience in software development, his company helps startups design mobile applications for their businesses. Kostresevic urged developers to have a clear vision for their apps before they started developing — a practice that is central to his company’s business model.
“We’re here to write code and have fun, but don’t forget that in the real world it’s not the first step.” said Kostresevic. “You should know why you’re writing the code before you start.”
Some teams came together for the first time at the hackathon, and pledged to carry on with their projects. A few even formed companies with their newfound programming friends. While many participants took on challenges issued by sponsoring companies like LegalFile, CareCloud and Sphero, other developers brought their own projects.
Francisco Quintero and Juan Bermudez are the team behind the club-promotion management application NightPro. While their app is still in development, they have finished their Web-based and iPhone app during the past four months.
They used the hackathon to challenge themselves to develop a iPad version of their application in a three-day period. At the end of the competition, their iPad app was running smoothly, just in time for closing presentations.
“It was definitely was a success,” said Bermudez, the project’s programmer and designer. “We’re up for finishing and getting it to launch soon.”
Bermudez and Quintero are not strangers to South Florida hackathons. Last November, Bermudez won first place for his design of an ING mobile application during Hack Day Miami. He said that more than the prizes, hackathons are venues for connecting with other developers in the community.
“I think the best part of this weekend was meeting people,” said Bermudez. “I’ve never seen this amount of people at a hackathon, and it was amazing.”