Scott Carleton is Andela’s VP of Technology. On his fourth day at Andela, he joined a team of developers at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon. Here’s what happened:The team traveled a total of 25,000 miles for this. Two engineers flew from Nigeria, two other team members came from across the US. And me. The new guy, flying from NYC on his 4th day on the job. All to try and get a hack done in the next 24 hours at TechCrunch Disrupt. What am I doing here? I thought I was too old for this.It all started with a cool idea — as it should. Wouldn’t it be awesome to pull someone into a meeting at a moment’s notice? “Hey Alexa, is Tolu available?” –> “Yes she is, setting up a Google Hangout now.” Or “She’s busy in a meeting”. Or “It’s after work hours in Lagos”. Sounds great, right? But as engineers, we have to figure out the nuts and bolts of actually getting this done, in less than one day.For software engineers, there’s something incredible about a hackathon. The pressure, the cycle of asking the questions, of finding the hurdles and overcoming them. There’s a purity to it. It’s an engineering rush to build quickly, determine tradeoffs, and go with the best solution. There’s no waffling, no politics, and no ego when a team is this united in pursuit of getting something working, fast.After a few discussions and diagrams, we settled on an architecture:
This is starting to feel pretty complex for a hackathon project. There are a lot of pipes to hook together and get working in sync. In my experience, pipes mean leaks, data incompatibility and trusting the network — which is never a good idea. On the plus side, this architecture allows the team to divide up and build in parallel so that we can make the best use of our time.We set to work.The questions, tradeoffs, and decisions started coming fast and furious.Does anyone know a good Node library Redis pub/sub? Should we use Heroku with Node.JS or a full-blown AWS infrastructure? What is this AWS Lambda beast? Does anyone know the basics of Amazon Alexa? What the hell is an ‘utterances’ file? This is really the best part of hackathons. You come in, not knowing anything about the APIs or tools you’re going to use and you run into hurdle after hurdle to scale those walls within hours.A few hours in and we’re making progress. But there are new complexities at every turn. This particular team has never worked together before. Can we really get this all done?
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