The 24-hour Code-a-thon: MSP's perspective - By Alexander Yakobovich

The 24-hour Code-a-thon: MSP's perspective - By Alexander Yakobovich

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I love coding enough to consider it to be a form of art. To me, even fully functional code is only half-useful if it doesn’t follow conventions, doesn’t contain proper documentation, and is not reusable. I consider the definition of a properly written program as one that would qualify for the Pulitzer Prize nomination. If it were a piece of literature that is.


With that said, I might have created an impression of someone who would have doubts about a 24-hour coding session. Especially one aimed specifically at mobile development. After all, completing a computer science assignment overnight is one thing; producing market-ready and contest-winning apps for a phone in a 24-hour period is another.


But the target platform of the 2011 Canada-wide code-a-thons, Windows Phone 7, is no ordinary platform to develop for. It doesn’t require a dozen independent installation packages just to create and deploy a test app. It also doesn’t require you to consider a variety of different devices you code will run on; it’s one platform, one build. And it most certainly doesn’t turn your world upside down when it comes to the programming language. Development for Windows Phone 7 is done with the same C# language specification that is used for web, windows and even Xbox development. Game development projects done with XNA, for instance, can be deployed to Windows, Xbox and Windows Phone 7 without changing a single line of code (!


A simple installation process, a powerful development environment and an easy high-level programming language; all that sums up to the fact that 24 hours allocated for coding will be spent doing just that. Sure 24-hours won’t yield a Pulitzer Prize winning app or artistically gorgeous code, but for Windows Phone 7 development it could be more than enough to produce an app that will sell to the world.


The March Code-a-Thon at Ryerson University took place at the university’s DMZ lab. The Digital Media Zone (alright, go ahead and call it Demilitarized Zone if you want to) is an incubator for Ryerson students who wish to develop their ideas into commercial enterprises. But for 24 hours, the Zone became home to a number of students who just wanted to create phone apps.


View of Yonge and Dundas from DMZ


Armed with pizza and red bull, Ryerson, U of T, York and other students from around GTA went on to create some pretty cool stuff.


Development and testing in progress


As an MSP, I was tasked with assisting students, but that didn’t prevent me from working on my app as well. Having worked with XNA before, I decided to create something in 3D. I knew I wouldn’t finish on time, but I figured I would at least attempt to impress the judges :)


The initial brainstorming sessions resulted in both fun and useful apps. At the end of the event, Developer Evangelist, Joey deVilla, encouraged everyone to submit their apps to the marketplace, with a bit more tweaking after the code-a-thon.


Some memorable results included a fake call app, described by Joey as a much needed app to get out of those occasional awkward situations. The 4th place was given to a very simple app that showed a picture of a hand, used the accelerometer to detected a “shove” motion, and played that killer sentence that no one wants to hear (please don’t make me say it here). Joey pointed out that sometimes it is the “simple & stupid” apps that become a big hit, pointing out the fart app as an example.


Let’s just say that the code-a-thon produced a bit more than fart apps


My app was a 3D view of the solar system. I grabbed flat planet maps from NASA’s imagery website and wrapped them around spheres, which were sized, placed and given orbits with relative constants for some factors, such as orbital period, taken directly from - you guessed it - Wikipedia. The attempt was simple and incomplete, but my goal to wow the judges succeeded to a certain extent; I ended up in the second place.


"Solar Sailor" Planet scales had to be identical, otherwise, aside from Jupiter and Saturn, nothing would be visible


The winning app was an implementation of the classic card game “Durak”. The winner received Samsung’s flagship Windows Phone 7, Focus. Another phone was given to the Digital Media Zone to encourage further WP7 development. A team within the Zone deployed their test apps on the phone the following day.


Work hard, play hard


It is worthy to note that despite the fact that DMZ is minutes away from the subway, student residence and even some students’ homes (myself included), the majority of students decided to stay for all 24 hours. While not every single waking moment was spent coding, the spirit of the code-a-thon remained high throughout the 24-hour time period.

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