The MET Office Weather For Fun, My First Hack Day

I recently attended the MET Office Weather for fun hackathon and was part of the team that won first prize. It was a new experience for me so I thought I’d write up some of my thoughts and how I found it as an experience.

I’ve been living in Exeter, Devon for a couple of months now. I recently moved back here after living in France for a while and I’ve been really happy and supprised to see a how the geekscape of the area has changed in the last 18 months – 2 years. I’ve been working on my own for a while now and have really missed the collaborative environment of an office / agency. I signed up to and soon found an active and engaging web/developer community in the South West, with meetups, get-togethers, and well organised conferences and events.

One event that recently came up was a hackathon at the MET Office. I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to meet some people, do some networking and also have some fun writing some code in a collaborative environment. I contacted a good friend of mine Dave, who is also a freelance developer and we both went along bright and early one Saturday morning.

This was the first of these sorts of Events I’ve ever been too and I was so impressed. The MET Office did such an impressive job of looking after us and generally running a well organised, thoughtful, fun event. The food and drink flowed, there was live music, and really attentive friendly staff. To be honest I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

Dave and I joined up with Ben who had pitched the idea of “Google star map for weather” and along with Tom, Matt and Lesley we set to work. One of the biggest challenges at the start and throughout was reigning in our ideas. We had so many ideas and saw such potential in what we wanted to do that we often lost sight of the fact that we only really had a day and a half to put something together. We constantly had to adjust ideas and our approaches to problems because of the tight time limit.

We had quite a diversity of skills, from C and Python, through to PHP, Javascript and no programming knowledge at all. We did have 3 guys that worked for the MET Office and understood the data very well and along with being heavy duty maths guys, they really made a difference to the hack. This meant we were able to quickly divide up tasks and assign them to those that were most capable, we were able to quite quickly start coding. On the other hand it did mean we were forced into making some coding decisions that would allow the largest number of people to work on the project from our team and also use more than one language that was capable of the same thing. I can hold my hands up and say it’s far from the prettiest code I’ve ever written but hey it is all about hacking!

One of the best things I got out of the 2 days was being able to immerse myself in technology that I was less familiar with. In our day jobs we tend to work to client specifications, make things cross browser and far from the cutting edge. At events like this you have the chance to just focus on the goal and apply any technology that will get you there. In fact that is part of the challenge and appeal, to put you outside your comfort zone and use it as an opportunity to learn something new, push yourself, and to learn from others around you that bring differing skills and experience to the table.

I was really blown away by the level and skill of the attendees, and also at the level of the projects that were presented at the end of the 2 days. There were some fantastic ideas and all the teams had managed to progress their ideas a long way in the short time. In the end we got a working proof of concept prototype of our app. We achieved everything we set out to do and have created something that we all would really like to carry forward. Along with meeting some great people, a fantastic atmosphere and a well organised friendly event it made for a really rewarding 2 days. If you are a developer or designer considering attending an event like this I’d say go for it, there is so much to gain.

For a round up of the event itself you can read more on storify, or search twitter for the hashtag #wx4fun.

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