Four things I learnt from my first code sprint!

I had the privilege of attending the Mozilla Kerala Regional Sprint, 2018 held at Kerala Technology Innovation Zone, Kalamassery on July 14 and 15th. It was a fantastic event as I got to take part in a continuous coding marathon as well as interact with many great people. Right from the offset, I will state something here: I did not do anything ground-breaking during the event. I did not become this magician who could conjure up web apps that work smoothly. In fact, my team wasn’t able to make the final product in a perfect manner. (Although it wasn’t for the lack of trying, for certain). But that doesn’t mean it was a great learning experience for me. Here are a few things I learnt that I would like to share with you people:

Do not underestimate the power of networking and interacting with people

The very first thing we did as part of the event, was to have a networking session, where we were placed in groups of five and introduced ourselves to each other. This was followed by a similar session, but with four groups combined together and all of this ‘super-group’ having to meet and greet each other, followed by a quick game to ease ourselves into the event. This gave us a sense of familiarity with the other participants, even though we had not met before. And therein lies the point of such activities in events.

Even though we should look to constantly improve ourselves, the fact is we cannot do it alone. We are not Superman, we are just ordinary human beings at the end of the day. We need to work as a team, build contacts and references in the industry, to ensure that others have our back even when the chips are down. These events serve as a way to come into contact with such like minded people, and we must take advantage of that.

Understand the agenda and look for simple solutions which the group can handle

My group’s topic for the event was ‘Digital Data Library’. Essentially, the project was about creating a website where you could upload, download and rate datasets. We had to set tags to identify the datasets by type (JSON, CSV) as well as category (Agriculture, Biological and so on). Right from the outset, we started brainstorming so as to identify ways to solve this. We decided that we would use Django for back-end, while we would use the usual (HTML,CSS, JS) for front-end. I along with a couple others had tasted a bit fo Django, so we gambled on learning it well enough to execute it. We had a member who was proficient in Node.js, but we still went ahead with Django-and that proved to be a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong, I learnt more about the workings of Django through this event. But if this was a competition for the best product, we probably would have been better off relying on the experience of a person who had worked on a language she was familiar with. So, for hackathons, it is recommended you play to your strengths than take unnecessary risks.

You probably don’t know Git as much as you think you do

This may or may not apply to everyone- but I used to think that all I had to do with Git was these five commands:

git init
git add .
git commit -m "Message"
git add remote origin 'github-link'
git push -u origin master

In fact, for the last few months, when I worked on my solo projects, I always used only these commands (small variation if you are modifying a project- no need for the fourth statement). I felt like Git was a piece of cake and scoffed at the notion of having to learn Git.

Till I started working on group projects that is.

There is so much wrong that you can do. I ended up forking a project when I should have cloned it onto local storage. I didn’t realize there is something called pull request and that you need the approval of the owner of the repository to push your changes to the repository.

And of course the problem whether your code is compatible with the existing code.

Then I realized I needed to brush up on my Git knowledge. Especially when it comes to group projects.

Listen and talk with those around you- even if it isn’t purely tech talk

Ultimately, these events are about having great experiences which you can look back with a smile on your face. You do not have to be engrossed on your laptop all the time- look up and see the world around you. There are some amazing people you can interact with and have great conversations- and it could be about anything. From Facebook’s controversial data privacy policies to seeing many install open source OS on their laptops, or talking about Estonian government’s digital governance drive- I learnt so much during the course of those two days. This is why even if I wasn’t successful at creating a complete project (or helping my team-mates adequately), I will come back for more. These events give tangible as well as non-tangible benefits and you should at least have a taste of it.

Cool stickers come with these events!

So here are my thoughts on what happened from my experience at MKRS-18. I would like to thank the organizers, volunteers and participants for giving a great experience, and hope we can meet again and do great stuff together in the future. Until then, merci et au revoir.

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