When the Scots took on Silicon Valley and won…

The Scots couple who won a prestigious hackathon at Developer Week in San Francisco.

Philippa Christie and Dan Chapman – a couple from Aberdeen who both work at Glasgow-based ideas agency Equator – recently travelled to the Developer Week Conference and Festival in San Francisco and while there, managed to come out on top in a prestigious hackathon. Here’s Philippa’s report from the conference:

DeveloperWeek was on a scale unlike anything I’d witnessed before. When I saw 800 hackers packed into one room, all typing away at the speed of light, I knew I wasn’t in Scotland anymore…

A memorable birthday surprise

I work as a production manager at Equator, the Glasgow-based ideas agency, where my partner Daniel Chapman also works as a developer. In my role, I oversee the delivery of projects for the entire company so I’m always immersed in conversation about the newest trends in coding and for Daniel, programming isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life.

That’s why I surprised him for his 30th birthday with a trip to San Francisco for the USA’s largest event of its kind, DeveloperWeek 2017. The week consists of 60 mini events with a line-up of incredible speakers from industry-leading companies like Google, Facebook and Tesla. We attended several insightful talks but the main reason we were there was to test our skills in the DeveloperWeek Hackathon.

Competing in the hackathon

Consisting of 28 challenges with 180 teams made up of 800 attendees, the Hackathon is colossal. Along with fellow developer Qi who we met at the festival, we took on the challenge hosted by Clover, a leading cloud-based payment platform for businesses. The brief asked developers to creatively use Clover’s API (application program interface) to expand on what the platform could already do.

We chose to expand on Clover as it has a great API we could build into, allowing us to leverage all the different components of the device. We decided to create a peer to peer referral app that acts like a loyalty scheme. With hardware for scanning referral codes, Clover fitted perfectly into the picture we had in our heads for our app which we called Unifi.

The winning idea had to benefit local merchants, solve a real problem and be viable enough to become a business. The issue we set out to fix related to something we’d observed during our trip – local businesses had great tactics in place to keep their clientele loyal but struggled to attract new customers.

We adapted the style of referral bonuses used by leading San Francisco tech companies like Airbnb and Uber. This involved building a demo app that allows you to refer friends to businesses and, as a bonus, you receive credit. Ultimately this is a cost-effective way for merchants to secure new customers.

Coming out on top

The Hackathon lasted 30 hours over two days finishing with us pitching our idea to Clover. After a nerve-racking wait, we were named victorious beating 18 other teams – we couldn’t have felt prouder! It was a long shift but it paid off.

We each won an amazing range of prizes worth $3,000 including $1,000 visa card, Google Home (which isn’t even available in the UK yet), GoPros and, the most exciting part, meeting the founders of Clover for lunch at their headquarters in Silicon Valley.

Upon arrival, we were given a tour of Clover HQ – it was incredible! There was a huge open collaboration space, noise cancellation pods and greenery everywhere – a fantastic environment that seemed to inspire creativity within you just by being there.

Meeting the founders of a leading Silicon Valley company was a moment I’ll never forget. They invited us to continue developing our prototype and potentially return to San Francisco in August 2017 to launch Unifi to Clover’s customers. We’re currently working on the app to get it up to full functionality and ready to bring to the marketplace.

Bringing the Equator approach to Silicon Valley

I believe Clover recognised the potential our app had due to our use of rapid prototyping during the Hackathon, a practice that is actively encouraged in Equator. Rapid prototyping is a process that involves putting lots of energy into building an idea quickly to create a minimum viable product or service, to let you efficiently establish if you have a strong idea. This can later be expanded on with further capability and features added.

Immersing ourselves in the dev culture of San Francisco was an incredibly valuable experience. We saw an engaged, passionate community that collaborated effectively. This was clearly demonstrated by the fact that only a few hours after meeting Qi, the three of us were working together giving it our all to win the Hackathon. It stood out how eager people were to share their ideas and create big solutions with measurable impact.

Taking on heavyweights

I feel very proud to be part of Equator. The business has been at the forefront of transformational thinking and digital technology since it was established in 1999 and now, it’s leading the charge in building an exciting, collaborative tech community in Scotland. Events like Techaus, Scotland’s largest digital festival which was launched by Equator and Digital Media Meetup last year, provide a fantastic platform for connecting developers and industry-leading businesses in a similar way to DeveloperWeek.

Seeing San Francisco was amazing but the highlight was definitely winning the Hackathon and beating Silicon Valley heavyweights. It shows that the skills we’ve gained in Equator and the way we’ve learned to work has put us ahead of the game on the international tech stage. As a business that started small and is now evolving into an international brand, competing in the Hackathon was the ideal opportunity to see how Equator shapes up against the world’s leading tech talent – and we came out on top!