On April 10, 2012, the Yahoo Developer Network partnered with us here on the International Space Apps Challenge planning team to host a pre-event for the Challenge that will take place this weekend; a Flight Readiness Review for the challenges that will be worked at the event itself. The evening kicked off with a short overview presentation of the Challenge and some background from experience with Random Hacks of Kindness. What we know from RHoK is that these events can be incredibly successful, but often there are questions and stumbling blocks that could be avoided if the challenges were simply assessed a little more ahead of time – this was the motivation for this pre-event with the Yahoo Developer Network. We wanted to ask the right questions ahead of time so that when the “mission” itself occurs we have all of the tools and information available and ready so that the challenges can be worked in an efficient and successful manner.
Participants included representatives from NASA, representatives that will be supporting the event in San Francisco, people from organizations that have an interest in the results from the challenges, people who submitted challenges, and many skilled and talented Yahoo developers. After our short presentations, we turned challenges over, for the first time, to software developers who could begin brainstorming to provide input for the challenges. All that was provided were some basic guideline questions such as
Can this challenge be solved in a weekend and if not what pieces of it can be solved in a week?
Has this been solved before and, if so, is there another piece of development that needs to be done to expand upon it?
What datasets are needed still?
People formed teams and worked on approximately ten challenges each – brainstorming and asking key questions. The results were exciting! Developers were excited to see what challenges had been proposed. They assessed underlying questions, provided information where they found challenges that already had full or partial solutions, and assessed challenges that should be worked together rather than as independent challenges. They captured their thoughts on the comment fields for the challenges or on the Etherpad links provided with some of the challenges.
This event confirmed our belief that we have some very compelling challenges. I was impressed by how quickly the teams were engrossed in the challenges that were proposed. At one point, pizza was delivered to the room full of developers who had not yet had dinner, and no one moved – everyone kept brainstorming and discussing the challenges despite the wafting smell of bread and cheese. This seemed rather notable given the crowd in attendance.
I was and am incredibly encouraged by the pre-event and think that this could be a great thing for all future apps development challenges. Just like any other mission, we want to do as much work as we can ahead of time to make the mission itself successful. Thanks to the Yahoo Developer Network for all of their support and for hosting the event that we think is going to help making the International Space Apps Challenge an even larger success.
To everyone reading this, we encourage you to do something similar - start discussing the challenges and asking some of those guiding questions above. Visit the challenges at http://spaceappschallenge.org/challenges and share your thoughts and concerns now so that on the weekend of the event we can move forward even more quickly. I’m so encouraged by the challenges that have been submitted the conversation that those challenges inspired and the people that they’ve brought together. I can’t wait to see what solutions will come forward on April 21st and 22nd!