Winning 1st Place at the Coca-Cola/Spotify Hackathon!

This invite-only hackathon was put on by Coca-Cola and Spotify. In the previous weeks, our team, London Calling, had received very little information on what brand we would be working with. One clue: the brand is global, operating in 206 countries, with 1.7 billion consumers served, daily. I decided to Google that line, since it sounded like something a brand would use in its marketing materials.

My query resulted with articles about Coca-Cola, but the most telling find was this one. The stakes were raised. We started researching their current initiatives and brand positioning to get a feel for what they are up to. No surprise: stuff about music.

Fast forward to Saturday, April 14. We arrived at 9:30 a.m. It was a nice morning, and I was prepared to put my wrists and back through hackathon hell.

Breakfast? Check. Nice chairs? Check. Lots of branding stuff? Check. Coca-Cola? Check. Beer? That came too. Heck, we even had a masseuse come in to smack our backs like keyboards.

Coke took us through the brief again. And then they took us on a brand immersion course, which included a well-done and informative video. Spotify gave us API information. Facebook followed suit, and provided info on their API authentication process (guidance is pretty much required, since their documentation online is like walking through the 7th circle of hackathon hell).

Briefing was over by about 11:30 a.m., and we immediately started talking about the product. At 1:00 p.m., we spoke to a rep from Coke and bounced a few of our ideas off of him. He confirmed a few things for us, and we steered ourselves back to the brief, and stuck to it for the rest of the weekend. Now comes my favorite part:

1:30 p.m. Begin product spec document and continued brainstorming with Jeff and David.

2:00 p.m. Erase product document and start over.

2:30 p.m. Wireframing.

3:00 p.m. More notes. Starting to get nervous and anxious because I need to be coding something.

3:30 p.m. No more product talk, just start designing and developing.

4:00 p.m. It was mentioned that it would be cool if you could get a street view of the moon with Google Maps. Toby: “Yeah, it would show you a green alien in full stride, running away from the camera.” Me: “With its face blurred out.”

4:15 p.m. F-bombs are being dropped, and I can’t remember why.

Dinner happened somewhere in here. We keep coding through the evening. The features weren’t coming as quickly as we hoped they would, but it was starting to look good. Around this time, we commented that “it’s likely that we’ll have the best looking app at the hackathon – thanks David!

Tiredness really starts to kick in around 12 straight hours of working. So, basically from 11:00 p.m. on into Sunday, it’s an upward battle — a battle of which one fights with exorbitant amounts of caffeine, sugar, stand-up breaks, and pushups (if you’re Aaron).

Once you get into any time after 2 a.m., delirium comes in waves, until it floods over you. Brain output dissipates into nonexistence. If you’re doing front-end, you see the physical world in terms of <div>s and <class>es. If you’re doing back-end, it’s all variables, objects and arrays.


4:00 a.m. Apparently Toby writes a MongoDB driver.

4:15 a.m. “Flags. I love flags.” -Me

4:20 a.m. “Mr. text-box-man, how is your text box coming?” -Me

4:28 a.m. “mur mur mur mur mur mur mur” -David

4:30 a.m.: var sleep = “I wish I was sleeping.”;


5:00 a.m. Our troops are starting to disperse, traveling home to the warmth of their mattresses. Three have gone, and it is Pinzler, Toby and I remaining.

6:00 a.m. Toby heads home.

6:30 a.m. I go to sleep on a couch in the venue’s lounge area.

7:00 a.m. Pinzler joins me.


9:31 a.m. No I’m not. I’m still tired.

9:32 a.m. I stumble out into the main area. Aaron and Pinzler are sitting there working. It will take me an hour to get my shit together to be useful again.

10:00 a.m. David rolls in.

10:05 a.m. I call Toby. The conversation we had was intensely creative:

Me: “Hey Toby.”

Toby: Hi.

Me: So (hitting keys on my keyboard, click click click).

Toby: …

Me: What’s up? How was your sleep?

Toby: I got a solid two and a half.

Alex: Nice. I slept here… 2.5 for me, too.

* silence *

Alex: When are you coming?

Toby: I’ll be there soon.

Alex: Cool. Cya.

Toby: Cya.

(This conversation occurred over a 3 minute period.)

10:30 a.m. Toby rolls in.

10:50, or-something-like-that-a.m.: Jeff arrives.

What ensued was a feverish storm of typing. Hacking was set to end at 3, and our app still didn’t play music. No problem; it’s just a Spotify application, it doesn’t need to play music.

1:00 p.m. My brain actually returns to about 85-90% of its normal operational output.

Features are coming together. One problem: one of the core functionalities of our app isn’t working, and as it turns out, it never did. We couldn’t finish everything.

The last hour of a hackathon seems to be the most productive. Features are forced through, and not even a missing semi-colon will stop them. OK, a missing semi-colon will stop them, but let’s just pretend it doesn’t.

3:00 p.m. Time is up, and people start presenting. We are picked to present third. I’m tired. We keep hacking some of the final additions until the last minute before we head up there.

I think around 4:00 p.m., we’re on stage, and Jeff rolls out his story. Unfortunately, some of the features we promised Jeff weren’t working, so we kinda threw him under the bus for his presentation. Luckily for him, it wasn’t a school bus.

But, he maintained confidence and handled it really well. We finished and were asked a lot of questions – this was a good thing. Three groups went after us, and then the judging began. 30 minutes to an hour later, the announcement came:

“We will be working with… London Calling.”

It took a second to register, and then shortly after, WOW.  We go up and shake hands with all the king’s good men and women, share some high fives, and then head to the keg.

We celebrated with more drinking. And on Monday, I was back at work as a Creative Strategist at the agency, even though I felt like a super hero.

Check out the video that Coke created below:


One thought on “Winning 1st Place at the Coca-Cola/Spotify Hackathon!

  1. Pingback: How a Copywriter Becomes a Software Engineer | Sweet as Tandy

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