As Mark mentioned in our previous #TCDisrupt blog, Sabre Labs participated in last week’s TechCrunch Disrupt #hackdisrupt hackathon for the second consecutive year. We took a team of three designers and developers to compete in one of the largest and most competitive hackathons in the world – 129 teams, 24 hours. The Sabre Labs team had a simple idea this year – we wanted to connect “nerd” travelers with each other in possibly the most “nerdy” airport in the world.  So we built Airport Nerds and used the APIs of several top companies and products to pull it off – IBM BlueMix, Esri, GitHub, and SFO. It was quite an experience.

Hacking the Night Away

I’m happy to say our hack went pretty smoothly. Our team successfully worked together in stressful, time-crunched situations and learned to work through the unexpected obstacles hackers face in a 24-hour hack. One example of overcoming a particular obstacle was when the temperature outside was in the 50s and the venue doors were open all night, in addition to the air conditioners running. So even with the mass of humanity in the building, we were freezing. Fortunately, the Clover Team provided Forever Lazy jump suits as free giveaways and TechCrunch made a Macy’s run to buy sweatshirts for the hackers. Despite these obstacles, I’m proud that our team pushed through and executed on the vision of Airport Nerds and delivered a solid working app by the end of 24 hours.


Other Hackers and Hacks

One reason the Sabre Labs team participates in hackathon events like these is the opportunity to see other developers, teams, and ideas at work. At TechCrunch Disrupt’s hackathon, you see all sorts of things , from crazy skateboard/table/chair standing desks to nerf guns and flying suction-cup darts whizzing by your head. An added bonus is the TechCrunch writing, photo, and video crews are constantly running around interviewing and recording action from the event while the event sponsors are pushing their wares table-to-table, and hackers line up to grab stickers, t-shirts, power blocks, and other freebies. Stickers are a hacker’s badge of honor after all – they say “I belong to these clubs” – and they become hot commodities at these events. There’s always food, food, and more food, plus snacks. A ping pong table was in use nearly the entire hack, drones were constantly flying around overhead, and teams were sprawled out working on both software and hardware hacks.


As the hacking wrapped up on September 7, presentations immediately started.  The presentation session is intense. Each hack team has 60 seconds to present their project, similar to a pitch you would see on ABC’s Shark Tank. Teams that were most successful generally had two people on stage presenting – one person running the demo and the other is mic’d up and presenting. This type of collaboration was evident during the Sabre Labs team presentation as our Front-End Developer, Maegan Snee, ran the demo, I presented, and our Principal Software Director, Barrett Clark, was live chatting from his seat in the audience to reinforce the real-time content that was being communicated. I got on stage and started my presentation just as I had rehearsed, expecting the demo to be ahead of me. It’s hard to explain how nerve-racking that situation is, but I did manage to complete the pitch in just under the allotted time! (How stressful was it? Thanks to my smart shirt from Hexoskin I know that my heart rate hovered at around 130bpm during the pitch…compared to 65bpm a short 10 minutes after!)


Overall, I’m extremely proud of our team and the app we created. We came with a plan, an idea of what we wanted to build, and executed beautifully. Our presentation went well, not flawlessly, but it represented our hack. Our team built relationships with fellow hackers and companies that will (hopefully) continue to hack and code into  the future. In the end, our Airport Nerds hack scores =qualified us for a free ticket to the Disrupt Conference where I am today. So if you see a still sleep deprived guy in a Sabre Labs shirt, ask to checkout Airport Nerds and we can talk travel tech.