Shopify Hackfest Post-Mortem

David Underwood

On November 19th, I hosted (with the help of other ShopiFolk) Shopify’s first solo hackfest. We’ve done several events in the past in conjunction with Hack Days, but this was our first time going it alone.

The Set-Up

Brittany, Edward, Liz, Jonathan, and I showed up on Saturday morning to turn our office into a hackspace. Our open plan dev-pit is well suited for events like this so we pulled in extra chairs, taped off all the exec offices, and put a table in the lobby for our breakfast spread. Then we waited.

The risk with running a free event is always that plenty of people say they’ll come, but a good percentage never show up. That’s understandable, and we don’t begrudge anyone who signed up and couldn’t make it. However, it does make for a nerve-wracking hour or so while people show up. In the end we had 35 attendees from about 60 signups, which was just enough to fill the space we had without making everyone cramped. Perfect!

We kicked the day off around 10:30 with a short presentation on the Shopify API and how to use it directed by yours truly. Then it was time for the main event.

The Coding

Once everyone was filled with coffee, muffins, and knowledge, we let them loose to write some code. Several Shopify employees were on hand to provide assistance. I was glad for the support, too. Helping people out is great, but 35 hackers can ask way more questions than one or two people can handle.

One of the reasons we run events like this is so that we can get feedback and suggestions for improvements to our API and associated documentation. There’s no better way to test the completeness of your docs than to throw three dozen developers at it simultaneously. I came away with a host of areas that could use improvement.

Aside from answering questions, there wasn’t much for me to do during the day. Everyone got busy on their code and stayed at it until the time was up. The only breaks I saw people taking were for pizza and coke.

The Apps

The best part of the event was, of course, the demos. I don’t have enough space to go into all the apps in detail, but I’ve tried to summarize them below:

  • First Prize: Customer Action Shots - You know how ThinkGeek allows you to upload pictures of you wearing or using products? Now Shopify can too.
  • Second Prize: Group-buy products - Groupon/preorder-style ‘X people must order this before we make it available’.
  • Third Prize: Over-the-phone shop stats for merchants - Want to know how many orders you’ve made today? Dial a special number and have a machine tell you. Or select a different option to have your orders read back in real time as they’re placed.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Over-the-phone order updates for customers - Gives the merchant the ability to call customers from within the Admin dashboard, as well as set up automatic notifications over the phone or SMS whenever their order state changes.
  • Product comparisons - Helps customers figure out which product they want by listing their features side-by-side. Includes a search function for narrowing results.
  • Charity drive management - Get the word out! Auto-calculates charitable donations based on a percentage of sales and tweets out updates whenever someone places an order.
  • CMS integration - Insert product buy links into a CMS.
  • Drag-and-drop image upload - An interface similar to gmail’s image upload that you can drag pictures from the desktop onto to trigger an upload.
  • Stats page - Get salient sales facts on a slick dashboard.

I was most impressed with the sheer number of working demos by the end of the day. I would love to see some of these make it to the Shopify App Store in the future.

Next Time

After the success of the hackfest, We’re definitely going to be doing another one. Shopify now has small offices in both Toronto and Winnipeg, so the current thinking is to hold similar events there to spread the the love around the country a bit. After that, who knows! I’m envisioning a team of globe-trotting Shopifolk who fly around the world drumming up exciting app ideas and fighting crime. Let’s make that happen.

P.S.: If you're working on an app, tell us about it! We also have a vibrant developer group that would love your input.

P.P.S.: The photos in this post were taken by our own John Tajima. The rest of the set can be found on Google+.