Say you've got to figure out how to build an interactive locator map that would allow you to find other workers without having to get up from your desk. The catch — you have five days to do it. With the clock ticking, how would you go about solving the problem? What methods would you use?
That's the exact problem a couple of Dropbox engineers faced. They were tasked with creating creating a Harry Potter "Marauder's Map" for Dropbox's new San Francisco offices during the company's five-day Hack Week. This article called the hackathon a good demonstration of what hacking is all about — problem solving. But it's more than just solving the problem, more than just the end result.
Take a look at the video below, noticing exactly how the two engineers went about solving the problem of creating their Marauder's Map:
Notice how engineers Jie and Zviad didn't just start hacking away at their computers. They actually sat and thought through what they were going to do to build their tracking app. Let's take a closer look at the process they used.
- Gathering Data — Jie and Zviad had an idea and went about concept testing ways to make it work before jumping into any coding. In other words, they did their homework and gathered data first on the Wi-Fi and even built an Android app to help them do so.
- Prototyping — With the clock ticking, Jie and Zviad didn't waste anytime and knocked out a prototype to test their ideas out in the wild. Not only that but they iterated on that prototype, refining it to create a demo model, which they further refined. Here at ZURB, we're quite fond of rapid prototyping, so much so that we've even built an open source framework for multiple devices. We've also used in-browser prototyping to help us quickly iterate and refine our designs for our ZURBword front page.
- Fail Fast — That's not what Jie and Zviad called it in the video, but that's what they did. They tried out several ideas, sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't. In other words, they failed fast and quickly learned from that failure.
When it comes to solving problems, Zviad put it best in the video:
It's not about typing a lot of things. It's more like a lot of thinking and then writing 10 lines [of code] and then more thinking.
For the engineers at Dropbox, it wasn't just about solving the problem of creating the map. It was about thinking through the problem. In other words, it was more about the process to solve it.