Last week we had our first Make Day at R/GA.
The concept of “making things” is wide, complex (or extremely simple depending on the point of view) and can be applied to almost anything on any industry. As a developer, I’m used to make things. As a hobbyist musician and former actor and writer, I’m used to make things….just in a slightly (or not) different way.
However, this is one of the first time that I have been given company resources and office time (real office day hours) to simply “make something” that doesn’t involve any client work and have actual fun with technology.
When the idea was proposed I though it was brilliant. Instead of all the politic and organizational complexity of organizing and assigning R&D time, coordinating projects and measuring results, the company decided to go with a simple two day event where every body could do whatever they want, as long as it involved making something, having fun and of course, presenting the results to the whole office (you won’t believe how competitive people can get, especially tech people). You can read more about the whole thing at Russell Davies blog post.
An ACER Iconia tablet with the Windows 8 Developer Preview on it !
As soon as the idea was proposed, I immediately knew I wanted to make something with the new technologies I have been keeping an eye on: Windows 8 and Windows Phone 7. I also wanted to combine those two platforms and new technology goodies with a real practical and useful data source that could eventually feed any app on any platform.
R/GA Make Day took place from Monday end of day to Wednesday. My worked hours count went to about 20 for the whole event. Basically two days to make things happen, prepare the demo for the whole office (with last minute fix-on-the-spot story).
With passion and dedication. All of us learned new tools, new techniques, new guidelines, new frameworks and in general new technologies and platforms in a few days and put together a working integrated solution.
For Make Day our team consisted of:
Danny Lee - in charge of the Windows Phone and a last minute Silverlight 4.0 out of browser app.
Above, screenshots from the Windows Phone Locator App !
Sebastien Jouhans - responsible for the cool face recognition open source app integrated with Arduino and including Text to Voice goodies. Seb also published his take on the project on his blog.
Jiri Mocicka, ID ninja putting together the story, design and presentation.
Design sketches and previews on our working wall !
Myself, in charge of putting together the data base using MS SQL 2008, implementing a small .NET 4.0 modular framework with C# and exposing the whole system’s RESTFul services implemented using WCF. I was also the handy Sys Admin hosting all the backend goodness.
The most exciting part was the Windows 8 Metro Style tablet application, which I had been following for a while, but only had less than a day to put together ! All Metro Style, using XAML and C#.
To put it as a simple idea, we wanted to build a platform for face recognition check in, so users can easily find colleagues across offices. Whenever a colleague gets in to the office, the app at the door performs the face recognition process and when the person is recognized it opens the doors and checks in the person at that office communicating with the services. As soon as someone is checked in, the Silverlight app running inside the office shows the person’s information and checking message.
Then the Windows Phone app and the Windows 8 apps can display the colleagues and different locations information, facilitating finding colleagues across offices. In our case, this is particularly useful since we have two different offices in London and we need to go back and forth for meetings and such, so knowing where a colleague is at any given time is quite useful.
Unfortunately we didn’t won the first price, but came second. Some simple and practical ideas may be more attractive than complete platform ecosystems ;) But we received good comments and feedback from all the colleagues and that is good coming from such talented people.
Notes about the core
Finally the RESTFul services allowed me to put together some practical concepts together. I used N-tier module approach, with a central Infrastructure project referenced by all layers, facilitating infrastructure code sharing. I also used the Entity Framework as data model layer since I have mostly worked with LinqToSQL. Then I used WCF to create a SOAP service and on top of it I exposed the REST XML services. This is a really cool recipe, since it allows the backend to eventually integrate with other SOAP based backend services that might required encryption, authentication and other more complex service integration, but at the same time allowed me to expose simple HTTP REST services in XML format. The underplaying code is the same, so is easy to maintain and can easily be enhanced to expose JSON format services.
Another interesting fact is that we managed to integrate open source with closed source applications to achieve a better solution. This is something rarely done and I have seen very few practical examples in my career. People tend to use only one platform and is inclined to be in favour or against one or the other, but we just demonstrated how two different technology philosophies can be combined to created a better, feature rich outcome.
I think that the event was a complete success. It was impressive how some teams came out with awesome finished applications and ideas and how everybody took their two days quite seriously. I believe it really helped to raise the bar and get everyone closer as a team. Hopefully we will some some ideas and projects come to life in the near future.
Until the next Make Day…and if you like the idea, propose it at your company. I guaranty you will at least have some fun learning new cool stuff !
Check out the R/GA London Make Day Official Video !