Spending a Saturday hacking up a storm

Peter Kovessy
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Attendance at inaugural HackOTT almost double similar events in Montreal, Toronto

While online restaurant reservation forms allow diners to book a table without picking up the phone, would-be patrons frequently question whether their request was ever received.

But, in just a few hours on a recent Saturday afternoon, two Ottawa app developers solved the problem.

Brad Miller and Jevin Maltais created Reservely, an application that makes online reservations with any restaurant in the world faster and easier.

Users simply find a restaurant on a map and enter their name, number of requested seats, preferred time and a phone number. Reservely then contacts the restaurant automatically via voice and replies with a confirmation of the reservation.

The application was designed during the first HackOTT, one of the latest in a growing number of one-day contests that bring dozens of developers together in a single “pressure-cooker” environment.

Almost 75 mostly Ottawa-based developers registered for the event, held at Shopify’s ByWard Market offices late last month, designing 15 mobile and web applications by the end of the day. Besides Reservely, other apps developed at HackOTT included a movie trivia game, a digital rain check system for online stores, and a coffee-shop recommendation program that calls upon a user’s social network for advice.

“We need more of (these events),” said Edward Ocampo-Gooding, Shopify’s developer advocate and one of the organizers of the event.

“It brings the development community together … and the tighter these relationships, the better.”

One of the notable features of HackOTT was the involvement of seven commercial APIs, or application programming interfaces, including Shopify, Zip.ca and YellowPages.ca.

In simplified terms, an API is essentially the “door” allowing a developer to write a new program that connects to an existing application.

In the case of Reservely, the developers used the YellowAPI to access the phone numbers of restaurants, and plotted them visually using the Google Maps API.

Companies like Shopify get to see fresh, creative twists to their products that their staff may not have yet thought about, and also meet talented programmers they may eventually recruit to work for the firm.

Developers, meanwhile, learn more about Canadian APIs they can use to build new products and even companies, said Leila Boujnane, one of the organizers of HackOTT.

“Developers don’t necessarily have the time to meet each other … (and) creating a competitive environment brings out the best in everyone,” added Ms. Boujnane, who is also CEO of Idée Inc., the Toronto-based firm behind TinEye, billed as the world’s first reverse image search engine.

She organized the first Hackdays last May in Toronto, which sold out in 24 hours. Both the Toronto and subsequent Montreal version attracted about 40 participants.

The strong showing at HackOTT already has Ms. Boujnane contemplating a return.

“We’ll be back,” she said. “Something built here might change the world.”

Organizations: Canadian APIs, Idée

Geographic location: Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa

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