How we won FullCodePress

The winning codaroos team. Photo courtesy of FullCodePress

It’s been almost a month since myself and the rest of the Aussie team brought the FullCodePress trophy to the shores of Australia for the first time. After suffering defeat at the hands of the New Zealand team for the first 2 years it was a nice feeling to win. And what a fantastic event to be a part of. I really enjoyed what was an intense long weekend in Wellington – the friendly locals, the lovely meals, the stunning Martinis, the excellent Webstock talks and the event itself. It was certainly an experience I’ll never forget and am glad I plucked up the courage to be part of.

An overview of the event

For those unfamiliar with FullCodePress, it’s the brainchild of Mike Brown and Russ Weakley and was conceived as a way to do something charitable while furthering the awareness of the web industry – as well as having some fun along the way.

How it works is each team, comprised of 6 web experts, competes to build the best website they can in 24 hours for a charity that is revealed to them at the start of the 24 hours. My favourite description of it is the Geek Olympics.

This year there were three teams competing; America (Team USA), Australia (Codaroos) and New Zealand (Code Blacks). It was Americas first competition and New Zealand had won the only 2 previous events. I’m proud to say I helped bring the trophy to Australia for the first time – and with a unanimous decision to back it up.

How we won it

So how did we win it? Philip Fierlinger of Xero (one of the judges) wrote a great article outlining the judging criteria and process but I’d have to add that I think we had a fair bit of luck on our side.

Some luck on our side

The teams were evenly matched in terms of skills, experience and talent (with the exception of Team USA who boasted some well known names in the industry) but I believe luck helped us to win.

  1. We had a much simpler service to communicate compared to the other teams. Hearing dogs is easier to communicate than mental health and community youth services.
  2. Our organisation was the only one that had an existing site which we could learn from.
  3. We got a great representative from the organisation who was smart, knew her subject matter intimately, was trusting, a great communicator and who stuck with us for the full 24 hours.
  4. We had some good imagery and video to use.
  5. By coincidence, four of our team members had at differing times crossed paths with each other which made it easier for a big chunk of our team to work smoothly with each other.

The away advantage

It’s not that significant but travelling and staying together in a hotel really helped our team bond and get to know each other. I believe it played a part is us being able to work well together.

Lots of planning and preparation

Although nothing can really prepare you for the intensity of those 24 hours together, we did a reasonable amount of planning and preparation in the lead up. We used Teambox to share our thoughts, links and files. We had quite a few conference calls and we spent a fair chunk of the day before in the boardroom of our hotel collecting our thoughts and planning our approach. We even called a past contestant (David McDonald) to get a better understanding of what to expect and plan for.

Focus on content – it’s not all style

I believe our site is the weakest of the the three in terms of visual style. We won it for the content and stories told through the site and the usability of it. We kept the site flat, only 3 pages deep, and we organised it focusing heavily on their primary audience. We didn’t add any fancy features, we just kept it simple. We did plan to get in one fancy feature, for example an AJAX interaction somewhere significant, but it never happened. We did however create a pretty cool 404 page for them.

Quality over quantity

We went in with the approach of delivering quality not quantity and I don’t think we quite got there but it’s the best approach to take. 24 hours is not long to overlap interaction design, visual design, content writing and publishing as well as coding. If you want to deliver a winning solution then focus on delivering the bare essentials in the best possible format.

Collaborate with and give the client what they want

Collaboration was another thing we focused on. We wanted to all sit down and share a vision for the site first before we split off into our disciplines and did our own thing. We wanted to make sure we were on the some page and heading in the same direction.

In the initial workshop there were a lot of good ideas that we thought would benefit the client that we wanted to do but it became clear it wasn’t a priority for them – like a news area and accepting online donations. We pushed gently on some of them but in the end we listened.

We also made sure the client was involved in every part of what we did, from helping us develop the information architecture of the site to the visual direction and especially in shaping the content within it. She was constantly involved and contributing to what we were doing. Taking her on the journey as we say I believe was one of the keys in how we won.

It’s wasn’t all smooth sailing

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Codaroos over the course of the 24 hours. Without going into detail they were a few bumpy moments for our team that started around the 8 hour mark. This tainted the overall experience for me but at the same time it was great to see how everyone dealt with it and pressed on to the end. It also taught me a few things.

What I learnt

I learnt a lot from being part of FullCodePress. I learnt from my talented peers and competitors, from the Webstock talks I attended but also from being locked in a room with 5 other people for 24 hours in a public competition. It’s interesting the dynamics that form when 8 people are teamed together for for an intense 24 hours. I didn’t really expect it but it taught me a lot about myself.

Thank you, thank you, thank you

I’d like to send out a very big and warm thank you to the events organisers, the volunteers (especially those who plied me with coffee – you know who you are) and the sponsors, whom without I wouldn’t have gotten free flights, accommodation and an unforgettable experience:

New Zealand is stunning

I can’t finish without mentioning how stunning and wonderful New Zealand is to visit. After FullCodePress I took the chance to explore some of the north island with my family and the landscape we saw was spectacular. Another thing I loved about New Zealand was how celebrated the Maori culture is in their everyday lives. I realise it’s not without it’s issues for New Zealanders but as a tourist it really added to the charm. Australia could well take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book there.

[UPDATE] Hear Adam, Lachlan and myself talk about our FullCodePress 2010 experience in this Sitepoint podcast.

Leave a Reply