Code Camp at Visual Lizard

Hi everyone,

A few months ago, Visual Lizard started into our 18th year. With that anniversary date (18 years is forever in internet time) we did an internal review to make sure things that made us tick over the years still fit into our vision of who we are. To keep true to our desire to build great things, we decided to implement an almost monthly staff event that we have dubbed CODE CAMP.

Code Camp is 10 one-day competitions held over the course of the year. The general idea goes like this:

  • arrive at the office early
  • brainstorm ideas of little projects we can build/complete in 1 day
  • narrow the board of ideas down to 3 that we are all interested in
  • vote on the idea to build
  • draft teams where we split up the various rolls (i.e. 1 project manager, 1 programmer, 1 front end, etc... we might tweak this as we go)
  • start the clock for 1-1.5 hours of build time in the AM
  • break for a full team lunch for 1 hour
  • back to our teams and build solid for 2-3 hours
  • deadline alarm goes off and hands OFF the keyboards. No more changes!
  • then each team leader pitches their project to the entire staff
  • we then discuss each project as a group, the good, the bad, the other ideas we had to cut in order to get stuff done, etc... there maybe a beverage or two involved at this point.
  • select one winner from the projects and launch it (if applicable)

Last Friday, September 27, we had our first Code Camp event. Well, it was actually #2. The first one got postponed to later in the year. Following our plan above, we met and started to brainstorm out ideas. It had been awhile since we filled a wall with ideas, so it took everyone a little bit to get back into the swing of things. Pretty soon ideas where flying around faster than I could write them down. Things like war on terror victory maps, beard volume calculators, cats (it is in the internet), an RPG, and more. The golden rule when brainstorming is that there are NO bad ideas. 

After the dust had settled, we had all decided to build a little site to help promote Winnipeg (and surrounding area) web developers . It would consist of a list of URLs of projects built locally. We grabbed a URL to house the project at the end of the day and off we went.

The teams where, Doug, Wil, Ross and Lauren (Team WLDR, pronounced Wilder!), and they got to setup in the boardroom due to their 4 person size. The team of Dwayne, Max and Julian (Team DMJ, pronounced Team Damage!), got setup in the secret internet assembly office.

Both teams started out in a similar manner by writing out ideas and the goal of their projects. We do most of our planning on our walls here at Visual Lizard HQ. Team DMJ did a LOT of crossing off of ideas after we wrote them all down. We looked at the aggressive timeline and wanted to make sure we had a working project by 2pm. Set with a simple list of items we could build, we got started before lunch. We decided to start with Catalyst (our CMS) since we know how every inch of that software works. After getting a base install in place on a local server in our office, we set out to build the bare essentials of the project. A list and a form to add URLs to the list. By now it was lunch time.

After a delicious beverage and lunch over at the King's Head (it was also Ross' birthday), we rolled up our sleeves, set a timer, and got to work. We picked a very limited colour scheme, did some Creative Commons searches for images of Winnipeg over at Flickr, found some Google fonts, wrote copy for the site, tested, built and tested some more.

As the clock was ticking towards 2pm, we chopped a couple of presentation layer ideas from the plans, as we would not be able to properly implement a hidden form with animation built on a click to reveal trigger. We also scrapped the start we had made on capturing the submitted URLS and generating screenshots.

1:45 pm and Team DMJ have now committed all our code. Our team spent a few minutes writing down the selling points to our project for the presentation. We tested things one more time and felt pretty good going into the 2pm deadline.

When we all met to review the projects, we found the other team had taken a pretty different approach. Their project was using the google maps API, had room for a lot more stuff, did some pretty cool things with animation and in general looked really good. If they had completed the "submit your site" form, they would likely have had their site online. Unfortunately (or fortunately for our simple little site) team WLDR had run out of time.

All in all, it was a super fun day. Everyone got to roll up their sleeves and play a part in a project build that had a very simple idea, a very short timeframe and a bunch of great people working on it. I think I can speak for the entire group when I say we are all looking forward to Code Camp #3 on November 1.

If you are a web developer, a programmer, an app developer, a designer, and you live in or very near Winnipeg, then please head on over to and submit your site if it meets the criteria. We would love to build that list into a huge repository of all the work we Winnipeggers have built over the years. We look forward to seeing what your projects look like.

to blog