Armed Forces Jam ‘like running a cross country race,’ winner says

John Meo might have hit on the perfect analogy for a hackathon at the Armed Forces Jam this weekend.

Fresh off his team’s win at the Armed Forces Jam last weekend, Meo compared it to a physically taxing experience that sneaks up on you but provides a satisfying result. 

“It was like running a cross-country race,” said Meo, who in his first Armed Forces Jam led a team that built a Battleship-like game in 48 hours. “It requires a lot of effort but once you finish, you are glad that you did it.”

A $1,000 prize for his team likely also contributed to his satisfaction after the event. That amount represented the top prize at the jam, which is in its third year.

Armed Forces Jam brings together developers and other members of the community to build products that solve specific problems for the military.

Meo said the experience of going from zero to working game in a weekend can be a lot.

“It was stressful at the beginning because we had a blank page and you are literally drawing just a dot on the screen,” he said. “To go from that to a working game in two days is a lot.”

Although the event stressed Meo out a little, his background indicates that perhaps he was well-suited for getting things done quickly.

The 22-year-old graduated from Oregon State University at the age of 19, finishing in three years after graduating high school early.

“I genuinely like school and learning so it wasn’t that hard,” he said.

What was hard, though, was the Jam. He said he enjoyed the event but it required him to work long hours.

“It’s the hardest thing I have worked for in my life,” said Meo, who works with Applied Research Associates. “I don’t know why I was so motivated. I almost had no sense of time.”

It wasn’t Kendra Kennedy’s first jam.

She has been to a handful and says she comes back, in part, because of the excitement of the weekend.

“It can be pretty intense,” said Kennedy, a programmer with Orlando-based Design Interactive. “When you are put under time constraints, there is no preplanning.  A lot happens on the fly.”

While several people in attendance echoed Kennedy’s thought that the jam is a fun exercise, she also used it to learn new software development skills.

Her team’s project, “Escape from the Killer Orange,” didn’t ultimately place.

However, exposure to new people while reconnecting with old friends ensured the event was a success, she said. 

“You learn from new people,” she said. “You get to see how amazing they are in their own different crafts. Sometimes there is tension but usually it’s pretty easy to iron out differences to make an awesome experience.”

As the jam entered its third year, organizer Kunal Patel said logistics get easier, even as his team continues to learn from year to year. 

Because Indienomicon Foundation leads several jams a year, with a Halloween-themed event set for October, the organization gets smoother.

In addition, it has become a staple on many organizations’ and industry leaders’ calendars, he said.

“There are now people who expect it and can’t wait for it,” he said.  “What always seems to happen is we get more attention from the various groups within some industries. It takes time to do that.”

Patel said word-of-mouth has been crucial for the Jam’s growth.

“There are people who have been in the industry for 20-plus years,” he said. “They are filled with expertise and gray hairs. Even they discover something new here. This event forces you to discover new things.”

As more people within the community participate, the ideas, development cycles and end products continue improve.

In addition, the collisions and experience built at the events could help create a talent surge in the region, as well, Patel said.

For Meo, the feeling of winning the competition paled in comparison to being able to build something in a weekend.

He will take the win, of course.

But being around like-minded people for 48 hours was his favorite takeaway.

“The whole room was just a bunch of people working,” he said. It was a pretty cool environment. Honestly, having the game at the end is just as good a result as winning.”