TDHack: A chance to explore the Tel Aviv developer community

What happens when you take an API evangelist for OpenTok and introduce him to a bunch of developers in a place he’s never been to, for example Tel Aviv? Yeah, I had no idea either. It turns out that in a place like Tel Aviv, where there are some brilliant startups springing up, there’s no shortage of awesome developers with endless creativity.

TDHack, the first Telefonica Digital Israel hackathon, took place this past weekend. I saw it not only as an opportunity to go meet some our extended family, but to jump out of the American startup scene that I know so well and see how things are different (or the same) in Israel.

First, two superficial things I noticed only because getting around is probably any traveler’s most obvious problem:

Now a few observations about the startup scene in general:

The community feels relatively small and tightly-knit. The night before the hackathon I went to a launch party for GeekTime. I met a bunch of interesting entrepreneurs working on all sorts of projects from POS systems to Voxer-like video messaging services. The products sounded cool but it wasn’t anything I thought I wouldn’t hear about in the Valley or in NYC. What was intersting was the size of the party, about 75 people. Moreover, people really knew each other. It wasn’t a 500+ networking event for entrepreneurs, it was truly a community gathering.

There is drastically less focus on social networking based ideas. I typically arrive in a new city and open up Foursquare to figure out where to eat, where to hang out, and if anything interesting is going on. At first when I tried this in Israel and didn’t see a lot of data I thought, “they must just not be that big here yet”. Then I started talking to people about where I should go to enjoy Tel Aviv, what App would be the best at helping me? Nobody had any strong recommendations. Then someone I spoke with told me “Israelis aren’t into social networking that much, we value getting face-time with the people we are close to. If you don’t know where to go, then you probably just don’t have friends.” Well, what a coincidence, OpenTok believes there’s something special about face-to-face communication too 🙂

Lastly, I noticed a couple interesting things about the developers in specific.

Over and above all the developers I met in Israel are smart. In fact, the group that won the overall hackathon were 4 teenagers who built Tokcurity, an app to keep their parents and siblings from touching their stuff while they were out. By speaking with faculty at Afeka College of Engineering, our hosts for the hackathon, I saw just how progressive their education programs are. Afeka has the first accredited mobile development concentration program in Israel. I got a chance to hack with some of those students, and I was surprised when a small group put together a well-designed, fully functional (with a real database and not hardcoded), cross platform app that ran on iOS, Android, and the web for StageDive in that short timeframe. These guys were wizards as far as I could tell.

Speaking of platforms, I was pretty surprised how much more important Android is to developers than iOS in Israel. Looking back, it makes a lot of sense, you need a Mac to write an iOS app and those cost nearly twice as much in Israel. Also, there’s just a ton more Android users than iOS users in that part of the world, and to address that market, knowing Android development is a more valuable skill to have.

Besides the mobile platform balance offset, I found that developers are excited about a lot of the same technologies. I guess we all read the same Hacker News no matter where we come from.

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I also want to give a quick shoutout to all the folks that helped put together TDHack: Telefonica Digital, Afeka College, SendGrid, and Yotpo. This was great an I hope we do it again soon.

Another shoutout to all the participants, that came out to hack with us. You guys rock and I hope you continue to work on amazing things.

Last but surely not least, some highlights of the teams that used OpenTok:

Tokcurity: A security system web app that runs in your browser. Leave it running in your room and over time it takes multiple snapshots, diffs them, and if something seems to have changed significantly, it will send an alert to your iPhone. From the iPhone App you can open up a live stream so you can catch the trespasser in the act!

StageDive: A cross-platform concert from home experience. Open up your web browser to perform for your fans right from home. The companion Android app can be used to watch the concert lineup from where ever you are.

News-Worthy: Enabling everyone to be a stringer from their Android device and help put together stories for journalists and news organizations. Future plans include helping the man on the scene sell his coverage to a media outlet.

Diet.ly: A support group for dieting. Use discussion with your closest friends to help keep yourself on track with your nutritional and diet goals.

You can find the rest of the projects on HackerLeague.