Hackathons and the Road to Success
Participants at EdgeVerve Hackathon 2014
"If only I could bottle that..." These are famous first words. And the rest of the sentences are usually just as well known: "... I'd be millionaire" or "...I'd be famous."
The problem was that until very recently it was difficult to bottle something as intangible as ingenuity. In the old days, an executive would hope to hire the right people, create the right corporate culture, and hope that a healthy amount of innovation grew out of such a mix. But that was yesterday.
Today, we can bottle the stuff. How? Well, for starters, try staging a hackathon. EdgeVerve Systems is going to host an internal hackathon this weekend. It's a 24-hour affair in which the smartest and the most innovative young computer scientists, software developers (and all-around hacks) from Infosys group are locked in a room and given time to come up with the most ingenious (and, we hope, market-changing) apps. From 10am on Saturday until 10am the next day (Sunday), these driven, young developers will duke it out with the hopes of unveiling the next great thing in IT.
More than 300 teams were nominated; just 50 were selected. This is the crème de la crème of the young, talented technologists who will one day run the IT world. We hope that by staging a hackathon, we're going to bring some of this talent to light now, rather than later. I'm reminded of a fascinating survey that Infosys Finacle and Efma conduct each year on innovation in retail banking. This past year, the survey found that a whopping 22 percent of banks stage competitions like hackathons for non-staff. Those banks are mastering the art of open innovation.
A colleague recently reminded me that the structure of a hackathon challenges the notion that 'everything we do in business can be done efficiently within a virtual context'. A spirited contest like a hackathon brings together a bunch of talented people into one room. They meet each other, share ideas, collectively innovate in a lighthearted, informal setting. They are also able to relax and brainstorm when they're up against tight deadlines. Such camaraderie can't be replicated in an online community.
We've given a structure to our hackathon through the theme: Technology Solutions for Our Cities. The teams that are chosen participate in this weekend's event are going to come up with solutions for cities on mobile apps, or on a combination of connected devices on cloud or an advanced analytics and Big Data solution, which can that help tackle urban problems like congestion, traffic, pollution, neighborhood development, and the safety of women amongst others. For these 50 teams, the sky is the limit and one thing's for certain: I will be watching the proceedings very closely.
The technology world has changed dramatically in the last two decades. In the past, any company with a 'dot-com' in its name could get a generous amount of venture capital seed funding. Today evangelists, investors, incubators and executives like myself are a lot more discerning and downright picky when it comes to funding new talent. We're looking for value-added solutions, not just for apps with cool names. We want solutions and services that work.
Luckily for everyone involved, the hackathon is what separates showmen from serious developers. I'm eager to see what 24 hours at EdgeVerve produces this weekend. Be sure to tune in next week when I blog about the results. And may the best hack win.