Written by Mark Tappan
on June 16, 2015

In our daily grind to deliver solutions (software) and solve difficult problems, we often get “tunnel vision” and only see the answers that are directly in front of us. On top of that, our processes are rapid and our problems are viewed with the same sets of eyes that quite often, generate the same answers.

Enter the Hackathon

On the surface, a hackathon brings together a group of competitive software developers to compete in rapid turnaround contests for fame and fortune. It is a straight forward concept: frame a challenge, provide data and a few rules, add some judging criteria and let people and teams compete. But, why is it interesting for innovation-driven companies? What can groups of random people develop over such a short period of time that could be of interest to a company with goals, deadlines, and budgets?

This past weekend, the USGIF held its first-ever GEOINT Hackathon where seven teams were challenged to use big data to predict the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa. In the end, a team of interns from Stanford University, Rochester Institute of Technology and the Naval Academy took home the $15,000 prize for their development of PyDemic, a model which used population data, roadmaps, hospital locations and other data sources to prove their theory that if you can figure out how contagious people travel, you can predict the spread of disease.

At OGSystems, we love the concept of hackathons because of the intense, focused energy they bring together. A hackathon event pulls together groups of people with the drive and ability to succeed, and how they approach the competition is amazing – it helps us drive and motive our own developers. In the innovation cycle, many ideas must be tested and examined before finding the golden nugget. Hackathons encourage lots of ideas with the survival of the fittest (or at least the fastest) highlighting the best of the ideas.

We look at hackathons as a source of inspiration, a source of ideation, an opportunity to build camaraderie with new potential partners and a chance to see top talent first hand. Participants, contributors and judges experience a renewed sense of energy and vitality; they bring that energy to the workplace and hope it becomes contagious.

Researchers report, and it is easy to believe, that the collective intelligence of a group is far greater than its individuals, and hackathons bring that out in force. A good event will demonstrate a dozen or more approaches to a problem that individuals working the problem might never have considered. And lastly, when the handshaking and backslapping is over, relationships remain between participants, between organizers and players, and among sponsors.

Keep an eye out for the next OGSystems Hackathon event! We encourage everyone to come out and participate or sponsor, you just might be amazed with what you find.

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