Hackathons aren’t just for geeks. London Green Hackathon welcomed all and sundry to hack for good!

What is a Hackathon?

To a non-programmer with a background in corporate software sales & marketing the word “hack” conjures up images of swarms of programmers attempting to break into closed government networks.

Definitions include: “A hackathon is a gathering of programmers to collaboratively code in an extreme manner over a short period of time” http://www.techopedia.com/definition/23193/hackathon “A hackathon is a collaborative event where programmers, designers, and creative people meet to build programs and applications.”  http://hack4reno.com/hackathon/  

The “extreme” side of our London Green Hackathon these events is that a handful of the really committed coders stay up all night to bring their ideas to fruition. Fortunately, with many seasoned hackers in AMEE it became clear I would not have to do that. As a non-techie my role would be to offer some business ideas and commercial feedback on the viability of ideas developed.

 A collaborative format. Aside from just over an hour upfront of presentations from our sponsors (who kindly paid for the event and put up the prizes) it was fixed that at 12 noon hacking would start.  This begun with the hackers standing up to pitch their hack to the room, share the tools and tech they had and outline what help they needed. 

Examples ranged from offers of database and design skills to individuals who could provide unique chunks of energy efficiency related data from buildings. This is an event focussed on the programmers – showing off what they can do in a fully focussed environment, with a free reign, supporting resources and an immovable deadline –in our case 5pm on the Sunday.  Many dedicated programmers stayed up through the night to execute on their ideas

Our sponsors got involved. We had fantastic support from industry, ranging from corporate software houses (check out this review from Autodesk) to SME start-ups making their tech tools and data available to government innovation teams putting up cash bounties for the best hacks. 

All the sponsors got involved, walking the room during the welcome coffees, engaging with developers and bringing data, tools and ideas to the day. The judges on day two also got amongst the attendees sniffing out talent and translating tech ideas and concepts into broader business value. 

Who was there?  We had no hard and fast rules on restricting attendance although we did make an effort to ensure as many developers as possible. However, our “Green Hackathon” included many types who did not fit the software developer mould but who often brought some unique and valuable input to the event:

The PHD student using the event to support her thesis.  She brought unique data and a load of passion to get involvement from others on her idea.  Those who attended the London Green Hackathon may recall who this was – she worked the room and got together a hit squad that hacked her data into a useful prototype app, which won the energy management hack category.  Nowhere else could this have happened

Businesses hunting for talent. Aside from some of our sponsor companies we had a few other business folk show up from start-ups. Whilst they stood out against the backdrop of T-shirts, cheque shirts / jeans developer brigade the event offered a unique chance for them to meet and witness first-hand the skills, enthusiasms and mind-sets of developers with a passion in the CleanTech / start-up sector.   What better way to ensure your next developer hire hits the mark than see them perform in a deadline driven, collaborative team based environment? Sponsors Trucost and ITOWorld both took this opportunity as did guest attendance coming in from Tendril

The entrepreneur with a cool tech idea but limited time and resources.  At a Hackathon they can rope in others, build a team and have a go at prototyping the idea.  “Mastadon” the winning hack at our event did just this by getting together a team who showed off how the web and mashed up available data can be used to source the greenest and cleanest cloud services

The curious venture capitalist – looking to get in early on any crazy ideas that could actually end up being disruptive.  We managed to rope in Jason Pinto from Amadeus

Developers came from far and wide – we had attendees from universities in Bristol, Scotland and London as well as representatives from the digital agency / tech start-up world across the UK

As a BusinessCat (the aficionado my colleagues bestow on me) what did I get from the Hackathon? Great insight into how a group of technically talented people thrown together with some creative ideas and a common purpose can get some really cool stuff done – fast! 

To paraphrase on the A-Team’s opening sequence if you are not a programmer if you are someone with an idea and if the data exists, if nobody else can help and if you can find the right one maybe you should attend a Hackathon…

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