Hackathons: not a gimmick but a genuine collaboration tool

Patrick Maes

Patrick Maes Chief Technology Officer, ANZ

Published

I am passionate about developing the next generation of technologists and strategic thinkers and retaining talent, rather than seeing these people forced to explore Silicon Valley and other overseas locations because the opportunities are not being created locally.

So I am always enthusiastic about any event or activity that nurtures talent and brings together people from industry, business, and academia in a problem solving environment. One such environment that seems to have become popular of late is a 'hackathon'.

Hackathons aren't particularly new. There are lots of views on what a Hackathon is but generally it is about bringing together small teams of people to solve a real problem in a concentrated environment and a short period of time – often over a weekend.

But is it just a gimmick? An excuse to indulge in copious amounts of caffeine infused soft drink and junk food, playing with someone else's technology and to practice making 'executive pitches'? Or are they of genuine value? And if so what value?

I was involved in a Hackathon over the weekend my team organised, bringing together 60 students from RMIT, seven teams, a few start-up mentors, a global technology vendor, and one real business problem.

All hosted at the York Butter Factory - a heritage-listed space in the heart of Melbourne and home to start-ups with bold and global ambitions to change the world.

Inspired

I was inspired by what I saw. Having little or no exposure to the financial services industry, these students came together and worked tirelessly over the weekend.

They were guided by ANZ leaders and teamsters, mentored by leaders of successful start-ups from York Butter Factory, worked closely with IBM staffers (the global technology vendor) and focussed on generating a solution to the problem posed to them around how to improve standardisation in a super-regional operations environment.

The fintech community is highly supportive of this approach, with mentor Michelle Mannering “awed" at the strategists, specialists, developers, presenters and directors brought together for the event.

The Hackathon culminated in the teams pitching their ideas to a panel of 'experts' from ANZ, York Butter Factory, IBM, and their professor from RMIT after 48 hours of hard work.

“We could implement any of these ideas right now" ANZ's GM of global payments and cash operations Nigel Adams said.

“We'd love to move forward with all seven ideas – and we'll be working closely with RMIT to further develop some of the thinking."

New value

So what value did we create? Did we create any unicorn companies? No. But I believe what we did do was change the lives of over 60 technology and business students and in doing so inspired them to go on and create their own companies – hopefully the employers of the next wave of talent.

We gave them an opportunity to present to, learn from and connect with industry – business, vendor, and start-up.

And of course ANZ may have taken away a few creative yet doable ideas from the enthusiastic and bright minds of university students, as well as lessons on how to continue to improve an energising and energised collaborative environment.

So do I think we created genuine value from the exercise? I can categorically say yes and I will be driving my team to continue to foster our ecosystem relationships through activities such as Hackathons.

 

Patrick Maes is Chief Technology Officer and General Manager GTSO at ANZ. You can find him on Twitter here (@DrsPatrickMaes) and on LinkedIn here.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.
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