Hackathons spur creativity, showcase talent

February 17, 2015

 

Valley Hackathon 2015 - Jerad Hill, Nathan Bunney, Robert Huffman, Matthew Davies
At 6 p.m. on Jan. 23, dozens of the most talented programmers in the Valley converged on downtown Turlock to take part in the first annual “Valley Hackathon.” They formed teams of four or less to create something from nothing that they would have to display in front of judges just 24 hours later.

This was my first hackathon, and I really had no idea what to expect.

To start with nothing and have a working piece of software within 24 hours is a lot of work. Each team was encouraged to use leading edge technologies. One such technology, RethinkDB, offered a reward to the top three teams that placed using its database technology. Beyond that, there were prizes for the top three finishers and plenty of food to keep us all awake for the full 24 hours.

Before I discuss why an event like this is so important for the Valley, let me tell you about our third-place finishing product. In 24 hours, we built an online training platform to help companies organize and deploy compliance training courses for their employees that we felt had some unique features. A typical use would be for OSHA compliance related content.

With less than an hour to go, we ran our final test and our software was ready to go. We spent that last 30 minutes going over our presentation. My team consisted of fellow programmers from Modesto and Turlock: Nathan Bunney, Robert Huffman, Matthew Davies and myself. We felt really good about our third place win.

The top two finishers produced very impressive software. You can see more details about the event at valleyhackathon.com.

A hackathon brings together top talent and rewards them for trying something new. Most of us write code all day but for client projects. Getting together to write code with a group of programmers is like throwing a bunch of hotrod car builders into a garage with tools and an unlimited supply of parts. It allows programmers, designers and engineers to come together and create together.

In the Bay Area and other tech centric locations of the world, hackathons are a normal occurrence. Businesses are formed during these events. Google used to have a policy called “20 percent time,” which gave employees the opportunity to hack on whatever they wanted for up to 20 percent of their working hours. A popular product we all know as Gmail came out of that extra curricular programming time employees were allotted.

A major crippling issue in the Central Valley is the that a lot of our talent leaves the area to work for companies in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. The large companies and startups are located there, and they have the money to pay these talented individuals. There are not many options in the Central Valley for talented programmers, designers and engineers.

Beyond that, there is not (yet) a thriving startup community. Events like the Valley Hackathon are slowly changing that. There is nothing wrong with going to work for a tech company in Silicon Valley, but there is also nothing wrong with living in the Central Valley to start or work for a tech company either. We simply need more entrepreneurs to create companies in our area.

Hackathons are a way to showcase the talent we have and encourage those folks to get together. They get creative brains working together to create new and exciting things. The Central Valley badly needs more of these events. I will go as far as to say that the future of our children depend on it.

Technology moves extremely fast and it’s hard to keep up with it. What we do know is that it is here to stay, and it will only increase in relevance. I encourage all business owners, CEOs, parents and students to embrace technology.

There are talented people and a lot of great ideas in the Central Valley. It’s time we redirect the flow of talent leaking over the Altamont and invest in the future of our community. We need to develop a thriving tech community of our own. That starts with those of us who are here running businesses and generating ideas. Do what you can to keep those ideas and businesses in the Central Valley.

If you are interested in hackathons, make sure to check out valleyhackathon.com. In the coming months there will be information about the next scheduled event. In order to secure growth and help our local economy, it’s important that we support events such as these.

Pictured: Nathan Bunney (left back), Jerad Hill (left front), Robert Huffman (right back), Matthew Davies (right front)

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