Valley tech talent on display in hackathon


hackathon phillip lanMODESTO — The Central Valley doesn’t have a reputation as a technology mecca, but there are a lot of local individuals who are technologically skilled. The upcoming Valley Hackathon was organized to showcase their talents.

The Valley Hackathon is a technology contest in which participants come up with a product and manufacture it over a 24-hour period. Unlike other hackathons that may have a theme, the Valley Hackathon is a free-form event where participants can bring any ideas they want to work on.

“We did it on purpose because a lot of software developers, their day job is to work on something very specific and they’re told what to do,” said Valley Hackathon organizer Phillip Lan. “So, the initial thought was come and do something that you want to do. Do something that you’re passionate about.”

This is the third Valley Hackathon, and ideas have been all over the map. In last year’s event, participants made drone controllers, 3D animation software and an agricultural soil sample testing system. The only requirement to compete is that the project requires software.

Contestants can work in teams of one to four participants. They can come up with their ideas and outline them beforehand, but they’re not allowed to write any code prior to the event.

James Moore of Turlock was a member of the team that won the 2015 Valley Hackathon. He and his team came up with a product for direct email marketing. Companies can use the software’s automation process to log customer data information and track their  preferences. After organizing that information, companies can use the software to more effectively market products to customers based on their needs.

Moore enjoyed the experience of the hackathon. It allowed his team to come up with a product, then see it materialize in just a day.

“It’s fun to plan it out and then try to knock that out,” said Moore. “There’s a lot of excitement. It’s challenging, especially the first few times you do one because there are some things that you’re not sure about. Should I focus on building everything or should I just focus on these things that make it unique? You have to learn those things after you’ve done a few hackathons because 24 hours seems like a lot of time, but it’s not.”

The Valley Hackathon has evolved and increased in size since its inception. The first year had 22 participants. That number increased to 63 for 2016. Organizers are expecting more than 100 contestants this time around.

Interestingly, the demographics of the event have changed too. Instead of a lot of contestants in their 20s and 30s, there’s been an influx of older participants.

“Millennials, a lot of them that have been exposed to larger cities in the Bay Area, they’re very well versed and understand what hackathons are and what they’re about,” said Lan. “I think we’re actually starting to reach into the older crowd of technologists here in the Valley.”

The Central Valley has long been known for agriculture and not technology. But there are a lot of talented technologically savvy individuals in the Valley, Lan said. The Valley Hackathon, and events like it, provide an opportunity to showcase that talent.

With Silicon Valley so close by, the Valley Hackathon allows tech firms to see that talent and use it.

“One of the main reasons for something like a tech hackathon is it highlights our already strong Valley tech talent to both local companies and Bay Area companies, in addition to giving participants a chance to work with each other, build relationships and increase collaboration,” said Lan. “Because increased collaboration improves the quality of their work. So, that along with events like this to highlight the talent will begin to draw awareness and attention from both local and Bay Area companies to this area.”

The Valley Hackathon has Final Cut Media, Oportun, GeoStrategies, Front Porch and Gianelli & Associates as corporate sponsors. The California Community Colleges, the Downtown Modesto Partnership and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce are community partners.

There’s $5,000 worth of cash and prizes to be doled out to the top 10 finishers. The winner gets $2,000 in cash and prizes, while second and third place get $1,200 and $700 in cash and prizes, respectively.

The Valley Hackathon will be Jan. 20 at Redeemer Church in Modesto. Check-in for the event is at 5 p.m. Contestants can sign up until Jan. 20, although spaces are limited. The event is also open to the public starting at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 21, with finalists presenting their projects to the judges at 6:30 p.m.


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