Hackathons: the new hotbed of innovation

Adith Charlie | | Updated on: Mar 13, 2018




From big ideas to prototypes for future products, tech firms are benefiting from these collaborative programming events

Two popular features of the Kindle e-book reader — ‘Time to Read’ and ‘Vocabulary Builder’ — were first conceived at ‘hackathon’ contests in India.

These features in Kindle were picked up from the plethora of ideas submitted by Amazon India employees at contests held in Chennai and Bangalore, said Raj Raghavan, Director, Human Resource, of the global online giant’s domestic unit.

‘Time to Read’ tells how much time a person will take to finish a chapter or a book as a whole, on the basis of his reading speed, while ‘Vocabulary Builder’ keeps a log of all the words that have been looked up.

Hackathons are events that bring together students, partners and company employees for collaborative computer programming. The quest for the next big idea or for exceptional talent is propelling technology-intensive companies to facilitate these events.

“Nearly 40 per cent of the ideas coming from such events are disruptive — these are ground breaking ideas that have high business impact and the leadership team can decide to take these ideas to production,” said Raghavan.

Most of the hackathon-related innovations have come in the areas of Machine Learning, Big Data, Internet of Things and others, he added.

Focus on simplification

At Cognizant Technology Solutions, specific teams conduct hackathons for associates. The aim is to generate prototypes that simplify internal systems and applications.

The success stories range from “an app for internal event management, a mobile location-based task reminder app, a mobile app for social commerce, an app for disabled persons that uses facial gestures for commands, and others,” said Kumar Sachidanandam, Senior Director, Innovation Group, Cognizant.

In many cases, learnings from such events are used to improve the quality of services that Cognizant renders to its customers, which include several Fortune 500 companies.

For instance, the Nasdaq-listed company stumbled upon the idea of a mobile app to handle production support (for a retail customer), courtesy a hackathon. This has now become ‘a full-fledged production app’, said Sachidanandam, in a written statement. IBM conducts virtual and physical hackathons to encourage developers create prototypes for future products/services on its cloud computing platform, BlueMix.

Karthik Padmanabhan, country head of ecosystem development at IBM India, said that developers can come out with their own products by using BlueMix.

“Since most people have their own computing devices these days, all we have to provide is water, refreshments and a nice corner for developers to sit and code,” said Padmanabhan.

A case in point is Srinidhi Prahlad, a third-year engineering student who developed an online tool to host webinars and conferences in two days at a hackathon, using BlueMix.

Earlier this year, the product, christened Streamify, went live.

Published on September 05, 2014
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