Hacker Culture

Technology touches everyone in today’s world … in more ways than we probably even notice. Whether one is a seasoned technologist or a novice user, devices and technology in various forms surround us and even dominate our daily lives. Technology is constantly changing, and new technological developments can have profound effects on every front, including business, education, lifestyle and more. Nevertheless, there are underlying constants in technology that do not change, which, if understood, can help decision-makers in their choice of using the technology for the right purpose. 

Traditionally, development of any technology germinates from a problem to solve. Enterprises use customer feedback to formulate a business requirement and translate it to a design requirement. These design requirements result in development of code and, finally, implementation. 

While underlying constants of the technology development lifecycle do not change, the avenues of seeking technology development, idea generation and innovation are changing rapidly. Whether it is a small business or an enterprise, the ways and means of searching for talent and ideas are constantly evolving. Workshops, open houses, mock meetups, conferences and summits have all been utilized to recognize and embrace talent, while generating new ideas that eventually translate to technological advances on a global scale. One such event that many companies, regardless of size, participate in on a regular basis is a hackathon. 

While we all know hacking a computer or network is a punishable crime, a hackathon event is far from that by definition. Hackathons provide a venue for self-expression and creativity through technology. People with a myriad of technical backgrounds come together and form teams to address a problem or generate new ideas. Technologists collaborate to code and create either a new solution or create a product from scratch, often resulting in automated programs to handle tasks, new websites or mobile applications. For example, Facebook’s “like” button and chat feature were byproducts of Facebook’s Internal Hackathon. 

Hackathons seem to be all the rage for new programmers, seasoned professionals and students. Cash-based incentives, stage-wise perks and the sheer enthusiasm to work on cutting-edge technologies contribute to the rise in popularity of hackathons. Most hackathon events are hosted by a tech company or organization. Participants work rapidly, either individually or in groups. They often work without sleep to achieve their task, as the events generally last multiple days or take place over a weekend. Hackathons are often competition-style events where a project must be completed in a short time frame. Both the hosting company and the participants have mutual benefits from these events. Depending on the kind of event and scale, the hosting company gets access to local talent and participants get to meet and network with like-minded and diversely-skilled professionals.

Frisco has experienced a tech boom in recent years. Ever since the city has been growing by leaps and bounds, there has been an insatiable quest of local opportunities and companies. Due to incentives the city offers, there has been a consistent increase in the number of companies and technology-centric organizations that have made their mark and presence felt in Frisco. 

Tech enterprises and small companies are constantly looking for idea generators, programmers and developers to bring new and innovative products into the market by tapping the potential nationwide. One such company located in Frisco is Code Authority. Code Authority is the hosting company of the upcoming CodeLaunch Hackathon, an event that has been hosted in Frisco for the past seven years. 

CodeLaunch is an annual competition that looks for potential ideas that require seed money to accelerate their growth. The competition is between individuals or groups with technology start-up ideas. Since its inception, CodeLaunch has accelerated numerous start-up companies and has curated more than 1,000 applications from not just the U.S., but worldwide. 

The purpose of the competition is to accelerate the best start-ups with critical seed services provided by sponsors. “CodeLaunch was created to be a platform to engage with the community and invest in start-ups, but, more importantly, our CEO, Jason W. Taylor, wanted to create a start-up that helps other start-ups in order to prevent false starts,” says Becky Bergman, Code Authority’s community manager. “Preventing wrong partnerships is far more critical than securing a partnership, as it could derail an idea or start-up before even it realizes the potential of growth.” Hackathons like CodeLaunch not only help realize the viability of an idea or product, but they help in providing a proof of concept to potential investors.

With such enticing and ambitious benefits, one must wonder what kind of projects are considered potential candidates worth investments from hosting companies and other sponsors. Apart from mobile applications, there are various sectors that peek the interest of sponsors. From cutting-edge research projects to home improvements and mash-ups, the opportunities are endless when it comes to technological endeavors. For individuals or groups that cater towards this diaspora of innovative ideas, the application process is simple. The application process for CodeLaunch has been vetted and made transparent ever since inception and has been fruitful for years. It is free for applicants to apply and there is no equity sharing involved. In fact, the participant’s ideas and code are protected under a non-disclosure agreement. CodeLaunch’s approach is pre-minimal viable product, which means it gives the applicants more freedom and autonomy at an earlier stage of ideation than going into development. 

Typically, applications are submitted between March 1 and May 31, and participants submit their software ideas through the CodeLaunch website. After the deadline, the Code Authority leadership team conducts a vetting and curation process to identify finalists. The selected finalists eventually pitch their idea to a panel of judges and investors at the annual CodeLaunch startup hackathon expo. The curation process emphasizes identifying which business plan, product, service or idea is viable to go to market and eventually become profitable. Applicants typically submit a pitch deck and code mock-up, which are used in the evaluation process to determine the size of the project, scope, potential competition and business acumen. 

From an incentives standpoint, CodeLaunch differs from other hackathons. “While hackathon participants earn cash, prizes and other incentives, in general, what differentiates Code Authority’s CodeLaunch hackathon is that instead of money, participants win services. These services could include marketing, counselling, consulting services or search engine optimization, to name a few,” Ms. Bergman shares. The world of technology changes by the minute, and when you have a company and group of mentors to help you bring an idea to fruition and profitability, it can prove to be invaluable, especially when you are a start-up. Code Authority is doing just that through the CodeLaunch Hackathon.

People of various skillsets and personalities benefit greatly from hackathons such as this. Hackathons are not just external between different companies, but common events that happen frequently within big corporations, as well. “While we can understand the enthusiasm and niche skills of today’s millennials, events like hackathons give exciting opportunities for introverts to be recognized and provide cultural change for large enterprises to compete with small companies. It gives an opportunity for external candidates to connect with corporate and enterprise companies to generate ideas and create visibility, while having a ton of fun,” adds Sreenivas Bodapati, the director at a J.P. Morgan Chase financial institution. He continues, “Hackathons are the closest a large company can come to start-up culture. They also serve as a tool for self-evaluation, thus ensuring progress.” These events foster innovation, competition and leadership on many fronts, but what makes them most popular among tech enthusiasts is the ability to work on new technologies and have fun doing so, while in a competitive environment. 

Despite the popularity, hackathons do pose potential challenges. “Ideas getting potentially stolen, having no control, costing money and resources and not having sufficient return on investment are some of the biggest hurdles hackathons face,” says Suresh Chegi, a lead engineer at Ericsson. “Motivating participants, marketing, convincing procrastinators, sponsors and getting involvement from all stakeholders is a challenge, too.” 

Code Authority has been successful in factoring for hurdles and ensuring they have the necessary checks and balances in place for CodeLaunch applicants to be successful, year after year. In the seven years of CodeLaunch accelerator events, CodeLaunch secured $1.75 million in seed funding raised by participating companies and $692K worth of services have been received by CodeLaunch winners. Seventeen of those accelerated winners re-invested in CodeLaunch and an overall $3.25 million has been generated in revenue by CodeLaunch finalists. 

This year’s CodeLaunch Hackathon is set for July 31 at Comerica Center in Frisco. Check out codelaunch.com for further information. 

Vikram Venneti is a business leader, technology evangelist, tree-hugger and food connoisseur. He loves to run and hike and is a dad with a penchant for writing.

Frisco STYLE
Committed to improving the quality of life of our readers by delivering timely, relevant information in a manner that reflects the image and culture of the community.