Recently, Go Daddy was a sponsor of the Hacker Olympics in San Francisco, where three other Go Daddy engineers (Guy Ellis, Lindsay Donaghe, and Stephen Commisso) and I had the privilege of hacking alongside top University students from across our nation.
With a wide array of sponsors from both enterprise (Amazon, Go Daddy, Microsoft) and startups (AirBnB, Expensify, etc.) alike, there was a healthy mix of platforms, ideas, and competition. The hacking took roughly 24 hours, over the course of two days, with many teams coding into the early hours of the morning. Judging was conducted in two phases. The top 5 teams were determined by a Board formed from sponsors, and the final 3 were determined by Executives from various companies (Airbnb, General Catalyst, Square, etc.). The top three teams were treated to a VIP dinner with the final judges, which was an exciting opportunity for a long-time developer like myself, so you can only imagine how excited the winning students were. If that wasn’t enough, the night ended with a big party at the Expensify office, followed by a mixer event on the third day, giving students an opportunity to talk to potential future employers.
Make no mistake about it, regardless of what pulls students, developers, and sponsors to these events, when the hacking begins, everyone is in “win” mode. Good stuff; I love it! Competition is what makes hacker events like this so successful. No one likes to lose, regardless of whether or not they consider themselves competitive coders. The halls buzzed with excitement, and everyone had their game face on. Fun aside, competition pushes us and makes us sharper.
Heartbeat of the Future
My greatest take-away from this event would have to be better understanding the personas of our next generation developers, where their passions lie, and what technologies they’re most interested in. Despite being an avid technologist, it’s easy to forget the generational disparity between current and future engineers. Where the students lack experience, they make up for it in ideas, ambition, and problem solving. Overall, I didn’t see as much of a technology shift as I would have guessed. But, there certainly was a stronger presence in both mobile and NodeJS. Most of the perceived change was less around technologies and more around the ideas themselves; these students are trying to solve a vast array of problems.
It was great seeing such as vast array of ideas and platforms, including, but not limited, to web, mobile, desktop, and even SMS. Some of the ideas included a Pinterest-like trip planner (ranked in the top 3 out of 21), speech correction software (removing “ums” and “likes” from voice), puzzle texting (solve a puzzle before you get to see the message), SMS for Sky Drive (basic tasks such as searching or downloading from cloud storage), a Stack Overflow extension to predict the likelihood of a specific question being answered based on historical data, and real-time collaborative coding with live previews (Go Daddy team, ranked in top 5).
Virtually all of the 21 teams indicated that they used one or more technologies that were foreign to them prior to the event. For whatever reasons, hackathons always seem to push us to leverage new technologies. As the latest and greatest technologies float to the top, it pushes us to understand and discover value in technologies we may not have attempted otherwise. Both NodeJS and MongoDB were foreign to most of the Go Daddy team members. But that didn’t stop them from jumping all-in anyway. While leveraging foreign technologies may not always be the best recipe for winning competitions, you can never go wrong by broadening your skill set.
There are many possible motivations for a company to sponsor an event such as this, be it recruiting efforts, investing in future engineers, developer recognition, enhancing skill sets, and others I’m sure I’ve missed. On all accounts, I’d say this event was a smashing success. If there were ever any reservation on the value of such events, let this be the event to quash any such reservations.
Best of luck to all the students with getting the internships or full-time employment opportunities of their choosing!