Tag Archives: hackathon

An Opportunity Missed: The Olympics-as-a-Platform

Article first published as An Opportunity Missed: The Olympics-as-a-Platform on Technorati. Embedded video of “Rethink Possible” added in this blog post.

The Summer Olympics are very special. Every four years, for over two weeks, people all over the world (even those who are not normally sports fans) spend hours every day engrossed in the innermost details of dozens of sports—at home, at work, at school and at play.

However, in 2012 the IOC had opportunities never seen in any prior Summer Olympics…

olympic_open_data_280pxThis year was not just the first Summer Olympics since social media, multi-media mobile phones, and smart phone (and tablet) apps have become the ubiquitous means that over a billion people use to find and share information, opinion, photos and video globally—and instantly. It was also the first Summer Olympics since the rise in use of Open Data Platforms and Apps Competitions to tap the innovation of thousands of people to create better ways to access information (without adding the cost and complexity of hiring thousands of designers, developers and testers).

The IOC could have taken advantage of this by doing four things:

If the IOC had done this they could have created the biggest, most exciting Open Data and App competition we have ever seen. Not only would this have tapped into the innovation of tens of thousands of developers, it would have harnessed competition between teams who wanted to highlight the technology strength of their countries, their love of their country’s history and culture, and their passion for the athletes representing them in their favorite sports.

Imagine what kind of Apps this global technology could have created:

  • Apps written by ex-gymnasts that combined athlete bios and explanations of events and rules with (official and fan) video of preliminary rounds and the World Championships. Apps that even let the audience score what they saw in real-time.
  • Apps combining location-based data with captured photos and video along the entire 26-mile, 385-year course of the marathon, letting you play back key parts of the race, see every part of the course at once, and cheer on runners via Facebook and Twitter
  • Fantasy Olympic Team apps that let you assemble your own dream team for events and compete with your friends—or globally in the Olympic spirit
  • Training gamification apps that let you record and visually display your running and swimming times (like Nike’s training apps) to understand in new ways the tremendous the speed, strength and endurance of Olympians


AT&T’s Rethink Possible Ad: Imagine if the swimmer did not have to write down the new record (and instead an App logged his times and showed them again every record Olympic Record—and every qualifying round—back to 1896)

Apps like these would have made these Olympics more interactive and participatory than any in history. While we did not get this in 2012, I am keeping my fingers crossed for a 2014 Sochi Winter Apps Competition, and perhaps an even 2016 Rio Summer Apps competition.

Want to Hire Some Great Developers? Sponsor a Hackathon

Every growing tech company has the same problem: we are all looking for great developers. Almost always, we need them “as soon as possible.” Of course, we want the best (as we have all seen— first-hand and in case studies—how much more productive the very best developers are).

hackathon280pxSo how do we find the very best? How do we attract them to our companies? There are the obvious choices: advertisements, job boards, networking, referral bonuses, etc. The problem with these methods is that they focus on people who are actively looking for the work. They often don’t find people we would love to hire who are not looking for work. In addition, these methods provide little assurance we are getting the best, forcing us to apply proxies to test capability.

Luckily, we now have an excellent way to find great developers: the hackathon. Why? Here’s what happens when you sponsor a hackathon:

  1. You Tap the Hacker Culture: Today’s development culture is the hacker culture. By sponsoring a hackathon you are reaching out to the most dynamic developers in an appealing way: a competition to demonstrate their knowledge and creativity
  2. You Attract the Go-Getters: Most developers work very long hours. Even so, the best are always looking for new ways to learn skills and test knowledge. Those with the drive to go and compete in a hackathon are exactly the kind of people you want.
  3. You See Teams in Action: At a hackathon you can watch teams in action, under time and competitive pressure. You can see which teams handle this pressure best, and who the leaders are—incredibly valuable insights when seeking the best talent.
  4. You See Real Work Product: As a member of the award panel, you see who has the best designs, who built the most in the time permitted and who had the best performing code (you can even do spot code reviews). You even get all this without any violating confidentiality provisions.
  5. You See How People Work With Your Product: You get to see who likes your APIs* and who doesn’t. (You will also get great insights to improve them.) You see who can build the most with your product and who can help you improve it.

These are incredibly valuable insights. What is more amazing, is that you see these before you even consider making a job offer—instead of sixty days after hiring a new employee.

So, if you are looking for great people, sponsor a hackathon. You’ll quickly find the talent you want, significantly reducing the length (and risk) of the search process. Just remember to make it fun and appealing—don’t turn it into an obvious career fair or recruiting event.

*If you don’t have APIs that readily apply for a hackathon contest, you are not completely out of luck. You can orchestrate a hackathon around the platform you are based on, open source libraries you use, or many other proxies for your product.