The Technori team had a blast hanging out at the recent Ji-V Hack hackathon. Never heard of such a thing? Think of it as a hackers’ telethon, except rather than having set amount of time to earn a bunch of money, hackers have a set amount of time to build out an app. They’ve been around since the 90’s and come in all shapes and sizes. Valued for their quick turnaround of ideas, companies love hosting these events as both a marketing and an R&D opportunity. Participants love them because it’s a chance to be creative, collaborative, and social.
Ji-V Hack is the creation of Ji Lucas and Veronica Ludwig – hence, “Ji-V”. Both former hackathon participants, Lucas and Ludwig wanted to produce a version of the hackathon experience that maximized what they loved about the competitions – creativity, collaboration, and learning opportunities – while also adding their unique spin on the event.
As a seasoned developer and IT professional, Ji Lucas has attended many different hacker events and noted that they tend to be technically homogeneous. In Chicago, meeting developers who have different technical backgrounds, platform expertise, and specialties is not easy. “I want[ed] to create one event where all IT professionals could meet and hack, share and learn with each other.”
To this end, all Ji-V Hack programs emphasize learning on two fronts. First, all teams must include at least one Student or Beginner, thereby encouraging future hackers. Second, all programs include a learning track of talks on new technologies.
Veronica Ludwig, a retained talent consultant at Artisan and social entrepreneur provided additional depth to the Ji-V vision by bringing her professional and personal worldview. As an “aspiring techie” who has learned immensely from participating in hackathons and attending seminars, she made sure to distinguish Ji-V Hack in ways that encouraged a sense of inclusiveness. “All teams must have at least one beginner allows someone the opportunity to get involved without intimidation and realize that everyone’s ideas can be a valuable contribution.” In addition, judging rules ensure that the winning teams had a real product and weren’t judged on their presentation skills alone. “Some developers may have never even used powerpoint, and “sales pitch” has never been in their job description…so why should that be a criteria?”
Ludwig also feels it’s key to support the Chicago tech ecosystem. “Teams compete to build an application for a local startup, therefore the event benefits a company that may not have the budget to host their own hackathon or hire a mobile development firm.”
The latest round of Ji-V Hack had teams working on mobile application for GiveForward, a crowdfunding website that allows individuals to set up personal fundraising pages to raise money for friends and loved ones’ medical expenses. The problem statement was simple, “About 10% of traffic to the GiveForward website comes through mobile platforms. However, very few of these people make donations through a smart phone.
After a full day of development culminating in the final 5 minute pitches before judges, Team 286S (comprised of: Yevgeniy Grodskiy, Jacque Harper, Ivan Martinovtook, Antonio Yi, and Yaqi Zhao)
In review of the prototype, GiveForward’s Director of IT Chris McKeever stated, “[Team 286S] made the most progress, fully integrated all of our needs, and created a user experience that was consistent with our brand. We were really excited to see what we had envisioned in our minds actually on a mobile device.”
On whether GiveForward was going to distribute the app, McKeever replied, “We are going to use this app as a framework for our app. We will change a few design elements, but all in all it is a great launching point.”
Apparently, the hackathon might also be a great career for some of the competitors. Jacque Harper, one of the five members of Team 286S and Senior Designer at Cars.com, says despite not knowing his teammates before the event, everyone really came together, worked hard, and communicated well. “Naturally, I’ve given each of my 286s teammates encouragement to join me at Cars.com!”
Although just they just completed their second hackathon, Ji and Veronica have been amazed by the tremendous response and participation from the community, ranking it as one of the most pleasant surprises from their time thus far. In addition, they’ve been able to count on numerous global and local companies to sponsor and support their mission, from Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Rim, and Titanium to Ramon “The Pizza Guy To Know in Chicago”, among many others.
Veronica sums up their plans for future Ji-V Hacks, “[We want to continue] to expand on ideas to make the events better for all – the attendees, sponsors, speakers and the curious! Ji and I do this for fun and for the tech community, so as long as it stays fun, we’ll keep doing them!”
We look forward to watching Ji-V Hack continue to develop their own path.