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Creating a New Hackathon: Introducing the Kovai Hacks

In early 2013, ThoughtWorkers across India decided to host a Hackathon in Coimbatore to build a relationship with the vibrant tech community and create a forum for students to participate in educational tech events. The KGiSL Institute of Technology invited us as a co-host, and we were well on our way.

The real planning for the event started in June, with a view to host the event soon after the recruitment rush and holidays in early to mid-August. The idea was to always create a strong brand for the event, one that we could plan as a regular event, while creating a community and sustaining interest.

Kovai Hacks, with its wacky green background and TMNT-esque face, was used liberally on all our e-mailers, on the event page on thoughtworks.com, on flex banners and posters surrounding the venue, and on stickers which we distributed to each participant.

The stickers then found their way on laptops, backpacks, motorcycles, and helmets.

At Kovai Hacks: August 24-25

Kovai Hacks 2013 was a huge success as an exciting, productive, and socially-conscious hackathon. Students, developers, industrialists, 30 ThoughtWorkers, and one journalist, gave up their weekend to make Coimbatore’s first ever big-bang hackathon a grand affair.

Some numbers:

Registered : 230
Attended : 121 (30 professionals + 91 students)
Companies : Owler, Exterro R&D, Skava, Payoda, Robert Bosch, Oracle, Tata Elxsi, Unmetric, Capgemini, Illuminati Research

Here’s how we began.

Coimbatore is a city of early risers. We had 80 percent of our 121 attendees show up well in time for the registration and team formation, which also meant they were in time for breakfast and the event kick-off by Roy Singham, founder and executive chairman (via Webcast), and Ashok Bhaktavastalam, MD, KGiSL Institute of Technology.

Roy greeted the attendees with a talk on the “Role of Technologists in Society.” Many of the attendees admitted later that they had never felt such strong emotions connected to software development. It showed in their single-minded approach to the apps they went on to build, many of which addressed the solving (or alleviating) of social issues.

A few of the comments we heard

“We came here to build something else, but now after hearing Roy we want to work on an idea to help society.”

“I wish I had heard Roy’s message a couple of years ago.”

We also had a free form Q&A session with Martin Fowler (via Webcast) for an hour. Many participants asked wide-ranging questions on such things as the relevance of NoSql, suitability and abuse of patterns, and the best advice he could give a student of technology.

ThoughtWorks’ more than 30 volunteers helped make each team a diverse group of experienced senior developers from businesses, as well as students who were taking part in a hackathon for the first time. The three themes provided to the participants were:

  1. Frugal solutions for local needs
  2. Data liberation (using Data from sources such as Data.Gov.In)
  3. Open hardware solutions that leverage platforms like Raspberry Pi

Most chose 1; a few chose 2; but one of the best teams at the hackathon chose 3, and delivered a frugal solution for a local need (1).

The participants demonstrated how technology could make an impact in every day life, such as helping farmers access market information and price trends, weather forecast, or locating a specific doctor in your area. A full list is posted on GitHub.

While planning the event, we had decided against having a competitive structure in place. There were no ‘Best App’ winners, nor were apps differentiated during the showcasing segment on Sunday. As a result, each team got a fair chance of presenting the fruits of 30+ hours of their hard work without prejudice. Ample feedback was also presented to each team post the event.

L.N. Revathy, a senior journalist from The Hindu Business Line, covered the event. She (like us) was very impressed with the quality and focus of the apps built by the 17 teams who took part in the event. 

Carrying Kovai Hacks forward

The ThoughtWorks team responsible for the event is working on an engagement model for the diverse group of participants, to ensure that the next edition of Kovai Hacks also has a similar patronage from the larger Coimbatore development community.  We look forward to making the Kovai Hacks a yearly occurrence.