Hackathons are old news by now, but this past weekend saw an interesting iteration on the age old developer marathon.
PayPal, the company best known for allowing Internet users to send and receive payments, brought its annual Battle Hack event to Canada for the first time with a stop at MaRS. The annual event, which is coming to 14 cities this year, visits some of the world’s biggest metropolitans and invites their developer communities to a 24 hour coding marathon. Participants are asked to “become the ultimate hacker for good” by creating a platform that will bring about social change in the world.
“The hacker term is something that developers have adopted for themselves. These are people that can take any technology and build something amazing out of it,” said Jonathan LeBlanc, Paypal’s global head of developer evangelism.
Of course, there are similar events across the world that likewise ask their participants to create platforms for global change. However, the twist here is that the winners from each participating city are invited to a final showdown in San Jose, California. There, they have a chance to win $100,000.
If $100,000 seems like a small amount of money for creating a piece of software that might, down the line, change the world, it’s important to remember that the cost of creating a startup is as low as its ever been. “At the end of the day, $100,000 is not going to change anyone’s life, but what it is going to do is give someone the opportunity to take that first step and build something they’ve always wanted to build,” said LeBlanc.
For Jeff Linwood, last year’s Battle Hack winner from Austin, Texas, the validation he got with his winning entry was enough to set him down the path of building upon his work. In the 24 hours he had, Linwood created a mobile app that allowed Austin residents to donate towards the care of dogs residing in the city’s leading no-kill animal shelter, Austin Pets Alive!. The idea for the app came to Linwood when he realized that their were animal lovers in the city who, due to current living circumstances, were unable to adopt an animal but still had a desire to help. In the year he has had to work on the app, Linwood has continued to iterate upon its functionality and has signed up several other no-kill shelter around Texas.
According to LeBlanc, one of the fascinating things about the tour is that, like Linwood, participants seem to create solutions that have the potential to be useful anywhere in the world. “What I’ve noticed is that major cities around the world seem to have the same underlying problems,” said LeBlanc. “You might have cultures that are vastly different, but everyone builds out things that are along the same lines. Worldwide, people are building technology, and they’re building it out for global good.”
One of the groups from Toronto that was working towards that global good was Anisa Mirza and her team from Giveffect. Mirza’s team decided to devote their time to working on an extension of Giveffect called Small Change, a mobile game that aims to teach children to be charitable.
Not yet exhausted from a night of coding, Mirza and her team were in good spirits when I spoke to them. “This is my first time seeing this room set up as for a hackathon. It’s awesome to be back in a room where I’ve presented several times and to see it turned into a place where the community is being engaged,” she said.
Teams like Mirza’s helped made Toronto Battle Hack’s biggest event to date. LeBlanc, a native of Montreal, couldn’t help but smile when talking about this. “Bringing this event to Canada was vastly important to me,” he said. In 2015, he and the rest of his team hope to bring the tour to Montreal and Vancouver.
After a long night coding away, the Giveffect team came in second place. The winner was an app that uses a crowdsourcing model to find lost children called Security Blanket. “Security Blanket was the top choice for judges as the team did an awesome job of creating an app that helps parents find their missing children and gets them home safely,” said LeBlanc in a press release sent out after the event.
And not only did the Security Blanket get a paid trip to San Jose in November, they also got a dull axe trophy to swing around. Not a bad exchange for a sleepless night.
Igor Bonifacic is the managing editor of Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter.