Rosie Sperring

Hackathon, noun, informal: ‘An event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.’ (Source: Oxford dictionary

On the 21st November 2013 about 100 students from all over the UK gathered at Canary Wharf bright eyed and wide awake. 4000 miles away the same was happening in India.  24 hours later, the bright eyes of these undergraduates looked a lot more tired, but had not lost their sparkle as they presented an impressive array of solutions to the tasks that had been set for Barclays Openminds Hackathon.

The aim of the Hackathon was to bring together great minds and give them an opportunity to collaborate. It was an inspirational international event, giving students the chance to come up with new ideas for Barclays and solutions for UNICEF. The real motivation was the prospect of work experience for the winning team, to develop their idea with Barclays’ industry-leading tech team.

In my last blog I mentioned the Hackathon and said it was my favourite event to have been involved in so far. Once you finish reading my blog, you will understand why…

12pm: The Launch

Speakers from both London and India, including the investment bank’s Chief Information Officer, welcomed everyone to the event over a Video link (technology in action!) instantly exposing the participants to the global feel of the competition. The participants were briefed on the challenges they needed to solve. These ranged from creating their own stock exchange, to thinking of an innovative solution to break down education barriers in South Sudan (in partnership with UNICEF). Then the coding began!

I acted as a technical mentor for the teams, providing coding advice if needed, and guiding them in the right direction if I saw them going off track. As I had conversations with the teams and saw what they were developing, I became increasingly impressed at the quality of work I was seeing. I wanted to be in their shoes and have a go myself!

3am: The Wakeup Call

I felt bleary eyed at 3am when my alarm went off but managed to wake myself up a bit more when I remembered the Hackathon teams who would have had even less sleep than me. Back in Canary Wharf I was further impressed at the progress that had been made in the few short hours since I had left the previous evening. Everyone was really striving for excellence and having a lot of fun whilst doing it!

Every team had organised themselves in a way to maximise everyone’s core skills. I saw a range of developers, designers, and leaders, all working together almost flawlessly. Throughout the Hackathon “Shout Outs” took place between the teams in both London and India, where they could share their progress and ask for help. It was very encouraging to see that, although it was a competition, participants were willing to help each other with technical issues they were having.

8am: The Final Countdown

As the finals approached, the teams had to start preparing their presentations. Describing their solutions to the challenges that had been set and what technology they had used to reach their goal. This was an extra challenge, as many participants had minimal exposure to presenting.  Most of the teams had only a couple of hours sleep under their belts, but yet again delivered. The semi-final panels found the decision of who should progress into the final immensely difficult.

The finalists went on to present to an ‘all-star’ panel, including senior members from the technology division of the bank. After some deliberation, the judges came to their decision and ‘Team UCL’, who had developed an impressive application for UNICEF that would help overcome the barriers to learning and achievement faced by girls in South Sudan, won. The runners up were ‘Waddy and his Merry Men’ who developed a working Stock Exchange. All members of these teams won the opportunity to join a technical team at Barclays and apply the skills that they used during the Hackathon to maximum effect.

The Hackathon has been a highlight of my last 6 months at Barclays, as it gave me the opportunity to meet so many inspirational minds and realise there’s so much more to technology than just coding. I saw how much could be achieved in just 24 hours and it has inspired me to accomplish even more in my day-to-day life.