PCMA’s Convening Leaders Experiments with a Hackathon

February 2, 2014

The Professional Convention Management Association continued with their tradition of experimentation by introducing a hackathon, sponsored by FreemanXP and QuickMobile, at this year’s Convening Leaders. The idea was to provide education and provoke interest for PCMA attendees in how mobile technologies can be used at events.

The first hackathons date back to 1999, but they became more mainstream in the mid 2000s. A hackathon is an event where software developers come together to collaborate in a specific project. The key to the hackathon is its intensity.

The word hackathon is a combination of hack and marathon, but there is no crime intended. It is conducted over a short period, often one to three days; teams are tasked to create usable software. Teams often work non-stop over the length of the event barely taking the time to sleep and eat.

The underlying purpose for the hackathon experiment was not only to create a usable bit of software. The real purpose was to show attendees how something like this might have a place at their own event. It’s not just about creating software.

A hackathon’s definition could be broader than the above definition. It could be about finding a solution to a challenge. Whether that’s through software, hardware or just a group of people working together to think creatively.

“A hackathon is about being open to ideas,” said Patrick Payne, CEO, QuickMobile. “To prioritize, plan and demonstrate in a short period of time.”

That short period of time is key to the success of the hackathon. Trevor Roald, Manager, Product Experience, QuickMobile said, “The magic piece is the stress. It’s the stress that brings out the creativity.”

PCMA’s hackathon took place in the Learning Lounge with three teams entering this inaugural event. Their challenge was to build on the functionality of the mobile app being used at PCMA in order to improve the ability for attendees to network at the event. With only three teams participating this year, everyone was a winner.

First prize was $3500, second prize $1000, and third prize was $500. All teams retained ownership rights of the solutions they produced.

Team True Vis was made up of only one hacker, Eric Boehlke, a Graduate student at The New England School of Art and Design at Suffolk University and he took first prize. His “Meet” solution facilitates the creation and arrangement of meet-ups at an event in real time.

Team MCCAction was made up of 4 hackers from the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and took 2nd place in the competition with their Opportunity Live solution or “Olive”. Theirs was an application that used crowd sourcing to create meet-ups and sessions based on attendee interest.

The third prize team was Team PK, made up of three hackers who were all independent developers, creating a keyword connector solution. Attendees at an event would be able to add keywords to their profiles, which would then connect them with other attendees with similar interests.

While PCMA’s call for participation in the hackathon went out to programmers outside of the event attendee collective, that doesn’t have to be the case for other events.

Alison Jenks, SVP Marketing, FreemanXP said that, while an outsider may be unencumbered by industry bias, you could do this with different companies and different people who normally don’t work together. Titles don’t matter in a hackathon.

“It’s serendipity. That is parallel to what events are. Why they [events] are so valuable to begin with,” Jenks said.

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