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An inside look at the Qantas hackathon

Bonnie Gardiner | June 3, 2015
CIO's Bonnie Gardiner shares her experience as a judge at the airline's hackathon on the weekend.

Qantas is set to benefit from a wealth of new ideas generated during its first ever hackathon last weekend. External developers were invited to team up and tackle real business problems specific to the airline, which steered its way back in the black earlier this year following a multi-billion dollar cost cutting drive.

As a judge at this event I saw firsthand the real appetite that exists out there for product and service development, as well as the many interesting ideas and agile creation coming out of the coding community.

It demonstrated that hackathons are a direct route to new entrepreneurial thinking and that corporates would be remiss to ignore the opportunities present in coding competitions and similar initiatives in a time of digital disruption. The venue for the Qantas Codeshare hackathon last weekend (Source: Qantas)

Run entirely onsite at the Qantas Centre of Service Excellence in Sydney, the Qantas Codeshare hackathon began Saturday, with venue doors officially opening at 9am. Following welcomes and announcement of the problem sets, coders began work at 1pm and continued until midday on Sunday. Pitches began at 1pm, followed by deliberation from the judges, and subsequent prizes.

From start to finish, the weary and dedicated coders had just 30 hours to contemplate and create new applications or service offerings that would improve the service Qantas provides to its customers. Coders were required to build a working prototype with a core feature that addresses real life problems, and granted a mere five minutes to present their ideas to the judges.

Teams were allowed to leave in the evening or stay to work through the night at the impressive venue, complete with enviable 'tactile napping stations' that the author wishes were a regular feature in the office environment, including blow-up mattresses and bean bags available for crashing. Coders also had access to catered meals, and various sugary reinforcements to keep them powering through.

Hackers came in all shapes and sizes, with one particularly young helper looking no more than 10 years old! Needless to say, he was kept well away from the hacker beer fridge.

Hackers questioning Megan Flynn, Qantas Group Manager Environment and Carbon Strategy, on how to improve QF carbon offsetting program (Source: Nicole Williamson)

The event was a collaborative effort from Qantas' digital innovation team, along with the founders of the Disruptor's Handbook, Gavin Heaton and Joanne Jacobs, both digital advisors and hackathon experts. Last year David Murray, Qantas adviser on digital innovation, approached Heaton after he watched him give a presentation on digital disruption to ask if Qantas could collaborate with him and Jacobs on a hackathon.


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