You don’t need to be a coder to be part of upcoming 5G sports hackathon

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About 300 techies, designers and other young specialists are expected to descend on Butler University next week to participate in the AT&T 5G Sports Hackathon, with $100,000 in prize money up for grabs.

Registration is still open and organizers say they’re expecting lots of last-minute signups, especially among college students interested in expanding their technology skills. But you don’t have to be a coder or understand the minutia of 5G technology.

AT&T President Bill Soards said the most successful teams are well-rounded, with members who have an entrepreneurial spirit and business mind.

The free event is scheduled to take place from 5 p.m. Oct. 22 to 8 p.m. Oct. 24 at Butler’s health and recreation complex, 530 W. 49th St. The Indiana Sports Corp. and Nextech, a not-for-profit organization that promotes computer science education for students in grades K-12, are also partners in the event.

IBJ talked with ATSoards about how the hackathon works and why it’s important to the company:

Tell us what a hackathon is and why AT&T is involved.

Oh gosh, we’ve hosted a hackathon in Indianapolis for five out of the last six years [this will be the sixth of seven years]. And every year there are just a wonderful collaboration between industry and academia and students and entrepreneurs.

It’s a great way to celebrate and encourage and highlight further growth in our central Indiana technology ecosystem.

So you pick a different topic every year?

We do. Every year we highlight a different technology and have a different theme for the hackathon. And this year, the focus is on 5G and sports. We’ve done a lot of different topics over the years, everything from the state’s methamphetamine problem to the state’s economy to public safety. And this year we chose sports.

Why sports?

Indianapolis has become a world mecca for sporting events, [especially] in the last 12 months and in the next 12 months. When you think about the NCAA March Madness, the entire tournament, the Indianapolis 500, the upcoming NCAA men’s football championship. Plus the growth that I think we’re continuing to see with things like the Indy Autonomous Challenge and the Techstars Sports Accelerator.

We’re seeing more sports-focused technology startups in the community and so it just seems like a really good year to focus on sports.

We hear about hackathons all the time, but how do they actually work?

The big picture is we gather hundreds of software developers and we give them challenges to work on.

And I mentioned the theme is 5G and sports. So the first thing a team has to do is decide which one of three challenges they want to work on. And so the three challenges we’re offering under the banner of 5G and sports are fan engagement, the internet of things and the third one is venue public safety.

And so we’ve got a speaker from the Pacers, who is going to talk about fan engagement and everything that the industry that the sports industry is trying to address a fan engagement. How can we use technology better in 5G to increase fan engagement?

The second challenge area is around the internet of things. So think about billions of sensors. How can we use sensors to disrupt and improve the world of sports? Think about sensors in tennis shoes and sensors in tennis courts. Let your mind run wild. We have an entrepreneur-in-residence from Notre Dame, who’s going to speak about the internet of things and the opportunity [it presents] in sports.

And the third one is … we’re talking about venue, public safety. So think about the thousands of sports venues that exist all across the country and the millions of Americans that go to those places every week. And how can we use 5G and other technologies to make those venues more safe from a public safety standpoint? Think about security threats, think about health threats, things of that nature.

And so do people sign up to attend as groups or teams?

Many will come as a group. If you come as an individual, we have what we call developer dating—a process where we try to match people with different teams. It’s kind of an open mic that’s facilitated.

It’s like, hey, I’m Lesley, I’m a visual designer and this is kind of the challenge I’m thinking about working on. And I stand up and say: Hey, I’m Bill. I’m a backend developer. I’m really good at e-commerce and this is the challenge I’m thinking about.

So we help facilitate building some teams for those who come as individuals.

Do you need to be a coder to participate?

No, you could be a visual designer. You could be a marketing major. You could just somebody who really loves sports and has an entrepreneurial mind.

It takes a few different disciplines. The teams that do the best, I think, are the, are the most well-rounded. Sure, you have highly technical people, but you need somebody with a business mind and somebody with a marketing mind.

How many people do you expect to participate?

We’re expecting around 300 or so at this point. We’re still a week out. And our hackathons tend to get a lot of last minute registrations.

And how many people are on a typical team?

It runs the gamut. I’ve seen teams of two; I’ve seen teams of 12. When we give the prizes away, we’re very upfront in the beginning to sa: This is the prize for the team. So it’s up to you how many people are on the team, but the prizes are awarded at the team level and are shared appropriately.

How much time does a team have to work on the problem?

Roughly 48 hours.

We kick off Friday night and with a one-hour program that helps stimulate conversation. We bring in some industry experts and we also have a couple of technology workshops: How does 5G work? How should we think about using 5G? We’ve got some other technology partners … that have some technology tools that could be useful.

So you listen to the program and you figure out which one of these challenges you want to compete in. You attend the technology workshop to learn some new skills and maybe incorporate them into your project. And so then by Sunday evening, your team takes the stage to present what you’ve built over the last 48 hours.

And we have a panel of judges that score those projects and then we award a bunch of money. It’s our hope by the end of the weekend, you’ve had fun and you’ve met some new contacts. You learned some new technology, and maybe you walk away with a little money in your pocket.

How often is one of the ideas that come out of the hackathon actually implemented in some way?

Over the years, I’ve probably seen 300 teams. And of those 300 teams, I’m personally aware of two that are still continuing on their idea, toward building a product, toward raising money, towards making a go of it.

So sometimes, a team stays together and sometimes they just have a great time over the weekend and that’s the end of it. But the hope is that they learn some new skills and those new skills continue to translate into future projects.

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