Hackathon ready to take on the challenges of rejuvenating downtown Calgary

The hackathon will divide the 110 contestants into teams, with the task of finding solutions to bring more life to the city center.


Downtown Calgary is about to be hacked.

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Over 100 programmers, coders and software designers have descended on Platform Calgary for a weekend hackathon.

They’re not going to hack anything, technically speaking. The word hacking is often used in relation to accounts and security systems that are breached by people with bad intentions. What these techies are working on from Friday to Sunday is developing a hack for downtown problems in an effort to bring vibrancy to the core.

They have worked with the city and other partners who have described some of the challenges they face through video clips.

“We have all these challenges in the city that I think we can definitely solve with technology,” said Serene Yew, CEO of Pixeltree, the Calgary company organizing the event. “We want to encourage creativity in bringing people together and addressing crashes so that we can use the resources that we already have in our city to solve the problems that we have here.”

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The city last hosted a hackathon in 2013, and while there was a provincial online initiative last year, this event will be centered in Alberta’s tech hub and will be fully in-person.

The hackathon will divide the 110 contestants into teams and each will be tasked with developing a solution to these problems.

They will have two days to build all phases of the project from conceptualization to delivery, and each project will be judged by a panel of experts. Each project will be graded on design and implementation, innovation, impact, and feasibility.

Yew said the projects often involve building an app or website. Teams will also have access to a list of mentors and others for guidance.

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While there is $6,000 and other sponsor-driven prizes up for grabs, for Tracy Crape this weekend is all about building relationships and networking.

Crape is new to the tech industry and has retrained as a software developer after spending more than a decade as a project manager in oil and gas. He graduated from SAIT’s Tech Careers program in October and is currently self-employed. He has had a hard time breaking into the industry in Calgary even though there are over 4,000 open positions. It is a common story for anyone who has transitioned into the sector in recent years, with prior years of experience being a priority for companies.

“The focus for me is networking and meeting people in the industry, understanding the industry better and creating projects that can show people that I’m applying what I’m capable of doing,” he said.

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Part of this will be your willingness to work in a team environment and help out where you can.

Yew said there will be a wide range of people participating in the hackathon with varying degrees of skills and experience. Some will arrive and enter as a team, while others, like Crape, will be assigned to one.

While the Hackathon aims to solve the downtown’s problems this weekend, Yew said the real goal is to help develop a culture of energy and creativity in the industry in Calgary. Other hubs that have become big in tech, like Silicon Valley, regularly host hackathons and have become an integral part of the ecosystem and generate significant sponsorship dollars.

She hopes this is just the first of what will become an annual event in the city.

Crape said it’s a way for the industry to showcase itself in Calgary.

“These events are great because they do two things,” he said. “First, they show people outside of tech how the tech community is growing, how it’s a great place to be, how cooperative and engaging it is.

“The other part is that events like this really help people understand the community even more as they want to transition.”

[email protected]

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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