Q&A: Behind Turner’s First-Ever Hackathon

4 May 2016 - By TW Staff

Next month, the first-ever Turner Hackathon will look to harness the company's wide-ranging talent to see which "crazy" ideas just might work -- even from those who think they could never hack it in Silicon Valley.

As registration for the Hackathon (June 3 - 5) drew to a close this week, we sat down with CNN Vice President of App Development and Technology Matthew Drooker and Senior Project Manager Maigh Houlihan to discuss Turner's goals for the event.

This is the first-ever Hackathon for Turner. What are your goals for the event, and how did you decide that a Hackathon was the way to go?

Our teams already take a hackathon-like approach to many of our projects: “crazy” ideas we brainstorm with the business, rapid prototyping, DevOps mentality/ownership during early phases...and we collapse when the project is over. On a more serious note, we’ve done a number of projects where employees have been really excited about the product we’re building -- from developers who ask how they can join our team, to colleagues who just want to play with the end product, we work with everyone.  It just makes sense to get equally enthusiastic and passionate folks in a room together to see what happens.

The Hackathon is being hosted in partnership with IBM. How did that relationship come about, and what can attendees expect in working with the company’s Watson technologies? 

A few weeks ago we met with a few IBM'ers, and really got excited about what great things we could build with their tools.  We saw some amazing examples of how the new world of AI (artificial intelligence) can change the way one looks at problems.  And let’s face it, we’ve got some cool problems to solve at Turner.  It was a logical and natural next step to let everyone get in on the action and try to see what's next – and determine what’s not "crazy" anymore. 

You’re encouraging “people of all interests and walks of life” to participate. What do you say to employees who may want to attend, but fear they’re not “tech-savvy” enough?

The best ideas come from the many, not the few.  Ever had one of those conversations over dinner or drinks with friends where you just play off each other and come up with completely whacked out scenarios or ideas and it all just aligns?  Tech is no different.  Great ideas come from everywhere, and who knows what superpowers lurk beneath the composed exterior of a “not tech-savvy” colleague?

For those more familiar with the Hackathon process, how will Turner’s approach differ from what they may have experienced elsewhere?

The process won’t differ much from the norms: we’ll have an awesome kickoff on Friday night, loads and loads of unhealthy food choices over the weekend (kidding—sort of), the right tools and  amazing technical coaches on site in our very own along with some IBM team members instigating and disrupting.  We’ll have diversions and stretching activities over the course of the event, and some pretty outstanding judges doing the final honors of donning a winner and awarding the prizes. But what will differ is what we’re building and why,  in that we’ll focus on leveraging Bluemix/Watson technologies in making something relevant to our employees and our business.