"I hated coding. Then one day I entered a hackathon and suddenly, I loved it!”

That’s what we heard from Khushi, a high school student and organizer of last weekend’s 24-hour hackathon sponsored by Guidewire. Her goal was to get students involved in hackathons to prove to them that coding is fun. Hackathons link code to viable and creative outcomes, and they also give students a chance to compete for prizes and recognition.

 

Khushi is on my right, with the event’s youngest Guidewire mentor in the middle.

I’ve been a proponent of this event since Khushi reached out to me last year after watching my TEDx Talk. My talk highlighted Guidewire’s dedication to innovation and our encouragement of millennials to enter our industry—and it really stuck with her. 

As a partner of the hackathon, Guidewire provided funding and a crew of employees who donated their time as mentors and judges throughout the 24-hour period. 

Key highlights:

  • 200 students participated in the hackathon.
  • These students were committed. They brought their sleeping bags and slippers to provide comfort through the evening and overnight hours.
  • Our Guidewire mentors provided guidance throughout the 24-hour event, including the early hours of Sunday morning to ensure that students had mentorship and support.

  

 

A few of our Guidewire mentors with event organizers

 

 

 

Khushi asked me to kick off the event. As the oldest person in the room, I was extremely nervous presenting to an audience of teenagers. To relate to my audience and promote the hackathon theme of “creativity,” I compared being in high school in the 1980s—and how I used to listen to music, watch movies, and talk on the phone—to how it has evolved today through the creative use of technology. Jokes and perhaps giving away a few Starbucks gift cards made the presentation a little more entertaining for the teens.

As I surveyed our hackathon participants, I noticed there was an obvious gender imbalance. There were probably 20 males for each female hacker. Guidewire supports initiatives that promote women in technology. In fact, that was my main interest for partnering with this woman-led event. Hackathon benefits include learning the latest technologies, refining presentation skills, promoting teamwork, and ultimately creating better job candidates. We want our young women, our sisters, and our daughters to capitalize on these benefits, so let’s all make a conscious effort to encourage young women to participate in hackathons.

After a grueling 22 hours of hacking, the teams presented their solutions to a panel of judges that included Guidewire staff.  

Drum roll please, the winners are…

First Prize: “Eyes on the Road”

This team developed a solution to avoid driver distraction, targeting noncommercial drivers and fleet management companies. The mobile app continuously monitors driver behavior and provides real-time feedback. When drivers are distracted, their mobile phones vibrate and send notifications. The team members used State Farm Insurance labeled datasets to train their AI system. Our judges were so impressed with their work that we invited the team to present to our Product Development team!

Second Prize: “Automatic Wildfire Detection”

This team showed a complete end-to-end solution for monitoring a wildfire using smoke-detection sensors, drones, and Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) communication protocols. When a fire is detected, the application broadcasts a notification to the appropriate fire stations nearby. We believe that these team members have the potential to build a real business based on their solution.

Third Prize: “Brighter Future”

The team built a gamified fitness app based on a subscription model for end users. When users achieve their monthly goals, the company pays back some of the money collected from the users who haven’t achieved their goals. Brilliant!

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Thank you to all of our Guidewire volunteers—Umang Jain, Stephen Pinedo, Kevin Kraft, Harman Bola, Vikash Sethi, Michael O'Hanlon, Ray Kreisel, Santhana Krishnasamy, Albert Lin, Helen Reid, Winston King, my husband, and my precocious six-year-old daughter—who donated their precious weekend to this event. You are hacking heroes.