It has been a crazy couple of weeks. From sliding in from a University of Michigan writing conference straight to interviewing nearly two dozen people at Intermitten, speaking with Duo’s Dug Song to trekking around Ann Arbor’s tech scene and tech talk, to future-proofing our automotive software and learning where the mobility tech industry is headed, we learned a lot from Ann Arbor’s tech week A2Tech360 and Detroit’s TU-Automotive Software conference. We even skipped several A2Tech360 events along with Detroit’s Self Conf–Women in Tech, Tech on the Edge, the Student Demo Day, Shebang. But no Tech Trek/a2Tech360 would be complete without a hackathon, which we helped plan and attended at the Netscout building on South State along with ITHAKA, Spark, Netscout, and other sponsors including Jerusalem Garden, who donated food. We leave you this week with a backstage pass to the inaugural a2tech360 hackathon, which this year was themed around hacking for the benefit of the community of Ann Arbor. “Build a better city,” the prompt said.
No assignment was given until day of, so no one could get a head start. The evening before the hackathon, participants visited ITHAKA’s downtown offices to check in, be sorted into 14 teams of four apiece, and get to know one another. Eleven mentors plus the planning committee and half a dozen volunteers manned the event, which ran from mid-day Saturday June 8 overnight through to Sunday June 9.
Netscout had the company’s entire building laid out with tables for hackers, snacks, meals, and even a sleep room. Lon Lowen, AVP of Engineering at Netscout said he was excited when SPARK called to ask if they could use the company’s building for an inaugural tech week hackathon. “I think this is great,” he said. “I’m excited to be a part of this.” We asked him how the event was progressing several hours in. Teams told us they were just hashing out outlines of their projects and assigning roles. “There’s a certain level of secrecy,” Lowen told us. “They’re holing away in private so they can’t be overheard. There are cash prizes.”
“We did a hackathon internally [at Netscout] for the company before,” Lowen added. “We’ve turned hackathons into genuine product ideas.”
The mood around the hackathon was quiet, relaxed. Plenty of food, candy, a bowl piled with apples. Treadmills in the Netscout kitchen in case you have any regrets on the eating front. The building is quite large spread across two floors with a large spiral staircase in the middle. The place overlooks a pond and a field (full of healthy ticks) and has a peaceful vibe to begin with.
We didn’t want to interrupt teams too much before they even started. We’ll check back in tomorrow if we can to let you know how the awards panned out and what projects these hackers came up with for making the city of Ann Arbor a better place.
Tech week is not even done yet, guys, but we’re spent. Fast Track Awards are still coming up at the U-M Golf Club for companies in Ann Arbor that have grown more than 20% year over year, and then Ann Arbor SPARK will have to start all over again planning one of these motherload events. SPARK Vice President Skipp Simms, who last year was named one of the most influential executives in Michigan, told us at 2029: What The Future Holds: “We start planning these in November every year now. We get speakers from Dallas, California, all over Michigan. We’re very lucky.” Which was only covering 2029. Speakers for other a2tech360 talks came from South Korea, Paris, Montreal, Silicon Valley, as well as Detroit and Chicago. Super excited to see how next year can be even better, which is already in the works.