Ensuring next-gen IT ideas don’t run dry

When looking to encourage fresh thinking and young talent, you can’t beat a hackathon, says Rocket Software’s Richard Whomes

Raise your hands if you still remember Minority Report, the futuristic action thriller starring Tom Cruise. The 2002 movie’s iconic scenes include Mr Cruise making an escape in a driverless car, using a gesture-based interface, and turning on a wall screen in his home using voice command. Watching it back now, you might be less impressed with the tech, because, well, the future has arrived. While the technology seemed impossible almost 20 years ago, today, most of it has become a reality – think Google’s (attempt at) driverless cars, along with Kinect technology for the Xbox and Amazon Echo. Tech being one of the fastest evolving industries, no idea should ever be deemed too wild. Even mind-reading head implants are fair game.

So how can the IT industry ensure that the ideas don’t run dry? Nurturing young talent is one way. By doing this, you will bring in fresh new ideas and skills, and also ensure you not only keep up with industry trends but create them. And ‘hackathons’ are a great way for IT companies to encourage the next generation to join their ranks and provide out-of-the-box solutions.

The future belongs to the brave and those who dare might just one day change the world.

Not all about the pay cheque

Hackathons have been around for a while and have always served to spot fresh talent. But they usually follow the same formula – setting the goal of creating a useable product at the end, which usually only serves the company and its customers. How about switching it up and using the event to find solutions that benefit the wider community? This will specifically speak to the Gen Z soul, which, as a generation – not unlike their predecessors, Millennials, or Generation Y – tends to be socially conscious, with a strong desire to ‘give back’. A sense of purpose and engagement is hugely important to 84% of Gen Z, possibly even more important than the pay cheque. Giving them the chance to work on solutions to, for example, solve the homelessness crisis, could be the deciding factor for them to join a hackathon and, potentially, the company. Again, just as with Minority Report’s futuristic look, solving a social crisis so severe seems to be far-fetched at this point in time, but give it a couple of years and the available tech might tell a different story.

According to Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor, the top predictor of workplace satisfaction is not pay, but the culture and values of the organisation. Businesses which genuinely care about their communities, and are not just interested in making money quickly, have the edge over their competitors. Almost 25,000 people aged 18 to 35, from 186 countries, took part in the Global Shapers Annual Survey 2017. It found that over 40% of young people think a sense of purpose/impact on society is one of the most important criteria when considering a career opportunity. A Deloitte study from the same year echoes this – 80,000 members of Generation Y across 30 countries— want “business as a force for positive change”. Two years later, Deloitte repeated the study and found that Millennials are quicker and more ready to leave their jobs than before, which means that, if a company doesn’t deliver on community impact, talent development, and diversity and inclusion, they might be out of the door in a flash. Companies that have traditionally focused primarily on profitability need to work hard to adopt new mindsets that coincide with the values younger generations care about. Providing opportunities for young people to flex their IT muscles for the greater good is one way to cultivate an environment the next generation deems worthy to stay in.

“How about switching it up and using hackathons to find solutions that benefit the wider community”

Solving homelessness one hack at a time

This year, Rocket Software invited students from around the world to take part in the Rocket.Build Community Hackathon to offer budding developers the opportunity to develop software solutions addressing real-world problems specific to their communities. One group developed the Assist Homeless Web App, providing resources to help the homeless get back on track. The app also offers features for people and local businesses to lend a helping hand in terms of offering free food and shelter. While the project is still not complete, as the website would need improvements, the web app, as well as other impressive ideas birthed at the Rocket.Build Community, are all planting seeds for future growth.

Minh An Cao and Yukai Yang, both fourth-year students at San Jose State University, have worked on the web app and described the opportunity to serve their community as a real draw. Yang explained: “Having the chance to work on a project that can solve the homelessness crisis in San Jose really got my attention.” Young people care about their surroundings and fellow mankind. Giving them a chance to make a difference is a surefire way to increase engagement, spark creativity and, ultimately, deliver better products.


From the archive: ET editor, Charley Rogers, meets Ralph Echemendia, the world-renowned cybersecurity expert better known as The Ethical Hacker


It’s greatness we’re after

Author, poet and educator, Donovan Livingston –  who shot to fame in 2016 with his Harvard raduate School of Education Student Speech – put it this way: “Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness for generations to come. No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.” Companies need to invest in young talent by encouraging their ideas, thereby building a strong working culture in which employees are unafraid of change, innovation – however ‘out there’ – and even failure. Because taking risks might sometimes come at a cost, the future belongs to the brave and those who dare might just one day change the world.

Richard Whomes is a senior director at Rocket Software

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