Hacking answers to big questions

21st March, 2017

The big tech companies started hackathons back in 1999, but now all sorts of organisations have adopted them to unleash creative problem-solving.

Even football clubs are getting in on the action.


MYOB Chief Technical Advisor Simon Raik-Allen is no stranger to hackathons and is helping organise Hack the Reef as part of the World Science Festival.

He says what makes a hackathon different to a simple brainstorming session is the focus on a product at the end of it.

“In tech, we’ve gotten very good at thinking about a problem, immersing ourselves in it, finding a solution, and then testing a solution which can make it to market,” he told The Pulse.

Hack the Reef is aiming to bring solutions to help the health of the Great Barrier Reef to market, or at least as close to market as possible.

Raik-Allen said the value of the hack would be to bring in people outside the research community to focus on finding new solutions.

“We’ve heard from people involved in the reef that it’s the same old guys working on the same old problems for many years,” he said.  “What they really need is to inject some new ideas and new processes.

“They are so deep in the science of the problem that they don’t get much time to really stick their head up and figure out how to bring their solution to market.

“The research side hasn’t had much luck in commercialisation, whereas in IT if we don’t commercialise it’s over in a few months’ time.”

The secret sauce

Hackathons give your team an opportunity to put forward any ideas they might have in the back of their minds.

Raik-Allen explained that workers often have great ideas about how to solve problems in the business, but they’re just too busy doing their jobs.

“The people who are on the tools and embedded in the problem have a different view of things,” he said.

“As they’re working on things, ideas are popping into their head all the time – they see things and have the opportunity to see things on a level the rest of us can’t.”

Hackathons are also about bringing together a bunch of people from different perspectives and seeing what emerges.

“What’s exciting about a hackathon is the dynamics of them – people come together who don’t know each other and form teams,” Raik-Allen said.

“It’s an ad-hoc approach and there are no formal leaders or structural rules about who does what.”


Want to organise your own hackathon? Here’s how.