How to win a hackathon?

The hype around hackathons is getting bigger year after year. At IBM we have also been attending events around Finland building our ecosystem and offering the IBM Bluemix platform to support the development of new ideas. This time, however, we got a taste of what it’s like to attend a hackathon as a developer. Our hybrid cloud specialist Arto Ahde participated in the Fortum hackathon with Alexander Rodichev and Akatsuki Liu from our ecosystem partner Ixonos. This, if something, is ecosystem partnership at its best!

The Fortum hackathon was organized on 13th-15th of May in Espoo with 35 participants from seven countries. Fortum wanted to find innovative ideas to support their new strategy and offered open power plant data for the developers to utilize. Arto and his team members did not only participate in the event but succeeded in winning with their solution. But how did they end up on the podium? Arto told us the secrets behind the victory.

How did you get an idea to participate in the hackathon as a developer?

The initial idea to form a joint team sparked from Teppo Kuisma, the COO at Ixonos. It didn’t take long before I was convinced that we should take up the challenge. After all, we didn’t have anything to lose and I like challenging myself in new ways.

Describe Team Proximity.

Our team consisted of three people: me and two experts from Ixonos. We wanted to form a group that would have members with different backgrounds. I brought business and technology knowledge to the table and Alexander and Akatsuki complemented me with their service, business and full stack development expertise.

I think that the combination of various skills enabled us to create a functioning solution that is based on real customer needs. We were able to think of the whole product life cycle and focus on the user experience. A common mistake that teams make is that they lack business expertise; you can see many teams with excellent coding skills but the business value and user experience aspects are missing.

How was the hackathon weekend from a developer’s perspective?

On Friday, when the challenge was announced, we had a chance to visit Suomenoja power plant and interview Fortum representatives on their expectations and business needs. This gave us a certain direction, and based on that we developed five ideas. We spent 24 hours brainstorming the ideas, both within our team and with Fortum. After that we were down to two ideas. We validated both of them and ended up with one feasible idea with a real-life value. We also had to make sure that the scope of the project was small enough to fit the hackathon schedule. We spent Saturday and Sunday coding the actual solution and having a clear vision helped us tremendously. The help from Fortum experts was really valuable since we got immediate feedback and support for our work.

So what was your winning solution?

With the help of Bluemix, we developed a tool for managing and analyzing electricity exchange market messages in real time. The platform enabled us to build a prototype in no time which saved time for brainstorming and refining the idea. We also had time to create a visually appealing presentation to support our solution and convince the judges.

What does the future look like?

All the teams that participated in the hackathon have a chance to offer a project for Fortum. We are currently working on our proposal and look forward to co-operating with Fortum in the future.

And finally – tell us your secret. How to win a hackathon?

I have noticed a gradual change happening in the hackathon scene. These events are not just for students anymore. They are transforming into professional events, and in this particular challenge Fortum even had their own team. This emphasizes the fact that you need to have both a good solution and a competent team.

When it comes to winning a hackathon, I think there are three important things. Gather a team that has expertise in multiple areas; it is crucial to master both the business and technology side as well have experience in coding. The role of design should also be acknowledged. The second tip is not to fall in love with the first idea that comes to your mind. Discovering a feasible solution that has real value to the user requires time. And lastly, your team has to play well together and have fun. The power of team spirit will make everyone push themselves to their limits during the late nights of hackathon.


Team Proximity: Arto Ahde, Alexander Rodichev and Akatsuki Liu


Arto is currently working in Hybrid Cloud Technical Sales at IBM Nordics with a big focus on IBM Bluemix. Before joining the Hybrid Cloud organization at IBM, he has gained a lot of experience in delivery leadership, quality management and solution architecture. It is easy to lure Arto into the hackathon scene as he is keen on learning new things and stepping out of his comfort zone.

Avainsanat: avoin data, ekosysteemi, innovaatio, pilvipalvelut