When you hear the term “hacker,” the first image that comes to mind is probably not that of a corporate employee. Voyager Innovations, the digital innovations arm of PLDT and Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart), is trying to turn this notion on its head - the company actively encourages its developers and designers to participate in hackathons.
Voyager employees at Hack The Climate

To distinguish it from the scary, criminal and underground activity that hacking’s original meaning denotes, hackathons are competitions for developers and designers, generally limited to 24 or 48 hours, in which they have to create a prototype of a web app or platform. The criterion for these products may be themed or may remain open-ended.

Regardless of their requirements, Orlando B. Vea, the president and CEO of Voyager Innovations, believes that hackathons are crucial to promoting innovation within a company.

“At Voyager, we want to help solve many of the world’s problems especially emerging market problems. There’s no better way to prepare our employees for this mission than hackathons, which teach them how to solve real-world issues through technology, all within a very short time frame. In other words, they encourage innovation, while demanding efficiency,” said Vea.

Digital victories
In recent months, developers from Voyager Innovations have not only entered into many hackathons, but placed or won many of them. These employees participated on their own as self-formed teams, not because they were asked by the company to do so.

For example, Hack the Climate, a hackathon designed to address climate change through technology, was recently won by a Voyager team composed of Jade Gaa, Xyriz Tan, Rhiza Talavera, Jayvic San Antonio, and Anna Jane Matillano, who built a social cycling app called Re/cycle.

San Antonio credited his team’s success to their experience at Voyager.

“Innovation is part of Voyager’s DNA. So creating something that is completely new has always been part of our system. It’s really the perfect environment to nurture creativity and take things to the next level,” he said, adding that the ‘tech talks’ series they have in his engineering department are also very helpful as it comes to knowledge sharing.
Voyager employees at Talk N' Text Mobile Web Developers Challenge

Another team, this one composed of Gian Quino, Harold Calayan, and Sam Francisco won third place in the Accenture Hackathon, where they developed Caffre-fort, an intelligent incident reporting and notifications app that allows users to report different types of public crime and accidents.

Francisco explained that hackathons are helpful because it helps programmers develop their product and business sense.

“Hackathons like these brings out opportunities for engineers to be and to think like a product owner. Since they already have a perspective on the technical aspect of the product, what they need next are business skills - skills on how to make the product successful,” he said, adding that in Silicon Valley, it’s common for the product and business ideas to come from engineers.

The tandem of Rachel de Villa and Ruel Pagayon also won the Talk N’ Text Mobile Web Developer Challenge, and also placed in third and fourth place at WebGeek Developers Cup: 2015 and PinkSphere Full Stack Engineer Challenge, respectively.

Voyager employees at Talk N' Text Mobile Web Developers Challenge

At the Talk N’ Text Mobile Web Developer Challenge, which sought to improve the livelihood of small farmers and homemakers, the team built two apps. The first was Agriply, a Q&A platform that connected experts, local farmers, homemakers, and people passionate about agriculture and livelihood.

The second app they built was Cropital, a crowdfunding platform that helps local farmers gain access to scalable and sustainable funding by connecting them to interested investors and the general public.

As a veteran of many hackathons, de Villa was keen on giving advice to Filipino developers who might be interested in joining hackathons, especially in the light of the recent trend toward prizes at these events.

“For you to really enjoy it, you need to think of hackathons as a way to passionately express your will to build and create awesome things, and not think about what’s in it for you in the end,” she said. (PR)

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