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So What Actually Happens At A Hackathon?

Creative minds and programmers competing against each other, sleeping bags tucked under the table and coffee cups piled on top, and a real buzz in the air – that’s what we imagined a hackathon to be. We checked out the real thing and found out that it’s nowhere near as wild as you’d imagine.

There’s 16:22:18 left, according to the timer on the big screen. Around 500 hackers have a total of 36 hours to solve their case study. More than half the time has already passed. It’s Thursday morning in Olma Hall 2 in St. Gallen; the hackathon that’s part of the START Global Summit is well underway. At long rows of tables, young people are hunched over their laptops, discussing, typing, studying, drinking coffee.

Among them is 23-year-old Christopher Mandiratta. The Zurich-born student is in the sixth semester of his business-management degree at the University of St. Gallen and is taking part in a hackathon for the first time. «I heard about the event at the university and thought it would be a good experience,» explains Christopher. He then teamed up with three friends: Matthias Otth and Benjamin Simmonds, who are studying computer science at ETH Zurich, and his fellow student Michel Lucas Camor, who’s also studying business management. They’re all hackathon novices.

Wanted: The ultimate social TV experience
The hackathon actually started the previous evening. Nine companies each presented their own task for the teams of hackers. One of them was Sunrise, represented by Tom Spycher and Philipp Spinnler, who along with their team developed yallo TV and Live MySport. Tom appeared on stage to set the hackers the Sunrise task, titled «Join the Revolution: Sunrise Search for the Ultimate Social TV Experience». The aim was to create different interaction options for the MySports and yallo TV packages that Sunrise offers.

The Sunrise project really grabbed us because it requires both technical and conceptual skills, explains Christopher. And they were also swayed by their gut feeling: Everyone really wanted to work with Tom and Philipp.