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IT’s first hackathon builds on creativity

Hackathon: a design sprint-like event; often, in which computer programmers and others involved in software development collaborate intensively on software projects.

Innovation has long been part of our strategic vision at Republic Airways, and our IT department has been one of the key players in making that vision a reality. Take their recent hackathon, for example. What’s a hackathon, you ask?

“Hackathons have become a recent craze in the IT development world. We’ve wanted to do our own for quite some time. Despite our current virtual environment, we decided to go forward with it, lock down two days to focus on creativity and sharing skills, with the objective of having a deliverable product by the end,” Andy Ragozzino, Senior Manager of Application Development, explained.

Ragozzino shared the three objectives of the hackathon:

  1. Have a working product by the end of the two-day hackathon
  2. Have fun and collaborate in real time, turning on web cameras while working together in our current remote environment
  3. Learn a new skill and teach someone else a new skill

“Usually in hackathons, you’ll hunker down together in a room for two days, all-hands-on-deck to toss around ideas, build on each other’s work focusing 100% on the project until completion,” Ragozzino added. “While we couldn’t be in the same space, we made the most of the technology we have to keep collaboration the focal point of the hackathon.”

The two projects they chose to focus on weren’t business critical. Instead they were “pie-in-the-sky” concepts that were meant to benefit the company but also allow for creativity and flexibility.

The first project was a collaboration with the Corporate and Community Responsibility department—developing a virtual “giving tree” that could be used for donations in future charitable campaigns. The IT Associates involved in this initiative included Franklin Bruce, Hasan Idrees, Jennifer James, John Lucas, Gary Todd and Bradley Walker. They coordinated with Amy Arnell, Director of CCR, and CCR committee members to design and develop the giving tree platform. Less than 48 hours later, they presented the virtual “giving tree” and tested out its capabilities, receiving a thumbs up for its success.

“I would have expected a project like this to have taken weeks to complete. The giving tree will help us increase engagement of our CCR initiatives system-wide, and the team put so much creativity into it to make it customized for our needs,” Amy said of their work.

The second project was conceptualized by Dinakar Balanaga and Franklin Bruce, Business Intelligence Developers, and Tariq Khan, IT Information Architect, aiming to capture sentiment of tweets that mention the airline industry and specifically Republic to understand the perception of flying and our brand to help marketing and communication efforts of our Corporate Communications team. Using Power BI, Franklin, Dinakar and Tariq were able to build a dashboard pulling in Google’s natural language processing that measures sentiment of tweets that mention specific words or Twitter handles.

“The hackathon really showcased our teamwork and the skills that our Associates have. It’s a chance for them to learn new skills that they wouldn’t focus on otherwise, working on new technology that you wouldn’t otherwise in your day to day work,” Nirav Shah, Vice President of Information Technology, said about why they began the hackathon. “Seeing its success, I’d say this is the first of many.”

“We had fun doing it. It’s something that’s outside of my typical work, but I learned quite a few things that I can now incorporate into my other projects, and we got to work closely with other people, in and outside of our department, that we wouldn’t typically,” Tariq added.