Digital innovators and technology experts filled the Russ White Hangar at the Calgary International Airport for WestJet’s first Hackathon on Monday.
According to Dictionary.com, a Hackathon is a competitive and collaborative event where participants, usually from the digital technology industry, gather in teams with the hope of producing a functioning project at the end.
The event named #hackinthehangar saw around 17 well known technology companies such as Facebook, Adobe and Microsoft come together to find a creative solution to a problem posed by WestJet.
WestJet hoped that the teams would find a way to better serve premium travellers throughout their entire travel journey and to make travelling more accessible through technology.
This Hackathon was an idea created by Alfredo C. Tan, WestJet’s chief digital innovation officer, who was inspired by his many years of working in the tech industry in Silicon Valley.
Tan said there is no compensation for the time and work of participants but people in the tech industry enjoy coming together to solve large problems, so it wasn’t hard convincing people to sign up.
“I called a few friends I had connections with and said I have this idea, what would your thoughts be if we did this, given the direction we want to go?” Tan said. “I wouldn’t even finish my sentence and every single one said ‘that is brilliant, tell us how we can be apart of it.'”
Each team taking part in the Hackathon has two WestJetters as well as a premium traveller on their team to help create a prototype that they will present to judges at the end of the day. The winning prototypes will then be built and put to use in the coming years, according to Tan.
The idea of a Hackathon is nothing new in the tech industry and many of the companies involved in the one on Monday have taken part in similar events before. This was the first for WestJet and possibly one of the largest for Calgary with more than 100 participants from all around North America, Tan said.
Teams will all aim to tackle the same problem but will likely find different ways to arrive at a solution due to creativity and the direction each of their platforms chooses to go.
Holly Stallan, industry manager for travel and tourism at Facebook Canada, said her team was looking at how a digital experience could transform a travellers journey beginning at their arrival at the airport.
“Perhaps there’s a way that it helps you stay more connected to your friends and family at home, maybe there’s a way you can use an iteration of a bot or artificial intelligence to help automate some of the things you want to do while you’re travelling,” Stallan said.
“There’s a number of different opportunities that we think could be applicable to the travel world.”
This type of event appeals to Facebook because it allows the company to gain a better understanding of WestJets unique problems and gives the social media platform access to help ease the frustration travellers may face, according to Stallan.
According to Sandip Lalli, President and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, a Hackathon is good for the Calgary economy because it brings attention to local businesses and showcases the cities ability to host events that require higher level thinking, problem solving and the collaboration of different companies,
“It’s bringing in energy and a vibrancy that we need back into the economy and the fact that we’re thinking and taking ownership of the economy ourselves and taking it into our own hands, is exactly the way we need to move forward in this current market place,” Lalli said.