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February 07, 2019 | Tom Ballard

Inaugural “Knoxville City Hackathon” set for March 2 and 3

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“We want people locally and beyond to know there is a pretty rich tech community here,” Cody Lambert, a Co-Founder of KnoxDevs, says in describing next month’s inaugural “Knoxville City Hackathon.”

Scheduled for Saturday, March 2 and Sunday, March 3 at Pyxl’s offices at 625 South Gay Street across from the Tennessee Theatre, the event is a joint effort with the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) and the City of Knoxville. It culminates with a pitch competition from 3 to 5 p.m. March 3 at Scruffy City Hall, just a few hours before KEC hosts the finale of the all-weekend “What’s the Big Idea 48-Hour Launch” in the same venue.

With two entrepreneurially-focused activities going on the same days, it’s obviously going to be a busy weekend in downtown Knoxville.

The KnoxDevs group, founded in 2015, defines a hackathon as “a marathon of innovation, usually 24-36 hours in which participants passionate about creating concepts and technology form teams and compete with other teams to generate, develop and/or implement a new idea from scratch in order to learn and have fun.”

In the case of the upcoming weekend, it is 28 hours in length, starting with breakfast at 8 a.m. March 2. For its inaugural hackathon, KnoxDevs has aligned with the City of Knoxville and its open data initiative to provide some possible areas where teams can work.

“Mayor Rogero spoke to KnoxDevs about the open data initiative the middle of last year,” Lambert said. Since then, he and others with KnoxDevs have had follow-up discussions. “Representatives of the city said a hackathon would be a good way to advance their initiative. We’ll be promoting ideas, but participants will not be restricted to just that initiative.”

Within the next week or so, Lambert says KnoxDevs will release a list of open data topics that will provide ideas where teams can focus their efforts. Teams will be self-organizing and limited to a maximum of four individuals. Teams might form ahead of March 2 or during the organizational session. Also, since a hackathon is somewhat synonymous with a marathon, space will be provided for sleeping.

KnoxDevs expects individuals to register in advance and pay a $10 per person fee to cover items like food, drinks, a place to sleep if needed, and Wi-Fi. Participants must be at least 18 years old. A full set of rules and answers to frequently asked questions can be found here.

The organizational activities and much of the work will occur during the first 24 hours. On Sunday morning, the teams will have the opportunity to showcase their work in what Lambert characterizes as a “Science Fair type” environment. Up to six teams will then be selected for the pitch competition that afternoon for prizes.

KnoxDevs is still seeking sponsors (Knoxville City Hackathon Sponsorship Packet).

“We see the hackathon as a ‘win-win’ for Knoxville,” Lambert told us. Not only will it elevate visibility about the profession locally, but it will also help elevate the awareness of others to Knoxville’s vibrant development community.

Like many in his profession of software development, Lambert considered leaving the region several years ago to gain more experience and explore opportunities out west.

“I went to CodeStock in 2015 and was exposed to 1,000 developers,” he said. Realizing the robustness of the profession locally, he joined with several others to found KnoxDevs.

“We’re a growing community,” Lambert says. An important benefit of the hackathon is to expose junior developers to a sector of the local employment base whose numbers are, in many respects, largely unknown and underappreciated by many.

Lambert says that the organizers are shooting for 100 participants and can accommodate up to 120. Those interested should register now.

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