Hackathons are used in hardware and software development as a creative playground for a wide variety of topics. They also offer the ideal platform for Sergio Vidangos to develop the possibilities of machine learning together with other VI employees. He thinks little of lectures or presentations lasting several hours. “I don’t want my colleagues to find out the latest about the topic from a press review, but rather to gain practical experience.” Hackathons are about doing. This is the basis so that everyone can use it when developing new solutions.
"I don't want my colleagues to find out the latest trends from a press review, but rather from practical experience."
A machine learning hackathon takes place every month in Vienna, Munich, and Freiburg. Employees from all disciplines are welcome, mostly around four. To get started, Sergio presents cases (as in his monthly newsletter) but also tools and services.
He puts them in the context of the topic but does not go into the technical functionality too much. It is essential to develop a feeling for what machine learning can do. “This creates ideas and discussions,” says Sergio. These set a creative process in motion to find an idea for a solution. In the almost six-hour sessions, the participants then develop their prototype from existing services, most recently a mushroom detection app.
“The point is that programs are no longer programmed by developers and with fixed rules, but learn independently from a treasure trove of experience and data”
Essentially, machine learning is about recognizing patterns and laws from data. Face recognition software, recommendations on Netflix or Amazon, or bots like Siri and Alexa. It goes without saying that VI is on the subject.
The hackathons take place independently of customer projects. But here, too, it is a matter of developing solutions. The participants in the hackathons do not necessarily have to be tech-savvy, it is more about a “tackling” mentality. The hackathons help “give employees new tools” and that in turn helps customers and their users.
The photo upload app for identifying mushrooms is not the only prototype that has emerged from the VI Hackathons so far. There is a “Fruit & Veg” app for children with which they can get information and tasks on fruit and vegetables in the supermarket. A vocabulary trainer works in a similar way, adding a list of foreign language terms to a photo. In this way, thanks to machine learning, creative solutions are created that simplify everyday life.