With over 50 years of keeping mainframes completely secure and under control already under our belt, the idea of having a hackathon might seem like a crazy idea. After all, our methods of developing applications have worked successfully throughout this entire time, and just about all of our developers have managed to effectively work in their own unique ways for this long. And can you imagine the range of responses from those who are averse to change regarding the idea of a hackathon? So why would we bother to change things now?
Well, for one reason, you might be able to do more business with more customers using ideas that came out of a hackathon. That’s what Citibank did. At one of their hackathons, each team examined banking from the end user perspective, rather than a banking perspective. From this point of view, the teams came up with ways to make the customers’ interactions with the bank much more friendly, quick and easy. As a result, more customers and potential customers liked the way they could interact with the bank. And if a bank can make the end user experience better, there are plenty of other companies that could develop and benefit from that sort of change.
Arranging a Successful Hackathon
So what do you need if you’re going to arrange a successful hackathon? First, you need a location where your teams of people can be. You’ll also need someone to sponsor all the other costs, such as food and drink, to keep people working throughout the day. Someone will need to talk to them at the start of the day, so arrange a keynote speaker to tell everyone the goal of the day and the areas you would like them to achieve something in. Finally, you’ll need plenty of people who can work well with others and turn ideas into code.
It doesn’t matter if a lot of your code and data is currently on the mainframe and you haven’t really made much of a start on web-enabling CICS. Nor does it matter if you have lots of end users accessing your systems from browsers. The idea behind a hackathon is to develop something that can make users happy and can make money for your company. If you start the other way around by developing something that’s great for your company, but is awkward for customers to use, you could risk losing customers to other companies.
APIs are also the key to a successful hackathon. You need to make APIs to your existing code available so that new code can be written using the APIs to transfer information. The teams at the hackathon will be looking to produce a viable product—it will have been tested beyond just the concept stage. This Minimum Viable Product (MVP) will have come about through rapid prototyping. Now, it may be that some teams will produce an MVP that just isn’t right for your business at this time—and that’s okay. The developers can treat it as a learning exercise.
Creating New Opportunities
To make everything work, people will need to start thinking of the mainframe as a service (MaaS), providing all the benefits of a mainframe that we know so well, while offering internal APIs that teams can then combine with external APIs to produce their finished product. Members of the team might be experts with Java, Linux or something else, and they can bring their skills to the finished product. They may well be coding these days using node.js and swiftlang—a long way from COBOL. And you may find yourself using things like GitHub and Jenkins on the mainframe to facilitate this more modern rapid development. GitHub is a web-based Git version control repository hosting service, and Jenkins is a continuous integration tool used most often for software development. But, as I said, both run on mainframes.
The programming languages and the tools used aren’t as important as the exciting new ideas that arise at a hackathon, and the different ways people can view a problem or opportunity based on their experiences in a particular industry. Hackathons can end with a finished product (which will need some further development before going live) that makes customers’ lives easier and is also likely to bring in more customers. With this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that any organization could benefit from a hackathon.