It’s 8 a.m. on Saturday 9 February 2019 and we’re in Munich. The colorful facade of the Kistlerhof creative hub is hard to miss. This is where ZEISS Digital Innovation Partners is based. It’s still pretty quiet as I step inside the yellow building with its big blue dots and go up to the fourth floor. As the elevator doors open, I am greeted by a lively hubbub – all around me are people chatting away in English and German. The first hackers are signing up for the ZEISS Hackathon 2019: Bringing Data Science to the Nano Age.
The tasks at hand – Anecdotes from the ZEISS office
75 hackers from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, the UK and Belgium are busy working on case studies for ZEISS. Each task focuses on one topic from day-to-day life at the company. The data scientists have just 24 hours to analyze huge data sets and develop user-friendly processes for a number of different problems. These include solutions for image analysis and photomask repairs, as well as predictions about the life cycle of a machine. ZEISS specialists have come along to act as mentors to the 16 teams around the clock.
The evaluation criteria and the prize
A jury of ZEISS employees will assess the solutions on their level of innovation, user experience and visualization. It also matters how relevant the solution is for the business and how it’s presented. The teams have three minutes, just like they would in an elevator pitch. After a team building session and some refreshments, it’s time to get started. “It’s 1 p.m., which means you have 24 hours to submit your solutions,” says Dr. Jan Philipp Simen of Digital Innovation Partners to get the Hackathon started. The hackers gather around the desks, discuss the task at hand and focus their attention on their laptops.
This gives me a chance to talk to Matthias Gohl, Head of Digital Innovation Partners, about why ZEISS is running the Hackathon for a third time: “At ZEISS, we work towards our digital future and that of our customers. Each time, we are delighted to host the various hackers and provide insights into the challenging tasks that face our company. For this Hackathon we’re working closely with the data science community – in the spirit of learning, sharing, collaborating and creating together. This is a win-win for both parties and is a lot of fun as well.” The winners of this year’s ZEISS Hackathon will enjoy a trip to San Francisco to visit the Semicon West trade fair. Also on the agenda are a tour of ZEISS in Pleasanton and a visit to the LinkedIn HQ.
The participants – Hackers from a range of specialties
30-year-old Cent is from Milan, and this is his 6th hackathon so far! As he takes a seat at his laptop, I ask him why he came along again this weekend. “At a hackathon you meet many different people with different backgrounds. That opens up my mind. I am a designer, I visualize things. At a hackathon I can be creative and work with others on real-life challenges.” It’s a similar story when I talk to the other participants. They wanted to find out which tasks hackers from other disciplines are working on, as well as network and have a great time.
The pitch is just around the corner!
It’s 11.30 a.m. on Sunday 10 February 2019. Empty fizzy drinks cans are forming a mountain on the desks. Some of the hackers are rubbing their tired eyes – but there’s simply no time to lose! With just 90 minutes to go, the hackers are programming to the very end. They’re working against the clock to get their pitches done.
And the winner is …
16 presentations later, the jury has one of the most difficult tasks of the last 24 hours – to choose which one of the exceptional pitches and creative solutions will get to go home the winner. When the name DOCTAR is announced, the teammates look at one another first in shock, and then start cheering loudly. DOCTAR wowed the judges with an excellent user experience, a top presentation and a solution based on machine learning, which fits in perfectly with the ZEISS ecosystem. The team’s digital process for analyzing cancerous tissue has the potential to become a real product. After the awards, the team revealed to me that they’d only just met at the ZEISS Hackathon – sometimes, things just work out. Everyone had a clear role that matched their area of expertise: user experience, machine learning, programming. The fact that they were working on combating cancer moved the team and motivated them even more. “We are so happy. We didn’t expect to win. We just came here to gain experience, get to know new people and to have fun. That’s so great,” says Thomas of DOCTAR.
It’s now 5 p.m. on Sunday 10 February 2019 and the ZEISS Hackathon 2019 has come to an end. I join the tired but happy hackers as they exit the blue-and-yellow Kistlerhof building. See you again next year!