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This year’s first Canadian AT&T Hackathon proved popular not only among developers but also participants from a variety of professional backgrounds, including some very creative and focused women.

As winners of the Social/Community Impact award for their mobile app ‘Compete Me’, Sofia Stefou and Krystina Sulatycki are two powerhouses on their own, but together, along with their team – which included Antoine Adeux (graphic designer), Jonathan Bezeau (back-end developer), and Martin Horsfield (front-end developer) – came and conquered the event.

“Challenge the world,” the project’s slogan, like the application itself, was an ambitious undertaking that was designed to allow female athletes a way to challenge themselves and other women at similar levels of athleticism globally.

The app gives active women an opportunity to not only create niche networks but motivate each other by tracking physical achievements in biking, running and hiking; and engage users by connecting them with others in a way that would support their goals as well as inspire greater feats of athleticism.

The application’s greatest social benefit is the unique way it can bring social media into play for charities that organize major marathons. By offering participants a way to connect with other marathon runners beforehand, the experience would allow greater community engagement, mutual support and motivation.

It was the first Hackathon for both young women who were drawn to the event for similar reasons. Krystina, a materials engineer and young entrepreneur, is the creative force behind a social shopping application that allows users to browse their favourite stores as well as share and recommend fashionable finds with friends. It boasts an impressive store directory that includes The Bay, Saks Fifth Avenue and French Connection among others. Her current development of the mobile application, and her eagerness to learn a bit more about the process of creating an app is what drew her to the Hackathon.

“I am the type that wants to see results quickly,” Krystina explains over raspberry lemonade when I meet up with her to talk about her experience. “I knew that at the end of the project there would be a finished product, or at least a functioning demo”. Clearly results-driven, this young entrepreneur and Ryerson MBA graduate teamed up with a similarly focused and business-minded team mate, Sofia Stefou, also an entrepreneur and Ryerson MBA alumnus.

Sofia, a web video strategist and producer at sofinamedia (her production company), became interested in participating in the Hackathon as a way to add to her skill set. Once she began working on the application, she found that her contributions were just as valuable as those of the techies.

At the same time she was learning how applications are developed, the general time frame to develop, costs and storage fees, she was applying a marketing angle, helping to solidify the concept and bring monetization into focus. Her project managements skills were also useful in mobile application development; “Leading a video building project is not dissimilar to leading a mobile app development project, the only difference is what’s being built, but the process is essentially the same” Sofia explains.

The final application, she emphasizes, was a total team effort. The project offered great networking opportunities with a variety of professionals who were able to contribute a variety of skills and strengths. The experience has built her confidence, she says, encouraging her to consider building another app in the near future.

“The hackathon atmosphere offers a no pressure environment where you get a chance to fail and it’s okay, while pursuing something creative and original,” she adds.

 

Our participants give us some feedback:

What is your professional background?

KS: I’m a materials engineer by training, recently finished my MBA and started developing a social shopping app called Stylehawk.

SS: [As] a web video strategist and producer, I create web videos for companies that are looking to achieve certain business objectives and want to use online video to achieve those goals. The work that I do goes beyond just creating a video to stick on the home page of your website. It takes into account your overall marketing goals and how an online video fits in with those goals, where your target audience lives on the web and how can you effectively reach them, and uses analytics to determine the success of your video and ultimately a positive ROI

How did your team come together for the AT&T Hackathon?

KS: One at a time – people interested in my pitch approached me at the networking session and we formed a team.

Were you personally connected to the idea?

KS: Yes, I am very active: I run, swim, and play volleyball regularly. I think it would be fun to add in some competition into my daily activities even if I’m not competing at the highest level in a given sport.

SS: It definitely might be something I might use in the future. I currently participate in traditional boxing classes, so if I ever decide to picking up either swimming, biking, hiking, skiing or running this is the app for me!

What inspired your final app product?

SS: I think we looked at it from the perspective of the upcoming Summer Olympics and the healthy competitive spirit that it implies. We wanted to build an app that could somehow capture that spirit for those female athletes that wanted to compete, but were not necessarily looking to train to become Olympic athletes.

How did you tie your mobile to the broader theme of community and social impact?

KS: Our app focused on connecting female athletes of a similar caliber from across the globe. The idea was to promote international competition at every level. We wanted to both motivate athletes and challenge them to improve by offering them a global ranking and the opportunity to rise in their respective categories and contribute to their nation’s score.

We hope that an app like this could help unify female athletes which is particularly important for women who don’t have a strong social support network surrounding their athletic goals.

SS: The fact that the app was non-for-profit I think really gave it a purpose that went beyond just making a successful app in terms of profitability. Also, the fact that the app was designed to be shared and used by women all over the world to help them find a fun way in which to stay fit or get fit really tied into the this year’s theme.

What do you feel would encourage more women to participate in IT events like the AT&T Hackathon?

KS: I can only share my experience: it was a lot of fun getting to know and work with a team of talented and enthusiastic individuals.

SS: I would absolutely encourage women to participate in a Hackathon! It was great fun. I had a wonderful time collaborating with people that I might not normally have the opportunity to work with. I really went in with no expectation whatsoever other than to learn, and to be honest I did feel intimidated at first and didn’t think I had anything to contribute to a team other than just sheer enthusiasm. I found, however, that I had a lot more to bring to the table in terms of my ability to think about how to monetize the app and presentation skills than I thought I did, and in the end that proved to be very valuable.  The thing is that more and more apps and games in particular, are being consumed by women, and who better to design apps and games for women than women? I really feel women have more to contribute to IT events including the Hackathon than they give themselves credit for.

North of 41 mission which is to encourage cross border connections and collaborations. This AT&T Hackathon was the first ever hosted in Canada as a part of North of 41 efforts to promote Canadian entrepreneurs, IT professionals and organizations in the tech sector. How do you think the event contributed to cross-border connections?

SS: I think these types of events allow people to be able to demonstrate their strengths which is crucial when companies from the U.S. and abroad are looking to collaborate with Canadian techies. It’s one thing to have a website listing all your accomplishments in Canada and it’s another thing entirely to see how someone tackle a challenge put in front of them firsthand. I think there are a lot of stereotypes that still exist on both sides about what people’s capabilities and attitudes are like, and I believe events like the Hackathon help to bridge that gap, and say “hey, we aren’t really all that different after all.”

 

-Tania Alvarez


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