Ola Cabs to hold its first ever hackathon over weekend

It’s almost midnight on Saturday and there’s a power outage in several parts of Bengaluru city, leaving roads dark and deserted. But music is playing loud on the fifth floor of Augusta Block inside Embassy Golf Links corporate park. It’s not a party hosted by Ola Cabs for announcing this new office premise but the company’s first-ever hackathon where around 180 engineers are huddled in teams, working to create solutions that could solve problems relating to city traffic and commuting.

Winners of the hackathon will win prizes of up to Rs 5,00,000 or land up a job with the online taxi aggregator.

The hackathon has attracted coders from Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Vellore, Manipal and Thiruvananthapuram. While several students are participating in the event, there are also professionals who are employed with IBM, Tata Consultancy Services, Samsung, LG, Cisco, Amazon and Flipkart.

Over 12 hours since teams have been working, energy drink Red Bull is now high in demand as most coders look determined to stay awake for the next 12 hours when the ‘appathon’ ends. To shake off slumber, a few techies have just finished dancing to Lungi Dance in their bay, I am told, as someone pulls out a mobile phone to show me the video of the otherwise serious coders shaking a leg.

Even as it is Ola Cabs’ first such event, the company has made all the arrangements that might be needed. A small conference room is filled with sleeping bags, which have been brought on rent, in case someone wants to take a nap. A section of the office has been transformed into a cafeteria, and is stocked with cup noodles, breads, pizzas and beverages enough to last for the night. The pillars of the office are covered with posters to motivate the teams to ‘win Rs 5 lakh’ and ‘get hired’.

Swamy Seetharaman, vice-president,engineering at Ola Cabs, who usually leaves office by evening, is walking up and down the aisles tonight, stopping at some cubicles and helping teams who need guidance or just discussing the ideas they are working on.

“There are two main reasons for this hackathon. First, we are looking to create a stronger tech-branding for the company because technology is the backbone of Ola Cabs and we want to convey that, and second, we are expanding rapidly so we are looking to hire aggressively. We are looking at creating a pipeline for recruitment through this event,” Seetharaman says.

Besides food and music, Ola Cabs has ensured a dedicated internet wi-fi line for the hackathon, and provided mobile phones and wearable devices to the teams that need to test their apps on those.

Of the around 40 solutions that are being built at the hackathon, Seetharaman says he is impressed by a team that’s building a solution for safe carpooling and another one that’s creating in-car entertainment solution to engage passengers during their commute.

An app for making travel more social and getting friends to join on a ride is the favourite of Subhendu Panigrahi, co-founder of Venturesity, which is a start-up that helps companies recruit through hackathons, and has partnered Ola Cabs for this event. Relishing his cup noodles, Panigrahi says, he’s now used to staying awake on Saturday nights because his company has been holding such events at least twice a month. Over the last one year, Venturesity has held over 17 physical hackathons, and many more online ones.

While Ola Cabs has said that it plans to hire around 200 professionals by March 2015 and the company is hoping to create a pipeline of candidates through this event, several participants appear to be at the hackathon for the joy of the event rather than landing a job with the company.

“We participate in hackathons regularly and have even been the winners of one such event,” said Nivedita, a fourth-year engineering student from Bengaluru’s R V College of Engineering, who along with her four classmates, Bhavya, Atul, Aparna and Raveendra, is building a solution that would allow a user to book a cab for another person through Ola Cabs’ app. “We are having fun building our solutions and we haven’t really thought about taking a job with Ola Cabs if we win,” she says.

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