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Microsoft will release its hackathon help tool to the world

Blair Hanley Frank | Sept. 4, 2015
It was used to manage Microsoft's internal Oneweek hackathon and is slated for release next year.

In addition to connecting hackers with projects, the tool also provides easy access to resources that teams need when they're preparing to work on a project. As you might expect, users can easily get to Microsoft development tools like its Visual Studio development software and Azure cloud services through the platform.

In the future, Ramos plans to include links to non-Microsoft technologies like GitHub, Python and other popular development languages and tools so the product isn't just parochially tied to the company's ecosystem.

"So the aim here is really just to make it brain-dead easy for someone to walk into a [hackathon], open their lid and start working on that hack project," he said.

The idea for the tool came about when Ramos attended a hackathon at the University of Washington. He said that when attendees arrived on the morning of the hackathon's first day, they attended a small fair to learn about the different projects they could work on, before having to listen for over an hour to someone describe how they could get set up with different tools. It echoed experiences he had heard about from other hackathon attendees who also had to spend time on administrative tasks before getting to work on their projects.

"It was like man, these guys are going to have to spend half a day just to get ready to start hacking," he said. "Wouldn't it be great if they could just come in and start writing code, and not have to worry about any of that stuff?"

Oneweek hackathon team meets around a table
A Oneweek hackathon team focused on building an adaptive learning platform sits together on a group of large bean bags. Credit: Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures

The tool was only designed to be used inside Microsoft, but Ramos said people inside the company loved it so much they wanted to share it with others. Marketers and salespeople who participated in hackathons wanted to let people outside Microsoft have access to it. 

"I think it happened by enough people consistently telling us, 'This is great, can I share it with my customer?'" he said.

Ramos wants to test the external version of Microsoft's hackathon tool with two or three handpicked colleges next year. Those schools can give Microsoft feedback about what worked and what they would like to see changed as Microsoft heads towards a final release, which is also slated for 2016.  

Of course, getting this tool in front of college students also provides advantages for Microsoft. The Garage is actually a part of the company's developer tools group, and Ramos sees the tool as a way to get Microsoft products in front of people early in their careers who might not have had much exposure to things like Visual Studio. 

 

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