Building a double-decker LEGO couch: hackathons in the API economy

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Wow, what a whirlwind of events. Bluemix, Watson, IToA, DevOps, mobile solutions. Learning, experiencing, and overloading all senses at IBM InterConnect 2016 in Las Vegas. Not to mention an amazing musical event delivered by Sir Elton John himself–the original Rocket Man!

I’d like to share my experience from a very interesting event that took place this week: IBM HackZone, which was the first joint hackathon hosted by IBM and Rocket As if the conference wasn’t busy enough, we opened a hacking lab for a short four hours last Wednesday to see what can be achieved. And as it turned out, that’s quite a lot (thanks to API economy)!

IBM and Rocket teams challenged attendees to create a new (or enhanced) piece of functionality for a sample mobile banking application. By exposing secure APIs, banks can expand their reach beyond traditional brick-and-mortar realms. Companies can broker banking services through an online presence; for example, providing different loan options while purchasing a car.  This is a great example of API economy–more loans, which lead ti more profit for banks.

In preparation for the event, a set of banking APIs was exposed enabling functions like account balance, transfer, deposit, withdrawal. The core banking system ran on IBM z Systems, and APIs were exposed using IBM z/OS Connect and IBM API Management on Bluemix. In addition, we provided attendees with options to create their own APIs using NoSQL access to mainframe data virtualized by Rocket Data Virtualization, as well as the capability to analyze data using Apache Spark.

Participants gathered slowly and formed teams, and started by experimenting with the provided APIs. I compared it to playing with a LEGO set; we had something pretty built already, but what could be built using the same bricks? Creative ideas were flowing, and the mentors from IBM and Rocket fielded a lot of questions. Projects included a Spark-based sentiment analysis of account balance (seems to be always negative!), a mobile application that allowed handshake via QR code to transfer money between accounts, and a mobile web page listing the latest balance and last five transactions in case of fraudulent activity. Even using APIs as the building blocks, time flew by too quickly to finish our projects, but we were able to demonstrate our designs and completed pieces. We also learned a lot from this first experience, like maybe not starting at 8:30 in the morning after a night full of events…

Just like with LEGO, we had a lot of fun together, and we made quick friends. Congratulations to the winning team of Dave and Conor from Ireland, who got Raspberry Pis and VIP tickets to the Wednesday Elton John concert! We hope to make this event better and bigger next year.

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I am a Product Manager at Rocket by day and an artist by night. I love to paint, sketch, sculpt and make hats. Yes, hats.

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