INTERVIEWS

Swiss Re Hackathon Organizer: Hackathons Are Not Just For Hardcore Techies

Swiss Re Hackathon Gabriele Donino

On the second weekend of April, the 0100 Campus venue is going to blast. One of the biggest hackathons in Bratislava will take place on April 7th-9th, 2017. Swiss Re Hackathon Bratislava is dedicated to every talented designer and developer who has a passion for developing user based apps, data science, and cognitive technology. It is your chance to code your way to a grand prize money of 10,000 EUR.

Why you should be interested in the event besides the prize money? What kind of app will you be developing? Why did such a big company as Swiss Re is decide to reach to the outer world for a solution?

We interviewed Mr. Gabriele Donino, the Head of Digital & Smart Analytics Delivery at Swiss Re, to find out.


Gabriele, you are the Head of Digital & Smart Analytics Delivery at Swiss Re. What is your professional background? Why have you gotten involved in the analytics and what are your responsibilities in your daily job at Swiss Re?

To much extent, my involvement with some aspects of analytics started earlier than my professional career. I have always been fascinated by how knowledge is created and then used to make decisions.

Therefore, throughout my education in Computer Science, I was naturally attracted to Computational Paradigms and Artificial Intelligence. This led me to focus on Quantum computing, which many argue is the computational paradigm that mimics the human brain.

However, I began my career as a software developer. When I joined Swiss Re in 2008, I got back into the analytics topics and since then, my daily job (and that of my great colleagues!) is to create and maintain several solutions based on Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing and Deep Learning techniques. To name a few applications, we leverage these technologies for automatic contract & claims management, underwriting, and market intelligence solutions.

In reinsurance, there is a tremendous potential to apply innovative technologies. This leaves plenty of room for creativity and personal learning.

It is still not very common for corporations to closely cooperate with the startup world, at least in our region. And yet, during the second April weekend, you are going to run your own hackathon. What is the idea behind? Can you share the thought process why you came to decision to organize such an event?

Swiss Re has successfully organized two hackathons in New York and Bangalore, so we chose to continue our effort. Bratislava was a natural choice due Swiss Re’s established presence in the location. Moreover, Slovakia is one of our fastest growing locations and it has extensive IT operations. We knew that we had the perfect opportunity to interact with the external environment and create an event where we could exchange ideas and knowledge with other talented developers, students, and business individuals.

The Bratislava hackathon is our third external event of its kind. The two hackathons we organized last year in New York and in Bangalore were very successful and were positively received. We have also organized a number of internal hackathons. Recently, our Asset management team in Zurich chose to organize their own Hackathon to promote innovation and new ideas internally.

What were the feedback and your personal reflections on the past hackathons events?

Thinking back on the two previous events, I think it became apparent that hackathons are not just for hardcore techies. Anyone can benefit from this experience and contribute to the result. Hackathons are an excellent learning platform where people collaborate, brainstorm and exchange to solve a common problem.

But this requires a group of smart people with different skills to cooperate and interact. A Hackathon brings these people together in an environment that fosters synergies between heterogeneous talents: If you spend a few hours in a hackathon you will quickly realize that a group is greater than the sum of its parts with respect to efficiency, creativity and more importantly, talent.

We received positive feedback from the previous events and I think that the Hackathons in New York and Bangalore changed the perception of techies in those locations. More importantly, they demonstrate that the reinsurance industry is very open to innovation.

Let‘s dive into the Bratislava hackathon itself. Traditionally, hackathons follow a certain field that the organizers find open for new improvements, solutions, ideas. To mention some, we have had health hackathon or open data hackathon in Bratislava recently. What was the primary need or issue you wanted to find a solution for? What is the main goal you would like to achieve?

With such a diverse crowd, we hope to find an innovative approach to working solutions that would enable individuals or small business owners to assess their total risk.

We as a company are passionate about attracting and developing talent and sparking innovation throughout the industry. That is why we organized this hackathon. We want to meet and exchange ideas with the talented people from various backgrounds who can bring innovative approaches to the solutions we are looking for and bring a fresh perspective to our industry.

This is the ultimate goal – to spark innovation and engage with talented bright minds.

Why have you decided to reach out and look for the solution in the startup community instead of within your own, corporate resources?

At Swiss Re, there are many very talented people with great skills. Part of our success is that we constantly strive to excel. That can also encompass reaching out to the external world and exchange ideas, finding new approaches with talented people with different backgrounds. Startups are usually full of people who think out of the box, so naturally, we want to engage in conversation with this growing community. I hope that we can inspire each other and enrich each other’s industries.

What kind of professionals would you like to invite for the hackathon? What is your target field or area? I assume one of the areas is big data.

We are looking for a diverse group of professionals and students. This could include talented designers, developers, and students who have a passion for data science, cognitive technology and developing end-user applications. To us, diversity is the key element that contributes to innovation and inspiration and we are fully supporting it.

SwissRe Hackathon
SwissRe Hackathon

The spots for the hackathon are limited to 100 people. They will be picked up from a pool of all applicants and financial support for travel costs and accommodation will be available for selected participants traveling to Bratislava. What are your criteria for the participants? What is the deadline for applications and how many free spots are there for the day?

For anyone who would like to join us, now is the time to sign up. The registration closes on March 24, 2017. The spots are filling up quite fast but there are still a few available.

As I already mentioned, we are looking for diversity and when accepting participants we will choose a group of people with diverse skills, knowledge, background or geographical location. However, we can only support a limited number of participants with transport and accommodation, so it’s important to sign up as soon as possible. The rules for entering our Hackathon can also be found on our website.

The first Swiss Re Hackathon in Bratislava is going to take place in 0100 Campus on April 7th to April 9th. Can you elaborate on the program and organization of the event?

The agenda will be quite intense. Teams will have 48 hours to develop a working solution. But that’s not all. We are excited to partner with several top Slovak IT and Data analysis companies who will share their knowledge on their particular area of expertise during four separate workshops on Saturday. I can mention that we will be hosting Sygic and their data analyst Jakub Mažgut who will be presenting.

To sum it up, I think our catchphrase describes the agenda quite aptly – hack, eat, sleep and repeat.

Last but not least, let‘s talk about the motivation. The winning team will be rewarded 10,000 EUR prize money. Besides the money, why do you think people should join the hackathon?

I honestly believe that the main reasons why people should join the Swiss Re hackathon are being a part of an insanely talented group of people for one weekend, having a chance to create innovative ideas and improvements and forming unique friendships. Of course, the first prize of 10 000 EUR for the winning team is not bad either.


Want to join the Hackathon? Register here.

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