Experiencing a Hackathon

Experiencing a HackathonHaving spent a day at what was billed as the ‘Aging2.0/Google Intergenerational Hackathon’ I left feeling wiser, older, challenged and enthused.

A ‘hackathon’ may need some explanation.  Wikipedia describes it as: an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software and hardware development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects.  Or as I’d describe it, an event where people with different skills work together on an IT project.

The hackathon was run by Aging2.0, an American-based organization, who in their language, is a ‘global innovation platform for aging and senior care’.  Their aim is to use technology to improve the lives of older adults.  The subject of this hackathon was travel and Silver Travel Advisor asked me to go along to learn more.

Experiencing a HackathonThe two-day event was held at Campus London (a Google space) in trendy Shoreditch.  The 50+ attendees were split, using coloured badges, into designers, developers and business experts whose average age was mid-twenties.  I was one of 10 Senior Advisors whose average age was considerably more. 

After introductions, the first presentation was by Crispin Baynes the founder of US-based Adventurra, who match guides and chaperones with older people who need assistance when travelling.  He was therefore well placed to provide an insight into the travel issues older people face. We were shown a very powerful video (available on the website) of a mentally active, but physically frail 82 year old, June Fisher, talking about her travel aspirations and the problems she encounters.  

Experiencing a HackathonIt was then the turn of us Senior Advisors to tell the ‘youngsters’ about how we travel and some of our challenges.  Unsurprisingly there were many common themes: handling heavy luggage, navigating airports, language barriers, knowing where the nearest loo was, worrying about family at home, small text on phones and difficulties in getting travel insurance.  As one of the ‘younger seniors’, I learned a lot about what to expect in the coming years.

Next up was Muir Gray, the Director of Better Value Healthcare and advisor to Spring Chicken (their website is a great source of information and aids for older people).  Muir gave his insight into how we can overcome aging through improved physical fitness, reducing the risk of disease and a positive mental attitude.  He also plugged his book, Sod 70! The Guide to Living Well, which is available on Amazon.

It was then the turn of the ‘youngsters’ to introduce themselves, explain their particular specialism and say whether they had an idea for developing a solution to one of our problems.

Over lunch, teams were formed and during their first ‘hack’ session, they discussed options and agreed which one to take forward.  We circulated around the groups answering any questions they had as one of the key themes of Aging2.0 is to design ‘with’ not ‘for’.

Experiencing a Hackathon

We left mid afternoon, but hacks continued through until 9pm and the following day.  The event culminated in presentations by the nine teams to an audience and panel of expert judges.  The winning team received prize money of $500.

Hopefully, you now understand why I felt older, wiser and challenged.  However, taking Muir’s point about a positive mental attitude, it was fabulous to see so many enthusiastic, energetic and positive young people using their own time to help us more mature travellers have more fulfilling, happier experiences. 

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Helen Jackson

Traveller & writer

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