By | October 16, 2019

Aslew of Spherions are primed to participate in the 2019 Sphera Hackathon, an event designed to foster innovations in all solution areas. The event begins today, Oct. 16, 2019, and runs through Oct. 17. To get a preview of the upcoming event, I recently spoke with Jerry Shaughnessy, Sphera’s chief architect, for the upcoming Spark magazine.

The winner of the 2019 Sphera Hackathon, a two-day event, will be determined by a panel of judges who will evaluate the projects on Oct. 18. A second “People’s Choice” winner will be selected by a vote open to all Sphera employees.

Here’s an edited excerpt from my conversation with Shaughnessy.

SparkHow does Sphera innovate?

Jerry Shaughnessy: We actually have a really well-defined innovation program. If you think of it like a big funnel, we have a number of ways that innovation, innovative ideas could fall into that funnel that we want to focus on. Obviously, some of them come from market conditions and questions and desires of our customers. Some of them come because there’s a new piece of technology or a new piece of functionality or someone’s looking at something out in the real world that we think might be useful. Then, of course, we have all the bright and clever folks that work for us, and they have ideas as well. They work on these products day in and day out, and they maybe think of a better way to do things or a different way of looking at a problem.

So all these things all bubble into that funnel, and then the folks like our CEO, Paul Marsuhka, and Perry Marchant, the CTO, and our business folks get together and they look at those ideas, that collection, and then they say, “Well, what makes sense for us to pursue?” Most things that are on our product roadmap, and we have a very well-defined product roadmap for the next year, most of those things have been planned out well in advance. They’re all incremental changes. If you think of 5% here, 4% there, 8% here, these innovation projects are really the things that are the game changers. They’re the 20% difference in what we do and how we do it. One of the ways—

Listen to the SpheraNOW podcast interview with Jerry Shaughnessy.

Spark: The difference between a balloon and a dirigible.

Shaughnessy: That’s exactly right. A balloon’s a great toy. A dirigible can actually do work. That’s the focus of what we’re doing is, where can we take these ideas and where can we have a place to test them out? So our innovation pipeline, our innovation process gives us an opportunity to do that. We take some of our very talented engineers who volunteer to work on some of these ideas that have been prioritized in our innovation pipeline, and this gives them an opportunity to have free rein, to really work it out. Does it work? Does it not work? Can they build out what I like to call a steel thread? Can they prove that it works from end to end? They don’t need every feature. They don’t need every piece of functionality, but we need to be able to prove that that works in our business and that it makes sense for our business.

SparkSo we had a hackathon in 2017, and I hear we have another one coming up. Can you tell me about it?

Shaughnessy: We’re a little bit different than maybe some other places. A lot of places will have engineers that get together and form a team and come up with some idea. What we do instead is we focus on themes, just like we have themes for our innovation program, so it’s really all about connectivity and integration. That’s kind of what the theme of this next one’s going to be. … Different than many hackathons, we actually require out teams to have a product person, a salesperson, a marketing person. Half of their team can’t be composed from the same department.

SparkAnd sleep. I understand they get to sleep during this hackathon.

Shaughnessy: Oh, absolutely. Just like anything else in the world, some people are very, very competitive, which can be a really good thing. I don’t want people working 48 hours straight during the timeline for that, so we want to make sure that we have facilities and everything’s taken care of, and we have lunches and everything else brought in. The reality is this really needs to be a cross-company effort, a cross-departmental effort. … Just because it’s shiny and new doesn’t mean that it’s actually going to work for the company.

Get your popcorn ready; there are some programmers who are itchin’ to innovate. Who knows what they’ll come up with, but we can’t wait to find out.