Ankit Satsangi, Cybersecurity Officer, Oxygen JLT Image Credit: Supplied

Ankit Satsangi is an enthusiastic ethical hacker who specialises in cybersecurity issues and works for a secure mobility firm. When not dealing with cyberthreats and responses, he loves playing billiards tournaments in Dubai. You might even catch him skateboarding.

We lobbed a few hackathon-related questions at him.

What’s the big deal about hackathons? What can the participants and organisers expect from these events?
Participants can learn new programming languages, APIs and more, while collaboratively inventing a solution to a predefined problem or a given task without much consequence if they fail. But if they succeed, they could win big prize money. So a hackathon is a unique event that provides a groundbreaking opportunity for individuals to create a product that is completely innovative or to find an original or unseen approach to a problem.

For organisers and sponsors, a hackathon puts your brand front and centre at the event. It’s a playground for rare talent where you can also scout skilled individuals. This is shorter than a normal recruitment process.

Any new areas and categories that could benefit?
I’m really looking forward to attending a Capture the Flag event, where skills are measured by using hacking contests and tasks. This will be one of the best things that could happen to a Pentester residing in the UAE!

What are the drawbacks? What are hackathons not so good at?
That’s a tough one as I am a hacker myself and I love attending these events. However, I would say that hackathons take up a day or two of your normal work timings. And when the hackers start socialising, this event turns into a hacking party and it gets increasingly difficult to concentrate.

Do you feel the UAE is a fertile ground for hackathons?
Absolutely. The need for cybersecurity professionals and white hats (non-malicious hackers) is increasing year by year in this part of the world. Holding hackathons will increase awareness and motivate individuals who do not have a platform to turn their ideas into viable business opportunities.

In fact, hosting hackathons in the UAE could be one of the best moves for companies that are looking to hire cybersecurity professionals.

What can the government and/ or corporates in the UAE do to promote hackathons?
You can start by marketing the idea of what a hackathon event is all about. Create awareness, which will in turn create excitement among potential participants.

The hackathon success stories that have impressed you
Skype’s acquisition of GroupMe was an impressive piece of news. The app got its start from a hackathon, and the idea was to create a group messaging application. Investors jumped on this and by 2011, GroupMe had raised $850,000 (Dh3 million). Later, Skype acquired it for $80 million.

The Facebook Like button was created at a hackathon. It was initially supposed to be a plus or a star sign indicating the “like” emotion on a post. Later, it was referred to as “awesome” and soon integrated with Facebook as the official Like button.

How will hackathons evolve over the next few years?
In the future, it will be a standard practice for companies to host a hackathon when they want a product, application or integration to be done in the shortest given period.