How can we attract more tourists to Calgary? There’s a hack for that…

Gamified learning is becoming an effective way to teach complicated topics. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than through hackathon events, which our Callysto team frequently hosts in order to teach data science tools and methodologies to kids in Grades 5-12.

But as well as teaching new skill sets, hackathon organizers are also finding these events are a great way to quickly compile a list of outside-the-box solutions to common problems.

Such was the case at the YYC Hacks event held this past February. YYC Hacks is the largest hackathon in Calgary, and its goal is to champion local data skills, while building practical solutions for Calgarians. Cybera joined the most recent event as a cloud resource provider (via our Rapid Access Cloud), and delivered a cloud tutorial to interested participants. We were pretty impressed by the caliber of participants and partnering companies.

“I wanted to get the technical community really invested in local challenges,” says Serene Yew, organizer of YYC Hacks, on why she started this event. “We have a lot of talent here and we’ve been pretty invested in working with the innovation district and the growth there, so we wanted to get the technical people out tackling real challenges that have been defined by the city.”

Cybera’s Micheal Jones presenting on cloud resources to the hackathon participants. Image c/o YYC Hacks.

In line with the Chinook Blast winter festival running at the same time as the hackathon, this year’s challenge was: “How can we activate Calgary as a winter city destination for tourists, and engage citizens in winter activities?”

Over 150 participants, making up 15 teams, used municipal and provincial open data sets — alongside the City’s winter ‘city strategy problem statement’ — to develop their solutions. The ideas presented at the end of the two-day event offered different ways to promote local events and make them more accessible.

Gurmol Singh was on team YYC Winter, which placed second in the competition. (He also recently graduated from Cybera’s Alberta Data Science Lab program, a work integrated learning program that matches budding data scientists with small companies looking to trial their first data science project).

His team created a website that collates social influencer posts to spotlight Calgary (or Calgary-adjacent) locations and activities. “We focused on local destinations that some of us had visited and influencers who could showcase and advocate for those places,” says Singh. The site helps users build a personalized list of things to do based on their interests, and read personal accounts and reviews of the activities selected.

The YYC Winter team placed second overall in the competition.

“What I learned through this experience was how important word-of-mouth is for determining whether a person would try a new place. People like stories and story-telling; if you give a good story, they are more inclined to visit a place.”

He says YYC Hacks was a good networking experience, and he picked up some practical ideas from the other projects and participants about how to approach future data science problems.

From the organizing team’s perspective, the event was a great success, with many creative ideas presented to city leaders. YYC Hacks is now planning its next event (hopefully in the summer). Stay tuned for more details!

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