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Ann Arbor Spark

May 29, 2018

Guest Blog: Hackathons and More at A2 Tech Trek

Hackathons are really fun.  If you’ve never been a part of one, you should look for the opportunity to participate in one or even suggest hosting one in your workplace. Over the past few years, we’ve been hosting hackathons more and more at ITHAKA.  The first was a small hackathon focused on improving search for our cloud-based digital library JSTOR which we did with colleagues at the University of Washington. Most recently, we hosted our first organization-wide hackathon – an event that brought together small teams of over 130 people and generated 30 “hacks” shared in a webcast show-and-tell. Hackathons are energizing events, unleashing people’s creative energy and engaging everyone in developing new solutions.

The ethos of hackathons embodies two of our core values at ITHAKA: speed and teamwork. We are a place where people understand the power of co-creation, solving user problems through design, and leveraging diverse perspectives and ideas to solve hard problems in new ways.

This culture is important. ITHAKA was founded to address one of the hardest problems in America: how can we expand access to knowledge and higher education to more people while lowering cost?  Nearly 400 of us are working at ITHAKA today to provide answers and solutions, from developers and designers to researchers, analysts, and marketers. Our team in Ann Arbor, about 140 people, is combining technology with design methods to transform research and teaching through the  JSTOR and Artstor platforms, cloud-based digital libraries that give millions of people access to educational content and tools online and at a lower cost than bricks and mortar libraries of the past.

We’re also transforming ourselves. Our organization started in the mid-1990s (as a grant-funded project at the University of Michigan) in the early days of the web. In the past few years, we’ve revamped how we work and our technology platform, adopting Agile and lean methodologies across the entire organization that have resulted in our ability to empower teams, engage users in our product design and development, and continuously deliver quality software. We’re now in a place where we’ve moved from limited deploys to hundreds per week and where quality is an automated, integral part of the development process.

We hope you’ll visit us during A2 Tech Trek to learn more about our creative problem solving and the technologies and approaches we leverage to make a positive impact. We were recently featured in Wired for our work to recover and save one of the first digital scientific journals ever published. And you can see how we’re developing great solutions for researchers by checking out this video about our Text Analyzer!

Please come on by and see our new space, meet our people, and get a sense of how inspiring and fun it can be to bring together great technology, design, and a powerful social mission.

See you #A2TechTrek!