Winning the HackZone Challenge: Q&A with Holden O’Neal

The HackZone challenge at this year’s SHARE San Jose, allowed attendees to experience a
hands-on competition using z Holden.jpgSystems in Application Development. Holden O’Neal took on the challenge and walked away with the grand prize. SHARE sat down with O’Neal to discuss SHARE San Jose, the HackZone challenge and how it feels to take home the winning spot.

For those who have never experienced it, please describe what it was like to participate in the SHARE San Jose HackZone.

HackZone was held in the SHARE booth of the conference Technology Exchange Expo. There was a table of laptops setup with several people already deeply engaged in the challenges; the leader board was displayed on a large TV right next to the table. I quickly noticed the leaderboard updating in real time as the participants submitted their responses to challenges. In the whirlwind of the event going on around them, these individuals were focused on two things: their computer and the leaderboard. I was invited to join in, and I quickly became engaged in completing the tasks while my opponents surrounded me. Some mild trash talking and laughter ensued as we networked with each other in-between learning about new technologies.

What was the biggest factor that drew you to participate?

I think the biggest thing that attracted me was the technologies that we were taught about through the challenges. I had heard about them, but had yet to take a deeper dive into their interworking — the HackZone seemed like fun way to learn.

You had a chance to test out IBM Bluemix, APIs delivered via z/OS Connect, Apache Spark on z/OS and more. Talk about the appeal of this.

These are some big topics that are up and coming in the enterprise computing community. It’s tough to get all the needed resources setup on your own to be able to actually run some code and see results. I think the HackZone provides an amazing gateway for individuals to learn and better understand these technologies in a hands-on way. It’s more fun when you can put down the documentation and actually write and run some code.

You had a chance to interact with experts on hand — how did they assist in the process?

They were very helpful in getting us started in the challenges and answering questions that came up during it. It was a big help to have someone help clear up any conceptual or syntactical misunderstanding when you are speed-learning impressive technology. They provided encouraging hints, but not answers.

What does it feel like to win the SHARE San Jose HackZone?

It feels pretty awesome. I set out to learn and have fun, I accomplished those two goals — winning is just icing on the cake. I’m looking forward to trying my hand at future SHARE HackZone events.

Please provide some words of encouragement for others who may be considering participating at future events.

Satisfy your curiosity, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you have competed in a hackathon and found it intimidating, I can assure you that this one is different. The focus is on learning and teaching you more than grilling you for the world’s most efficient algorithm to solve the Travelling Salesman Problem or the Towers of Hanoi. It doesn’t take long to get started and get an introduction to the material, if nothing else, you learn the basics of some really powerful technology.

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