My first hackathon

I often say that I have been in ‘FinTech’ for 23 years. Way back in 1994, when a fax machine in the office was big deal, it was called ‘financial information technology’ – the technology that is used to deliver, enable and process financial information and services – whether they be a grandmother collecting her pension at the Post Office or a trader screaming into a squawk box.

FinTech isn’t new – but the name is now hashtag friendly.

But that is not to say that the environment hasn’t changed. Most of my career has been spent looking at how data and technology is used on an enterprise-level. Speak to anyone I’ve worked with. The best way to derail my working day is to make me use a new personal app or login (It took me 18 months to get my head around Trello). But large, expansive, enterprise-wide infrastructure – operational risk databases, complex event processes? Bring it on. I wrote about and explored real, sober, million pound technology projects. My guys wore suits and ties to the office. This was grown up tech.

Then one day a friend of mine called my phone. “Hey, Liz, what are you doing this Friday? Do you want to come down to Google Campus for a hackathon?”

‘A hack-a-what’ I responded?

“A hackathon,” she said. “You know, like they do in Silicon Valley – it’s London’s first payments hackathon. It will be cool. You should come along.”

O….K‘, I thought. What else do I have to do on a Friday night than go down to a glorified co-working space in East London to watch a bunch of children in t-shirts build payments applications…for fun?

I went.

It was crowded in the newly opened Google Campus. There were retro-style trinkets on steam punk bookcases. Figurines of super heroes and video games characters stood guard next to box fresh editions of Zero to One and The Lean Startup. Young men in t-shirts ran around while girls with piercings ticked off everyone’s name on clipboards. It looked like someone’s Stamford University dorm room threw up in a warehouse behind Liverpool St. Station.

There was a bar. Selling beer, that you had to *buy* by sending a Tweet. (My ineptitude at personal technology did not extend to Twitter – I love Twitter). I sent my ‘Tweet’ ¬†and was handed a beer.

I turned around and ran into someone I knew.

Someone I had met the week before. He worked developing mobile payments applications. A week earlier when we had chatted he was wearing a suit. He worked at a bank.

That evening he stood before me in a t-shirt, holding a beer, he had just bought¬†with a ‘Tweet’.

We stood together, in a basement warehouse in East London, watching a bunch of people accept challenges and form teams in anticipation of spending the next 48 hours building payments applications…for fun.

It was then I realised, this industry I had spent my entire adult life in, was changing. It was changing not because a bunch of new startups were ‘disrupting’ the industry – it was changing because the people inside were changing. The world had shifted.

The corner office, the outsourced IT staff, the large, complex enterprise-wide projects (that ultimately fail), had become old-fashioned. It wasn’t working anymore – because it wasn’t working for anyone, anymore.

Financial Information Technology became ‘FinTech’ (for me anyway) on that Friday night four years ago.

And I was determined to put myself smack dab in the middle of it.









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