Scots couple find code to success in Silicon Valley

A Scottish couple recently won a hackathon challenge at the US’ largest event of its kind and brought back a few lessons from Silicon Valley for Scotland’s own tech scene.

Philippa Christie (26) from Aberdeen surprised boyfriend Dan Chapman for his 30th birthday with a trip to industry-leading event, Developer Week Conference and Festival in San Francisco. The couple both work at Glasgow-based ideas agency, Equator – Philippa is a production manager and Dan a developer.

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The festival was part of San Francisco’s largest tech event, DeveloperWeek 2017 which includes more than 60 sub-events with workshops and talks from industry-leading brands like Google, Facebook and Tesla.

The hackathon comprised 28 challenges with 180 teams participating and 800 attendees. Along with fellow developer Qi, Philippa and Dan competed in the challenge hosted by Clover, a leading cloud-based payment platform for businesses.

The brief asked developers to creatively use Clover’s API (application program interface) to expand on what the platform can already do. Solutions had to be beneficial for merchants, solve a real problem and be viable enough to become a business.

The trio’s app Unifi came out on top beating 18 other teams. Inspired by other San Francisco tech companies like Airbnb and Uber which focus on customer growth and retention, the winning idea was a peer to peer referral app that acts like a loyalty scheme.

Philippa said: “Most Silicon Valley businesses focus heavily on growth, asking how they can get people to use their service versus how they can get existing customers to come back. We noticed local businesses had great tactics in place to encourage existing users to return but lacked a sense of how to gain new customers in the first place.

“To solve this we adopted the Silicon Valley style of referral bonuses to suit local merchants. We built a demo app that allows you to refer friends to businesses and as a bonus you receive credit for yourself. Ultimately this is a cost-effective way for merchants to acquire new users.”

The team each received a range of prizes worth $3,000 and were invited to lunch with the founders of Clover at their head office. Philippa and Dan were glad to beat Silicon Valley heavyweights and take home the incredible prizes but what was more valuable were the lessons they brought back for Scotland’s own tech scene.

Philippa said: “DeveloperWeek was on a scale unlike anything I’d been to before. The main thing that stood out was how much of a huge, engaged tech culture there is in San Francisco. Coders take it seriously and there’s a real sense of collaboration and networking prevalent. We’re starting to see more of this in Scotland, especially through working at Equator, but I think businesses should be doing more to build the culture even further.

“Secondly, the developers at the event tackled issues in a different way. They thought on a much larger scale, taking a long-term view and considering how they could produce solutions that would change people’s lives in a positive way.”

In November, Equator launched Scotland’s largest digital festival, Techaus, in partnership with The Digital Media Meetup. More than 400 people attended the event which took place at SWG3, featuring talks and workshops from industry leaders including Spotify, Skyscanner and IBM.

James Jefferson, chief creative officer and co-founder of Equator, said: “I am incredibly proud of what Philippa and Dan achieved at DeveloperWeek. It demonstrates the level of talent we are fortunate to have at Equator.

“Scotland is known as an innovator and has an enviable reputation for digital talent but more has to be done to solidify our position as a leader on the tech stage. A key part of this is encouraging a more collaborative approach among large and small firms as well as between employers and talented developers, working together to bring ideas to life.

“Techaus was a fantastic platform that contributed towards building a passionate, excited community – similar to what Philippa and Dan witnessed at DeveloperWeek. We carry out smaller-scale activity as well to help nurture Scotland’s digital talent, including regularly hosting Umbraco meetups where developers get together to chat about emerging trends and new ideas.

“We also supported the British Interactive Media Association’s (BIMA) Digital Day, introducing young people to the sector and helping bridge the skills gap.

“We’re glad to play a significant role in taking Scotland’s tech scene to the next level and encourage other digital firms to up their ante. Together we can give Silicon Valley a run for its money!”

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