Sparking innovation with APIs

August 25, 2017 by Brian Kutmas

A group of developers engage in a hackathon.

about the author:

Brian Kutmas

Senior product director

Brian is responsible for platform technology solutions and strategic integration partnerships at Advicent. For 15 years, Brian has worked in FinTech product development, successfully aligning technology and architecture to meet the business objectives of financial organizations.

In anticipation of our developer portal launch, I recently organized an internal hackathon with two primary purposes in mind. First, we needed to developers to use and provide feedback on the API documentation prior to launch. Second, I wanted to give our development teams a chance to participate in this opportunity to do something creative, different, and innovative.

What did we do?

We asked teams to organize themselves into groups, and gave them two weeks to design and build something using our APIs. The rules were simple:

  • No more than four individuals were on a team.
  • The teams had to use our API in some way.
  • Each team member had to fill out of survey regarding the API documentation and developer portal.
  • After two weeks, they would have to demonstrate what they had built (absolutely no slideshows were allowed).

The winning team was determined by three judges, who based their vote on the most innovative solution. The victors were award a trophy: custom bobble head dolls in their likeness.

What did we learn?

Swagger documents are excellent! For those not familiar, Swagger is an API development framework that enables development teams to quickly and easily build RESTful APIs that are documented in a human and machine readable format.

RESTful APIs are beneficial in many ways. They make for easy development so the teams building APIs can do so faster. They aid discovery so those looking to use APIs can find them sooner. They also enhance integration so those building solutions can do so with little fuss.

Advicent had made the decision a while ago to make Swagger and the OpenAPI specification the de facto standard for development teams. The resulting Swagger documents are incredibly easy to use, and our hackathon participants were able to quickly and easily find ways to use our financial planning API’s to build unique and innovative solutions.

The teams loved the freedom and flexibility that comes with an open-ended format and the ability to choose their own teams. Anyone who has hosted or participated in hackathons knows that there are an unlimited number of formats available. A hackathon can be whatever the host wants it to be. Some try to solve a specific problem and see what technology mix bubbles to the top, sometimes emphasizing the competitive edge — for example: who can solve a particular problem the fastest. Others start with the technology and open up to the world of possibilities, even if those of little or no business value. We opted for the latter, and it worked out great. 

We also learned a lot about what not to do, and how to improve turnout and participation for future events. In an attempt to plan around other development projects and initiatives, we scheduled the event to overlap with the Independence Day holiday. This limited how much the teams were able to do, and likely depressed the rate of participation.

What is next?

As Advicent continues to advance the world of financial planning through NaviPlan®, we will see our API capabilities continue to grow, providing ever more opportunities for future hackathon events.

To learn more about the Advicent developer portal, click here.