13040878_1111831978867479_8773817638645242953_oHackathons are becoming the sort of large-scale competitive endeavors that attract the best and the brightest from around the globe. Major League Hacking, the official student hackathon league, helps organize more than 200 Hacks — also known as invention competitions — that attract 65,000 students worldwide each year.

One of those is DerbyHacks, sponsored and hosted by the University of Louisville in partnership with Major League Hacking. KFC served as a lead sponsor of the 24-hour competition that drew about 200 students from the University of Louisville and other colleges.

Many would likely ask, “Why KFC?” Though they’re the world’s second largest restaurant chain, KFC hasn’t been known for its leading-edge technology and skill-building for tomorrow’s developers.

But that’s precisely why KFC got involved, says Ted Hardy who serves as Director of Development & Digital for KFC US. The organization is investing millions in technology, including digital delivery to create a faster, more efficient experience for customers.

At DerbyHacks, participants to use their creative problem-solving skills to solve a technology challenge, which is what Hardy and his team of developers are doing every day at KFC. That’s why Hardy and several members of KFC’s IT team participated as judges and mentors at the competition. In addition to judging the final presentations, Loren Oldham, senior application technologist, led a workshop about the new ways KFC is using technology to improve its restaurants. “He focused on how we scale our technology to 4,000+ geographically dispersed locations with restaurant team members who are focused on making great chicken, not being technology experts,” Hardy says.

12983929_1111832525534091_8426594268409806145_oLike other hackathons, DerbyHacks competitors learned about the theme of the event in advance, but they could choose to solve any problem they wanted. KFC also challenged them to deliver a stellar presentation of their projects, with the winning team walking away with the American Showman Award and a prize package. “The idea was to get them thinking about how to solve the problem, but also how to win. We wanted to honor the best presentation because KFC’s founder, Colonel Harland Sanders, was a true American Showman,” Hardy says. “His signature white suit and high standards for food and service made him part of American pop culture.”

13040870_1111830385534305_8281741934991525081_oThe winning project was all about finding insights into social media posts— determining whether a specific post contained a positive or negative sentiment. Hardy says the project, led by a freshman at the University of Louisville, “was novel and extremely well done and creative for something developed in just 24 hours.”

Another innovative project involved using a series of sensors to assist people with visual disabilities in navigating the physical world. A visually impaired person wears a pressure strap around the arm that alerts him or her when nearing an obstacle.

12977175_1111829912201019_7632712476495693691_oThe win for KFC in its support of DerbyHacks was the opportunity to meet and connect with some of the region’s most talented young tech innovators. Hardy and other members of his team talked up internships, co-ops, and employment opportunities at KFC. “For students to give up their weekend to build something new says a lot about their skills and their motivation,” Hardy says. “There was so much talent there that any of them would be a great addition to our organization.”

Hardy says KFC offers a best-in-class internship experience for future developers. “The biggest thing we want our interns to do at KFC is to learn,” he notes. “We add them to different product teams and they’re assigned deliverables, they write code and test it, participate in our support processes. We want them to understand what it’s really like to do the job on a daily basis and hopefully learn the skills they need to do the work as well.”

Quote-FriendsIn addition to connecting with potential talent, the DerbyHacks sponsorship sends a message to the tech world that KFC is developing and using leading edge technology. “When people think KFC, they probably don’t realize how big of a technology company we actually are. Rightly so, they think the world’s greatest chicken, but we’re also building some of the best technology. We believe we have some of the best IT talent out there, and we are always looking to add new star power to our team.”

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