When Shayne Hemminger joined a group of students in introducing DerbyHacks to Louisville in 2016, he knew that the event name would have many in the community conjuring up an image of programmers secretly hacking into company records. But DerbyHacks is far from that. This year’s DerbyHacks event, which is scheduled for Feb. 24-26, will draw as many as 200 of the best and brightest technology students from across the country.

“The word hack actually just refers to taking something and making it do something it wasn’t originally meant to do,” says Hemminger, a bioengineering student at University of Louisville’s Speed Scientific School, who serves as chairperson for the DerbyHacks event.

DerbyHacks brings together students and professionals

Louisville’s second annual DerbyHacks is actually a “weekend-long invention competition that brings college students and industry professionals together from across the country to make something awesome,” says Hemminger.

Competitors will have 36 hours to do just that by developing a creative solution to a technology issue or problem. Using this year’s theme of “Smart City,” the competitors, including many students from the Speed School, will participate in the “Hack,” one of more than 120 events held annually across the country in partnership with Major League Hacking, the official student hackathon league.

Just like last year, KFC will be one of the lead sponsors of this year’s event. For the 2017 event, however, KFC will act as sponsor in partnership with Yum!, its global parent organization. KFC and Yum! will be involved in hosting workshops, judging and providing food for the DerbyHack participants.

Ted Hardy, Director of Digital and Development for KFC IT, says this about KFC’s involvement in the event: “As one of the oldest food chains in the country world-famous for its fried chicken, one might not expect KFC to be so forward-thinking in technology, and front and center at an event like DerbyHacks.”

“But don’t let the heritage fool you,” says Hardy. “We are a company on the leading edge of technology that wants to see what interesting things can be done with it. We believe it will make a big difference in the coming years for our consumers.”

Hardy is particularly excited about the potential for innovation in customer service delivery — how companies like KFC get food to their customers. “New developments around digital on-demand delivery, such as drone delivery, or mobile ordering using Amazon Alexa … ” are examples cited by Hardy.
“What things are customers going to embrace and adopt when it comes to restaurants? It’s interesting to explore,” he says, and he hopes this year’s DerbyHacks competitors might be up to the challenge.

KFC excited about opportunity to connect with future leaders

Another facet of involvement for KFC in the invention competition is the American Showman Award, a prize the company offers to a student who gives priority to both presentation and concept when delivering their idea to the judges.

“The American Showman is named after quintessential southern gentleman and KFC icon Colonel Sanders, a paragon of showmanship,” said Hardy. “You think of this guy from Henryville, Ind., that you might not think would be interesting to the rest of the country, but here he is on late-night talk shows as the face of the brand. People in technology need to understand it’s not just coming up with a great product — like our chicken — but how you take the product to market and get consumers to understand that this is something they should really be interested in,” he says.

“With the addition of Yum! as a sponsor, this year’s event offers participating hackers the opportunity to learn more about global, as well as local, employment opportunities,” says Gauri Bhalerao, Senior Manager of IT, Restaurant Information Systems, at Yum! Brands. “We are happy to be able to build relationships with these students, our future leaders, future employees.”

Bhalerao adds that, as a global company, Yum! offers a myriad of opportunities for internships and employment in IT in many different avenues, whether it’s project management, networking, security or infrastructure. Gauri also notes that the welcoming and diverse culture at Yum! is attractive to today’s millennials, something she looks forward to showcasing at DerbyHacks.

“The participants bring an alternative perspective on technology different than mine with my industry experience of 15-plus years,” said Bhalerao. “To be in school and to have a company like Yum! wanting to recruit you; it is energizing for a student. To know that what you are doing and learning will be useful in the future, and may potentially make a difference at a global organization, that feeling is really empowering.”

IT workers see a place for themselves at KFC

For DerbyHacks organizers like Shayne Hemminger, they are grateful to KFC and Yum! for the financial support offered by sponsorship, and say without it, DerbyHacks wouldn’t exist. Hemminger said he also believes the organization is making progress in changing views about its status as a technology company.

“People are looking beyond the surface of KFC as a chicken restaurant that only needs minimum-wage workers to the recognition that they need developers, too,” says Hemminger. “In fact, KFC is helping to provide industry insight that it’s not just Microsoft or software engineering firms that need IT professionals; it’s every company.”

That is something that is music to the ears of Ted Hardy at KFC. “In this area, that’s what I want people to know, that when they think of technology, they think of KFC.”

To learn more about the DerbyHacks event, visit derbyhacks.io. For information on technology careers at KFC, visit jobs.kfc.com.