Lack of college degree no handicap to hackathon pioneer

2015-05-04 Editor: Si Huan

Listed as one of "China's 30 under 30" by Forbes last year and initiator of China's hackathon – an event gathering programmers to collaborate on software-related projects - Gao Yang sometimes generates more attention from his past experiences than for his business project.

Born into a rural family in Shandong province in 1990, Gao enjoyed no advantages and failed the college entrance examination, or gaokao, in 2008, a test considered by many the only way to success.

But still he succeeded, judging from his company and present fame.

The secret to his success, unexpectedly, is also the cause of his failure in gaokao, his enthusiasm for the Internet.

Gao developed his huge interest during his third year of high school where he spent a lot of time on Renren, a Chinese version of Facebook, while other students remained busy preparing for the exams. Unsurprisingly, he failed.

"My network building started in the online community," Gao said, "I have so far added about 2,000 contacts on the website. Now I have friends in almost all Internet companies".

After the exam, he took a job in a logistics company where he had free access to Internet. He continued his exploration on SNS and began learning programming.

A year later, Gao quit and went to a university after taking an adult entrance exam only to find college life not suitable for him. He left after three months and joined in a startup company doing social network game.

"I was lucky to join the company when social network game was popular," Gao said, "When I left the number of employees had risen to 60 from 7, and its capital flow had grown to 100 million yuan ($16.13 million).

"It was the first time I felt the power of Internet startup companies," he said.

Gao began a new career with AngelCrunch, an online Chinese community that connects startup companies and angel investors, setting up SegmentFault, an online Q&A community for programmers. Without management, the community saw more than 2,000 registered users in just months, making Gao realize the potential in providing services for programmers.

Having been thinking about starting his own business for some time, Gao, with two friends, quit their jobs and registered a company for SegmentFault in Hangzhou in June 2012, marking the official beginning of their entrepreneurship.

"Programmers are the No 1 productive force of the Internet. If their creativity and vitality can be fully stimulated, the Internet industry will see better development," he said. "SegmentFault is more like a shared community rather than a problem-solving tool. It proves its meaning and value by gathering this group and providing good services for them".

The startup made slow progress and, with no investment, the team had no income and depended on their savings.

As five months passed, the idea of holding a hackathon came to the three during a brainstorming session.

Hackathon, unlike the negative Hacker, is an instant event where computer whizzes get together to develop problem-solving projects against the clock. Moreover, since manufacturers, investors and headhunters are also involved, it serves as a good platform to seek talents and projects.

The event was well-known in some foreign countries, but few had been organized in China. The company's plan successfully attracted 150 programmers and, thanks to Gao's network, many companies also agreed to cooperate.

It turned out a success, both for hackathon and SegmentFault. Though the event didn't bring any profit for the company, it helped establish trust with technology companies.

In July, 2013 SegmentFault and Baidu jointly organized another hackathon, which attracted more than 2,000 programmers from five cities and generated several hundred thousand yuan for the company. The event also marked the largest hackathon in Asia and SegmentFault shot to fame with user numbers rising to 100,000.

With the success of holding hackathons, Gao's team expanded and the SegmentFault community began to see a profit. Last year Gao set up a branch office in Beijing and acquired millions of yuan in investments. At the same time he was listed by Forbes among "China's 30 under 30", a selection of 30 young entrepreneurs below the age of 30. He was then 24.

"Once you have the young and worthy developers, you seize the future of the Internet," Gao said, "Our users are young and the project we are working on is also young in China".

Speaking of the advantage of the post-90s in entrepreneurship, compared with post-70s and post-80s, Gao said the post-90s group has more understanding about themselves. They don't compete with large companies for resources, instead attracting others with a similar culture.

"People say luck is very important, while I think good luck comes with good mentality," he said, "My character has brought me many good opportunities and gathered many interesting persons. I am like a connective point, doing useful things with a lot of people.

"The era of programmers has come," Gao said, "I want to be the magnet that draws together all the geniuses".

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