Participant Resources

User Story: How Hackathons Help Mark Map Out a More Sustainable Future

Here’s a look at how Mark Laudon, an experienced developer and Devpost user, harnesses the power of mapping technology to make the world a better place.

Venturing from the frosty landscapes of Canada to the buzzing world of hackathons, Mark is on a mission. His commitment? To use digital maps as a force for global awareness and positive change. Dive into Mark’s inspiring journey where tech meets passion—shaping a better world, one map at a time.

Tell us about your background in tech and your passion for using maps to make the world a better place.

I started my career working as a forester in the cold Canadian forest. Needless to say, I needed an office job. At that time, using computers to make maps was a novel concept, but evolving quickly. I started to create forestry maps using digital mapping technology. This got me out of the frost and into the office. This transition kicked off a lifetime goal of figuring out ways digital mapping could solve problems, not only in the natural resource field, but anywhere maps could help.

What motivates you to participate in hackathons?

Well, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say prize money is a great motivator. That being said, hackathons provide me with an excuse to explore new technology and figure out ways to solve, or bring awareness to, global problems that society might not be aware of.

Can you share the details of your recent winning project, "The World is Flooding," and its unique approach to displaying flood data? 

The World is Flooding” turned out to be a great template for being able to model and visualize the impact a flood could have in your neighborhood. Over the years, I created many [paper] maps depicting a flood scenario. The maps were understandable, however, being able to take these paper maps and show the same data in a realistic 3D model was awesome. 

Some of the key challenges were on the technical side. Map data can be quite finicky. Getting flood map data and displaying it in 3D required quite a bit of manipulating and was a challenge.

How do you believe map technology can drive positive change and environmental awareness?

With the release of consumer-based digital maps such as Google Earth or Google Maps, society now has access to a rich new medium for making maps part of their lives. So, there’s no better platform to embrace when it comes to generating environmental awareness. 

"I received an email from a guy in a small village in Kenya letting me know the Save the Rain app was used to design water capture/holding tanks for his village," said Mark Laudon.

Positive change can also be achieved through map-related technology. For instance, I received an email from a guy in a small village in Kenya letting me know the Save the Rain app was used to design water capture/holding tanks for his village. Pretty positive feedback for sure.

What advice do you have for developers aspiring to create impactful map-related projects for positive change?

I think the best advice I could offer developers would be to stay in sync with current real-world issues. Then, search for opportunities, data, and technology platforms that would lend to solving these issues, or at a minimum getting society to think about these issues.

What is your vision for the future of technology-driven environmental projects, particularly those involving maps? 

An area of focus I am currently exploring/implementing is in the realm of indoor mapping. In this case, way back in 2010, I entered an app into a hackathon and ended up winning. It turned out that this app (Floor Plan Mapper) was a pretty good idea. So, I turned it into a business. This project is certainly evolving and is a great testimony to the merits of a hackathon.

Are there any upcoming projects or areas of focus in your mission to continually make the world a better place with maps?

The future of technology-driven environmental projects is looking pretty good. As more and more open data comes online, and mapping technology platforms evolve, maps as a medium will become more pervasive and digestible. 

Do you have any advice for someone who's considering getting into hackathons or has just started their hackathon journey?

The most significant advice I can offer for someone who is considering getting into a hackathon is to start brainstorming early. Then get developing. And, if you don’t completely finish your project, find a way to wrap up what you completed and get your hackathon entry in anyway. You never know what the hackathon judges are looking for, and your entry could be the winner.

We’ve said it before and we’ll continue to say it: You have the power to leverage technology to make a difference in the world. Take advantage of that opportunity! Feeling inspired? Check out our social good hackathons happening here.

If you have your own inspiring story or would like to share your thoughts on hackathons and their impact, we'd love to hear from you.