Maltese Tech Guru Leads Winning Team at the First Ever Hackathon in the Vatican

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Vhacks gege gatt vatican hackathon

March 11th marked the end to the first ever Hackathon at the Vatican hosted by the Pope. VHacks brought 120 students together for a 36 hour hackathon in the Holy City. The aim of the Hackathon was to find technological solutions to three global issues addressed by the Catholic Church: social inclusion, interfaith dialogue and assistance for migrants and refugees.

After keeping a close eye on this one of a kind event, we found out that local lawyer and digital entrepreneur Gege Gatt, acted as a mentor and judge at this highly prestigious event.

It also turns out that the team he was mentoring WON the Hackathon. Talk about a local win for Malta.

After hearing about this great news of a local being selected by the VHacks team to mentor and judge at the first ever Vatican Hackathon, we had to get in contact with him and ask a few questions about this momentous event.

This was quite a momentous event. Can you tell us how you first heard of plans to host this hackathon in the Vatican and how you got involved?

The organizing team (composed of three co-chairmen from Harvard University, the Lateran University and the OPTIC Network) were looking for mentors with a proven background in technology, entrepreneurship, law and philosophy. They asked me to join other selected mentors which flew-in from all over the world. Mentors worked in teams of two and my fellow-mentor was the Senior Vice President of Salesforce, Paolo Bergamo who flew in from San Francisco – and was an absolute scream.

This was the first-ever hackathon at the Vatican which is itself an achievement.

What was achieved at VHacks? Can you give us an idea of what took place at the Vatican last week?

This was the first-ever hackathon at the Vatican which is itself an achievement. Combining the words “hacking” and “marathon”, a hackathon is a sprint-like event in which multi-disciplinary teams (including programmers, designers, project managers, scientists and AI engineers) collaborate to create solutions under a time constraint.

This global event brought together innovators of all faiths and ethnicities to address three specific themes:

Social Inclusion: To encourage solidarity by restoring human-centric thinking and values in our increasingly digital world.

Interfaith Dialogue: To support open communication between individuals and organizations representing differing faiths to create mutual understanding and constructive cooperation.

Migrants & Refugees: To strengthen, support, and mobilize resources for migrants and refugees to assist them with relocation and integration.

The event was a true celebration of all cultures and beliefs, bringing together the world’s brightest students with diverse academic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.

hackathon at the vatican

We have seen that you have mentored teams at VHacks. Can you tell us what this consisted of?

I mentored a number of students and also judged the specific theme of Migrants and Refugees. Mentoring is a hugely rewarding exercise as it’s a two-way activity in which both parties learn from the other.

My personal mentoring style is one in which I provide a mental framework within which students learn how to ask the right questions. This is an approach of discovery which eventually leads to the right answers.

Most teams dive into coding right away and, before long, get completely immersed in a project with very loose focus, too many features, and that one seemingly irreparable bug in the code. This is where mentors come in. We help students bring out the best idea and challenge them to create a world-changing concept and not just lines of code. Mentors are experts with years of real-world experience and we condense our knowledge into logical methods which allow students to make the most of their 36 hours of hacking.

My personal mentoring style is one in which I provide a mental framework within which students learn how to ask the right questions. This is an approach of discovery which eventually leads to the right answers.

What did all the students you mentored have in common?

They didn’t sleep! Most students were so immersed in the challenge that they entirely relinquished sleep or rest.

The level of passion and commitment to the cause was really impressive.

Other than that, I felt that all students shared a common purpose: to change the world through relentless optimism and the intelligent use of technology. They are truly brilliant and have diverse international experience in IT; some worked at NASA (one of my students was an intern-engineer in NASA’s jet propulsion design department), others at Google or Microsoft. This gives students a huge knowledge horizon which coupled with their ambition, makes them tremendously interesting people.

I felt that all students shared a common purpose: to change the world through relentless optimism and the intelligent use of technology.

When it came to judging, what were some of the things that put one team ahead of the other?

The judging criteria were pre-set and extremely detailed.

We broadly judged three elements which when present put one team ahead of the other:

The Impact: Here we determine whether the problem the students chose to solve was urgent and relevant. Then we assessed whether the proposed solution offered adequate solvency and whether such solution could scale globally.

The Technology: Here we reviewed whether the solution presented was of appropriate technical complexity and whether it contained traces of innovation. We also assessed its execution and code-framework.

The Viability: Here we assessed the solution’s operating model to determine whether it is economically sustainable and is built on a clear action plan to take it forward over time.


What was it like, being around so many gifted students from around the world from universities like Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology?

It was exhilarating.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer and I had 120 brilliant dreamers around me at all times. They reached within themselves and found the strength, patience and passion to reach for the stars to change the world. Seeing that happen is a gift.

After attending VHacks, a hackathon aimed towards social good, would you say this should become a more regular event? Are these gatherings crucial to solving some our world’s problems?

I believe that people in ICT, like myself and yourself, have a duty to ensure that technology is being shaped by positive values. As we approach more complex areas in cognitive science such as Artificial Intelligence this becomes an even more pressing necessity as the choices we make will have a direct impact on humanity (Nick Bostrom’s book ‘SuperIntelligence’ is a stark reminder of this) . We must ensure that there is consensus on the ethical framework we use to grow our technical tools.

Hackathons are an excellent opportunity to humanize technology through value-driven design. Superficially their goal appears to be code-development (which does indeed occur), but their true major benefit is to touch the hearts and minds of students with a burning passion to make the world a better place through technology. This is a noble thing and should be lauded and repeated.

Dr. Gatt with Google's President Carlo d'Asaro Biondo, and Longbeard's CEO Matthew Sanders
Dr. Gatt with Google’s President Carlo d’Asaro Biondo, and Longbeard’s CEO Matthew Sanders

I believe that people in ICT, like myself and yourself, have a duty to ensure that technology is being shaped by positive values.

Thank you goes to Dr. Gege Gatt for his time spent with us and his non-stop efforts in accelerating the technology and innovation sector.

Do you know of any more technology gurus in Malta? Tell us in the comments below

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