Carlos Saavedra and Jason Ernst

Hacking government files and helping people usually don’t go together.

But that’s exactly what Carlos Saavedra and his partner did when they built newRoots - an app that matches new immigrants with Canadian cities that offer the greatest opportunity for success.

Saavedra, a student in Waterloo’s Master of Digital Experience Innovation program on the  Stratford Campus, won the first Canadian Open Data Experience, a 48-hour hackathon that challenged participants to create an application that would better the lives of Canadians.

Saavedra and his partner, Jason Ernst, a computer science PhD student at the University of Guelph, call their team Electric Sheep. They were among 15 finalists who pitched their app in front of panel of business and government leaders. The Honourable Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board, awarded the team the $25,000 top prize, provided by Open Text, along with an extra $1000 ‘fan favourite’ bonus prize.

App asks immigrants about skills and climate preference

The newRoots app asks users to complete a short survey with questions about skills, industry, income expectations and climate preference. A list of the top five cities in Canada that best match their desired career and lifestyle is generated by the app.

“We wanted to make sure that new Canadians have the best opportunity for success and are able to get on their feet as quickly as possible,” said Saavedra.

Waterloo student inspired by his immigrant parents

The idea for the app was inspired by his parents. His mom came to Canada from Poland and his dad from Ecuador. Like many new immigrants, they had a difficult time acclimating to life in Canada.

Electric Sheep will be launched as a startup in Kitchener-Waterloo and the team plan to use the prize money to bolster the app’s speed and functionality. They hope to release the fully-featured online application within months.

Waterloo’s Stratford campus hosted hackathon

  • CODE is the largest competitive hackathon in Canada:
  •  900+ competitors
  • 300 teams
  • 5,200+ dataset downloads in just 48 hours
  • 3 hubs across Canada hosted the hackathon

The University of Waterloo Stratford Campus was host to one hub. Once the apps were built and submitted, the judges selected the top 15 for the CODE grand finale on March 28th.

Hilary Mason, renowned data scientist and speaker at the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus’ CODE 2014 Inspiration Day, credits ‘hackers’ with the ability to play – “to know how to go from the data you have to an interesting question that is relevant.”