John Hanke: The code ninja

Written by Frank Calviño

John Hanke ‘s story is the story of a man who has jumped to the top spot in the world of technology development, but still remains relatively unknown to the general public. In fact, it is very likely that using only his name, most people wont be able to recognize him. But if we say that Hanke is the founder and CEO of Niantic Inc. , the company behind Pokemon GO, suddenly he will become much more easy to relate. Hanke has years developing, from the shadows, applications that today are massively used worldwide. And amazingly we, the general public, never learn of its existence!

Being just a student in 1996 , he developed the famous Meridian 59 one of the first 3D massively multiplayer games. Thanks to the technology behind Meridiano 59 the hole genre of online multiplayer games evolve into give formidable hits including World of Warcraft, a game that established the standards of the Massive Online RPG genre and fed Blizzard into becoming a multimillion dollar company, and one of the biggest names in the world of online entertainment.

But Hanke did not stop there. Finishing his college education he founded Keyhole, a company he created with funds from the Central Intelligence Agency US (yes, yes…THAT CIA) and developed a 3D real-time map of the Earth, with geolocation integrated services. This software, originally called EarthViewer 3D, was bought by Google and renamed Google Earth. Keyhole was later acquired by Google, Hanke was assimilated by the internet giant and devoted himself to develop, nothing more and nothing less, than Google Maps and Google Street View. After releasing both products, and looking for new horizons, this ninja programming embarked on a solo adventure creating Niantic.

A company that although part of Google , at a legal and financial level , had creative freedom and was managed by Hanke almost autonomously. It was there, in Niantic, where it was created and launched to the world app market Ingress, the first massively multiplayer game with geolocation. However, the application did not achieve the desired success.

A millionaire “April Fools” prank

In 2014 , as a prank for April Fools day, Pokemon allied with Google through Niantic, decided to place on Google Maps Pokemon creatures. The answer to the prank was viral. People believed they could catch  in “real life” Pokemon. The rumor mill of social media spreaded the idea that you could catch them with your mobile, by phone looking for them on the street where you live, on street corners in your city, in your bakery or in your local church. Nor is there to say that, when it was revealed that all was a prank, half the world laughed and the other half became severely disillusioned. In the middle of all the hype  and frustration, Hanke decided to turn the prank into a reality. And he did. On July 6, 2016 was launched Pokemon GO and within 10 days Nintendo stocks appreciated by 120%, Niantic became one of the most sought after companies in the world and Google Maps suffered billions of requests from developers around the globe to integrate their services and map libraries in new software apps with geolocation features. And the name of John Hanke , although still strangely demure and covered by a veil of unexplained anonymity, began to appear all over the world as one of the great titans of the digital era. Perhaps the most humble of the giants, the code ninja.

 

 

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Frank Calviño

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