CovHack Hackathon

Hacking To The Future

By Iman Khan, April 4, 2019

Nippy winter breezes, occasional flurries of snow, the warm buzz of the New Years aftermath, a new season was upon us. Enter the New Year kick-off to the Major League Hacking (MLH) season. With MLH carrying out hackathons for over 75,000 students from across 16 countries, the statistics show how much of a hit the hacking season is.

So what is hacking anyway?

By the MLH definition, it is an “invention marathon” where students of different degree backgrounds that share an interest in technology come together to learn and innovative creations. Usually ranging over the 48 hours weekend duration, hackathons have a chilled out atmosphere even in spite of the intensive ticking deadline.

“Working with strangers for 36 hours, free food, sleep deprivation, and you get to be called a ‘hacker’. What’s not to love?”

Alexandru Rosianu, president of HackaSoton.

Benefits of attending hackathons

  1. Portfolio building: participating in hackathons and putting yourself up to a unique challenge will drastically boost your online portfolio for future employment. As the workplace becomes increasingly digitised, so does recruitment. Your attendance efforts shall be rewarded as you can flaunt all your acquired skills such as team collaboration, project management, software development and the list goes on.
  2. Community spirit: just like most university events, the atmosphere of hackathons is incredibly relaxed and chilled as you get to have fun and brainstorm with like-minded peers. At the same time, the urgency of the48-hour deadline simply adds the spice that will push you and your team member’s limits to create something that you can proudly present as a result of your combined skills and teamwork.
  3. Build up your network: You will spend a long amount of time with the people at the hackathon. Chances are you will end up meeting like-minded individuals and form friendships of a lifetime.
  4. Learning: there is so much to learn from people outside your degree programme and socialising with people from various backgrounds will open your mind to different thought-processes and insights. Pitching your idea will be a huge confidence boost too as you will be able to ease into public speaking – there is so much for you to learn within a weekend!
  5. Self-discovery: as each hackathon presents a new challenge, the more you will begin to realise and build on both already-acquired and newfound skills. You may end up surprising yourself with your abilities to concoct innovative solutions to solve complex problems. Surrounding yourself with new people will also help you discover how you work within a team will enlighten you with insights that will help you further your future career along with growing as an individual.

Previous hackathon narrations

If you are still feeling a tad bit anxious about attending a hackathon, here is what the main UK hack organisers have to say to prep you with hackathon experiences for 2020!

George Drakos, the organiser of ManMetHacks (Manchester Metropolitan University) and vice-chair of helloHackers Society says: “Hackathons are amazing networking events where you can make new friends and improve your programming skills. It looks great to employers and it is very fun to participate that’s what got me into organising one.”

Alexandru Rosianu, president of HackaSoton (University of Southampton) says: “The emergent theme at Hack The South 2019 was ‘social good’: http://Skinsight.ai used ML to detect skin cancer, Babel Chat allowed people to chat in different languages through real-time translation, and blind people could play Simons Sings for entertainment or use LightVision to hear descriptions of their surroundings. It’s a great way to peek into the industry — you’ll meet professionals, use trending technologies, and solve business problems.”

#CovHack 2019

Feeling slightly more reassured now? To summarise it all up, hackathons aren’t a drag nor a dreary process that you’ll have to slug through with 4 cups of black coffee. It’ll be the experience of being sucked up into your hack’s team mini-world where – yes endless cups of black coffee – but a weekend challenge that you will clap your hands proudly of once it ends.

There are still a ton of future student hackathons coming up in the near future! #CovHack2020 is one you can be sure to anticipate. James Vickery, President of Coventry’s Computer Science Society paints a picture of what the hack drill is like:

Hackathons are the perfect place to learn things you wouldn’t have reason or motivation to learn at university or in your spare time. By trying to build something in a limited amount of time, you push yourself to constantly learn new things. For example, the first time I tried to use neural networks was at a hackathon and I found that they’re a lot more approachable than I had imagined!

Many students would agree that what is taught at university is often outdated, and less fun than it could be. At hackathons you’re learning because you want to, not because you’re being told to; it makes a lot of difference.

You can learn at hackathons regardless of the real-world practicality of what you make. At a hackathon I recently attended, my team and I made a cardboard castle with an Arduino-driven drawbridge. While this was quite a weird and (apparently) useless project, I learnt a lot about communicating over serial ports!

At a few hackathons I’ve been to, we’ve reached the end of the hacking time and nothing works, which usually means we learnt a lot more than we managed to put into practice! These hackathons are valuable, but there are also hackathons where we make cool stuff that we’re actually proud of. Making awesome projects at hackathons is really fun, but it’s also a great way of proving that you can work as a team, and gives you opportunities to demonstrate technical skills – stuff that can make you more employable.

Demoing your project is great for showing off what you’ve learnt and built, even if your project doesn’t quite work as expected. Or if you’ve built something awesome, it’s something that you’ll want to share that and people will want to see.

Sharing what you’ve done at hackathons and watching people demo what they’ve done is also a great way of staying up to date with current tech. This is vital, especially for software development, since people seem to be using new frameworks every week!

To sum it up…

It does sound overwhelming, intensive and perhaps slightly chaotic. But hackathons are an event unlike any other. Imagine it as a challenging mini retreat from reality where you get to fully engage all of your five senses onto a rewarding project that can be added to your portfolio. Sounds like a win-win to us!

If you have any hack experiences you would like to share with us, comment below or tell us which hack was your favourite for 2019 or if there is one you look forward to!

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