My First Hackathon Experience #HackTheHub

Sapphire Duffy
Oct 4, 2016 · 6 min read

Towards the end of the summer of 2016, I decided to attend my very first Hackathon. It is something I thought I would be incredibly interested in, as well as something I could learn a lot from! Because I didn’t personally know anyone else attending the event, I didn’t know what to expect at all. However, I love throwing myself into the deep-end and setting myself new challenges. The chance to meet new people; working with them, and creating something from scratch, was really exciting and appealing to me! As a second year Business Information Technology student at Queen’s University Belfast, I only had one year of coding experience under-my-belt and I wanted to expand my pool of knowledge. Therefore, this event sounded perfect! In just one day, I had learned so much. The opportunity, as well as the people whom attended, were all so positive and passionate about tech — Its great being within a community with people which share a similar mind-set.

What do you do at a Hackathon?

It may sound a little frightening and daunting to some people, but there is absolutely nothing to worry about. First of all, for those of you that don’t know what a Hackathon is: It is an event involving anyone that is studying (or has studied) a computing-related degree in all experience levels and in all roles within tech such as UX, Testers, Coders, and BAs. People with technical backgrounds come together, forming teams around a problem or idea, and collaboratively code a solution from scratch — This can generally be anything you want, from websites to apps!

#HackTheHub ran for 13 hours, from 9am — 10pm. It was organised by NIGMA and Women Who Code, and was hosted by PwC (The Gold Sponsor of Hack the Hub) in their Google Innovation Lab — which I absolutely fell in love with! With the theme of ‘Making Northern Ireland Better’, a group of female coders and the student developer community came together, formed teams, and offered a solution to some real problems that Northern Ireland faces today. Furthermore, there were over 80+ hackers and £4000 worth of prizes!

As I was travelling South-East Asia this summer, I was hoping it wasn’t too late for me to obtain a ticket to the event. But I soon found out, upon my return, that I had gained a place. I was contacted by Conor, a Software Engineer Graduate and the founder of NIGMA — He was very passionate about the event and really helpful. He explained everything about the event to me, and was very informative. I applied two weeks before the event and was placed into a random team that day; I hadn’t previously chatted to or met any of the team members beforehand. Hence I did not know what to expect when I walked through the door, but everyone was very friendly, and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. I soon spotted coffee nearby and, of course, I had to start my morning off with a cup — To my astonishment, I was soon to be amazed by the technology in PwC’s lab already! Essentially an iPad made my coffee for me, and I could even select how strong I wanted it. I first began chatting to two other female coders from Dublin, and it was wonderful to see that this event boasted a great turn-out of women. Having found my name tag, I soon scattered around the room to find my fellow team members.

Then, the hacking began. There were four of us in my team: Kevin, Niall, Andrew and me — and we were called, ‘Team Joan Clarke’! We were all university students and first-time hackers. None of us originally had any idea as of what we should create, but we soon pitched all of our ideas, finally settling upon one.

We decided to create an android and iOS app called ‘ePark’; an app which allows electric car owners to find the nearest electric-charge for their vehicle. The percentage of Electric car owners is steadily rising — therefore we believed it would be innovative and useful for electric car owners. Not only that, but it could also encourage others to buy electric cars by providing an information page. Our team bonded very well for having known each other for such a short period of time, and pitching our idea to everyone was an experience I will never forget.

Throughout the day there were many prizes awarded, as well as talks from our sponsors. I decided to network with a couple of people, and I found myself talking to many aspiring people in the tech community. It was great to talk to people who were also so passionate about the tech community.

Amongst the many amazing things about Hackathons, there are also freebies; raffles; prizes; drinks; and, of course, food (Mmm!). Many prizes were awarded, including £100 Boojum vouchers from Titan IC Systems; Translink Enterprise vouchers; An Apple Watch from GitLab; Swag and codes provided by GitHub; a drone from RepKnight; a DSLR camera from TotalMobile; T-Shirts and a goodie bag from Aepona — and many more! There were far too many prizes for me to name, but I can assuredly say that I have never been to an event with so many prizes to be won. For first place their prize was £1000, second place was £750, and third place £500! You must be asking yourself, “Wow, really? Why are there so many prizes?” That, my friend, is because the tech community pride themselves on their generosity to coders within their community. It is both exciting and inspiring to witness.

After approximately 10 hours of hacking, it was time for all the teams to assemble and pitch their ideas to an audience, as well as a panel of exceptional judges. It was brilliant to hear everyone’s pitches, and the top three were well deserved! They were as follows:

1st Place: ‘Belfast Cares’

2nd Place: ‘Poopgirl’

3rd Place: ‘Oninni’

I would personally like to thank everyone who made this event possible, all the sponsors, and everyone that attended and especially Gillian Colan-O'Leary and Conor Graham. I’m so glad I had this opportunity, and it won’t be one I will forget! I would definitely recommend anyone in the tech community to attend a future Hackathon — you never know who you could meet or what opportunities could arise from it. Keep a look out for events in your local community. But most importantly you don’t need to be a ‘computer-wiz’ to attend, so there is nothing to be nervous about! If you’ve never coded before, it’s a great opportunity to acquire new skills. You’ll be surrounded by experienced coders, all of whom are willing to help you out, and an entire team to support you. It’s exceedingly fun, enjoyable and relaxing — It’s a whole new experience from university or work!

Learn, Build and Share. I hope I inspired some people to attend future hackathons. Happy Hacking!

Nigma — Facebook, Twitter.

Women Who Code — Facebook, Twitter (Belfast)

Sapphire Duffy

Written by

AI Engineer @ Kainos | Director Women Who Code Belfast #Product #Techie #Community

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