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Recap: Madrid Hackathon

Hackathon attendees and IBM staff pose for a group photo (photo by Paul Searle)

Qubit-based games, cryptography, random numbers — Madrid went full quantum last weekend at our first international Qiskit hackathon.

The Qiskit community held its first international hackathon in Madrid, Spain, from 24–26 May, 2019. At this hackathon, local communities of developers and researchers united to tackle some fundamental and daunting challenges of quantum coding within 24 hours.

Unlike our last event, which brought together a community from around the world, all attendees of this hackathon were based in Madrid. Our hope is that local events can establish communities worldwide that are engaged in quantum coding research and development.

This invite-only event hosted 40 people from Madrid and the nearby Basque Country. Backgrounds of the attendees ranged from computer science to physics and IT to graphic design. Overall, four universities, 10 developer communities, four companies and members of the Spanish National Research Council were represented.

Fun at the Qiskit Hackathon in Madrid (video by Paul Searle)

This condensed event started off with a bang, with attendees pitching challenge topics immediately on Friday evening and groups coalescing before the night’s end. Group sizes ranged from 3–5 people, and naturally formed with varied skillsets.

The hackathon ran officially from 10am Saturday to 10am Sunday, all within THECUBE innovation space. Fueled on regular meals and healthy snacks, the groups were free to develop action plans, divide tasks, address issues and catch sleep at their own pace. IBM developers were on hand at all times to answer questions and help projects.

Hackathon attendees work together to finish their projects (photo by Paul Searle)

Immediately following the end of the hackathon, the groups presented their work to their peers and five judges.

After heated deliberation, the judges determined three winning projects. Quantum Reinforced Learning (QRL) won for scientific excellence and Q-means for community excellence. The overall winner, excelling in the category of innovation, was Qonway’s Game of Life.

Maddy Tod presents winners Xiang Nan Wu Wu, Enrique de la Torre, and Daniel Bultrini (photo by Paul Searle)

Given the quality of the projects and the happy reviews from our hackers we consider this event a great success.

Overall, attendees noted the various backgrounds within each group as one of their favorite aspects, as merging worlds enabled each group to tackle challenging problems.

“We all have a different background, so it adds a different view so you can afford a challenge,” said Pablo Bastante Flores, a hackathon attendee. “This kind of project, these kinds of ideas, you can’t do them yourself.”

Many attendees initially lacked either coding or quantum skills, but as noted in a medium post by attendee Alfonso de la Rocha, a full knowledge of quantum computing isn’t required to start using Qiskit, and it didn’t hold back his hackathon project, which earned an honorable mention.

Esther Lozano, another attendee, agreed that a full skillset isn’t required to participate.

“I’m a developer, so I’m not used to the quantum stuff, but I learned,” said Lozano. “And if you are a physicist and don’t know much about developing, you will learn. There are a lot of people here who will help you.”

And the fast pace of this event — just 24 hours to start and complete their projects — sped up familiarity within groups. One attendee noted that they met their group mates as strangers on Friday but by Saturday afternoon they were sharing laughs and stress as they bonded over a common goal.

“I’m a physicist and the other part of the team are developers — like programmers and engineers — and I think we are having, first of all a lot of fun, and second learning a lot from each other,” said Sonia Lopez Bravo.

But as always, we’re soliciting feedback about what worked and didn’t work at our first international hackathon, as we hope to make each Qiskit event even better.

THE CUBE, pictured here, served as the venue for the hackathon event (photo by Paul Searle)

Yes, you read that correctly, there will be another Qiskit event soon — as soon as this fall.

We hope to continue bringing Qiskit to local communities around the world. If you want a Qiskit camp brought to your community, shoot us an email at Brian.I@ibm.com.

We’re hoping to build a community around Qiskit with all sorts of backgrounds, so if you have any interest, Qiskit may be for you.

As Madrid hackathon attendee José Luis Crespo Cepeda can attest, “Anyone can come to these events… For example, I have a background in graphical design and I am being helpful to my team because I know graphical design.”

“Nowadays, people who work in different topics must come together because there are solutions you can only get if you work together.”

Invites to our Qiskit camps are based on community participation. To get involved, try some Qiskit tutorials, contribute to existing projects, or reach out to the community, where we’re always ready to answer your questions!

The nine hackathon projects developed in Madrid are now open for public contributions:

Crypto Q: a quantum crypto library

Qonway Game of Life: using quantum circuits to model Conway’s game of life

Q-Means: a quantum version of the k-means algorithm

Q-PLEX: quantum possibilities in solving MILP problems

Quantum in a row: Play Connect-4 against a Quantum Computer

Quantum Reinforced Learning: learning using modified HHL policies

Qrangen: a truly Random Number Generator

Quantum Dust: using qubits to simulate void fluctuations

BB84: teaching quantum cryptography through gaming