After couple of Startup Weekends and other similar events in Slovakia, three weeks ago I’ve got an opportunity to come to Cambridge and take part in the Hack Cambridge 2016, first edition of the hackathon-like event in the city where one of the most famous universities in the world is based.
No one really loves statistics, I know. So just very briefly to give you insights to what the event was all about – 24 hours of hard work, up to 400 attendees from various universities, nationalities and even continents. Unlike at the other hackathons, there was no set topic to work on, you could choose from whatever you were specialized on. Do you love hardware? Ok, there’s plenty of it to grab and work with. Or you rather sit and code? Sure, don’t be bothered and work as you wish. You want to get some more education? No problem, there are lectures and workshop all day long. You think you’d need help from someone more experienced? Not an issue, there are mentors and partners representatives, so feel free to approach them whenever you feel you need to.
As you can see, there are almost all parts of what you would consider a complex plan to “hack it” and create something valuable in only 24 hours.
I am not a programmer, neither a hacker. I am a marketing guy, event creator. During the whole event I was standing on the other side, the orange side, as a volunteer. My main responsibility was not to create a new innovation, but to make everything ready for the hackers to feel good, and concentrate on their work.
From the very first moment I came to the Corn Exchange, the hosting place of the event, I knew it would be stunning. It was surely one of the best sites for hackathons that I have ever been to. That’s what I understand under “hipster”. Very nice building from the architectonic perspective with one big open space to work in, balcony to observe, get inspired or breath in the whole atmosphere of the event and smaller rooms to network, get mentored or just chill when needed. From the perspective of the organizer, this was the core – to provide a place that would provide a perfect atmosphere for hackers and their teams.
But let me take you a bit further in the Hack Cambridge experience through lenses of others. I was very surprised when I got to know how many Slovaks were there in the hall. I got a chance to talk with them and interview them a bit for you. They all bring different points of view, as their roles have been different. Jakub, a student at University of Cambridge and one of the core team organizers, then Dusan, hacker, but the business development one and Radoslav, the coder and student of computer science. So let’s see what they’ve gone in with and have taken from the event.
Jakub, I know that you have been one of the organizers of this year’s Hack Cambridge. First can you please tell us a bit more about yourself and then share some information about the event; when did you start planning it with your team and how many people participated in overall organization of the event?
In October I started studying at the University of Cambridge. I’m doing research in computer science, as part of a master’s program.
Hack Cambridge started out very simple. About two weeks after arriving to Cambridge, me and a couple of friends simply decided to make one. At the time, there were very few hackathons of this scale in Europe, and none in the UK. The team was very small, but we wanted to keep it that way. We knew that a small dedicated team of smart people would work very well for this kind of event. No hierarchical structure, no dedicated roles, everyone was working hard on whatever needed to be done. There were 6 of us, plus a couple of amazing volunteers who came help us out during the event.
We put together the whole hackathon in about 3 months.
The event took place on the campus of Cambridge University, how cooperative the university was in terms of granting you space and also other of its facilities for the duration of the event?
University of Cambridge is huge. There are a lot of departments, labs, and colleges. Everyone was very helpful. However, we had very specific requirements. We needed a hall that could fit 400 hackers, with tables, in the same room. The university doesn’t have a place like that. In the end we booked the largest venue in Cambridge, a historic concert hall from 19th century that already hosted The Who, Arctic Monkeys, or Amy Winehouse.
How many nationalities competed at the event and what was the overall number of attendees at Hack Cambridge?
Hackers were coming from all over the world. Over 1500 students sent in an application. We picked the best 400 of them. A lot of students were flying from the US, Canada, and even China.
I also found out that there was quite a high number of Slovaks participating at the event. Can you tell us which universities they came from and also what was their specialization (IT, business) in general?
There are a lot of Slovaks studying in the UK. Most of the Slovaks came from University of Cambridge and Imperial College, some were flying from Masaryk University in Brno and Charles University in Prague.
Any experience or impression about any of the Slovak teams that participated at the event?
Unfortunately I couldn’t talk to all of them. In general, hackathons are not as popular in Slovakia as in the US, for example. For a lot of people Hack Cambridge was their first hackathon and the competition was very strong. I think this was the case for a lot of Slovaks too.
For those of us who would like to attend the next Hack Cambridge, when and where can we sign up? 🙂
Hi Radoslav, can you please introduce yourself in couple of sentences and then share with us why and when you decided to apply for participation at Hack Cambridge?
Hi, my name is Radoslav Rabara, I am from Slovakia and I currently study at Masaryk University in Brno. I have decided to apply to Hack Cambridge as soon as I saw the event on the Facebook. It seemed like a great opportunity to visit my old friend who studies at Cambridge, meet new people, and learn something new. Actually, I haven’t been on any hackathon before, so I was pretty excited.
Did you build your team on the spot or you already had your teammates prior to the event? How many people were there in your team and which countries they came from?
I built my team on the spot. We were two in the team and the funny thing is that the guy I teamed up with was also from Slovakia but we didn’t know each other before the event. There were a lot of people from Slovakia and Czech Republic, so I got a chance to meet a lot of new friends from Slovakia at Cambridge.
What was your role during the event and what were the roles of your teammates?
We have designed the product as client-server application. I was in charge of the client development and my teammate was programming the server part. We have often discussed problems and solutions, and also did pair programming.
Can you please talk a bit more about your product you came up with and worked on at Hack Cambridge?
The product solves transferring of large data set files. All current solutions pose significant limitations such as file size, budget, user friendliness or middle copy necessity. We have created an open source solution that transfers files between clients without creating a middle copy enabling the server to scale easily with number of connections.
What was the feedback from the jury and fellow hackers about your product?
The feedback was quite positive, so I think that they liked our solution.
What do you consider being the biggest value created during the event for you and your team? Was it development of the product itself or meeting new people or gaining new contacts or something else?
It was everything together. I have met a lot of new people, gained new contacts and got some job offers. It was a great event and I am really happy that I have participated.
What are your plans with the product you have developed at Hack Cambridge?
We have some ideas what kind of features should be added, so we will continue with the development.
Hello Dusan, I know that you also took part at this year’s Hack Cambridge. Can you please tell us a bit more about yourself and your motivation to compete at the event?
Hey! I am an entrepreneur primarily based in Bratislava, currently doing my Postrgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship at the University of Cambridge. First time I have heard about the event was in November last year, when I received an email from my tutor that included upcoming events happening in Cambridge. I immediately got interested in it and decided to apply.
The whole set up for Hack Cambridge, including onboarding the team members as well as the idea we came to the event with happened quite randomly. The team consisted of 4 of us, Joe – UK based accountant and my classmate from the University, Victor – developer from US I have met when couchsurfing in Oxford a year ago and James – coder from UK, also fellow University of Cambridge student, who got excited about the idea and joined our team just before the event took place. The idea for the product we have built at Hack Cambridge actually came after we applied. It was beginning of this January when Joe visited me in Bratislava and as we were brainstorming some ideas, Joe pitched me one idea I immediately started to like and so we decided to bring and develop it at Hack Cambridge.
How did application for the hackathon look like? When and were did you find out about the possibility to apply for Hack Cambridge?
It was very simple questionnaire on their website, you could decide to come as an individual or with your team. If you decided to bring your team with you, the admissions were simple. Either all members are in, or none of the members can participate. As already mentioned I found out about th event in November and approached Victor and Joe if they wanted to participate. Not long after, we received a message that we are in. James joined later as an individual.
I know that you are not a programmer, was the event still relevant for you even though you knew that this hackathon is mainly about hacking things and creating products in intense pace of 24 hours?
I was also questioning myself if this is the type of event I should be participating in after seeing the word ‘‘hack‘‘ in the name of the event, but after reading more about the event I found out that my skills and experience can still be an asset for the team I will be part of. It turned out right and together with Joe we brought both market knowledge as well as business insight into product being created by the rest of the team.
What was your impression of participants that competed at the event, if you compare it to people competing at hackathons that you attended before? Any differences?
Discipline and excitement are two words that come to my mind when reflecting on people that participated at Hack Cambridge. This was the first time I actually experienced working on something 24 hours nonstop and I think this concept brought its fruits. It was amazing to see what people came up with during such short period of time, from motion enabled controlling of any electronic device to game that lets you play out the complexity of parallel programming, both ready to be launched. I experienced few hackathons in past, but so far this was the most intense one, not only because of its duration, but also because of the energy coming from diversity of people and different knowledge and experience the broght to the event.
Another thing I noticed was a number of Slovaks participating at this event. I was impressed by so many Slovaks taking part as well as their skills and attitude. This really proved that we are eligible to compete with people from all around the world even at event organized by one of the most recognized universities in the world.
What was the product you worked on at the Hackathon?
We have built a mobile app that enables users to be alerted about major life-hazardous events and catastrophes such as terrorist attacks, shootings or hurricanes. The main purpose of this crowdsourced alert app is to help those not yet involved in the accident to avoid it entirely and those that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to report an accident and help to save lives. After doing some research we found out that there is no sufficient tool existing that would provide instant alert and notify people being in the immediate approximity of the accident. After creating a prototype of the app, we are now working on the actual solution that can be used by users all over the world.
Will you attend this event again next year? 🙂
As I won’t be student anymore, I won’t be eligible to participate, however I encourage everyone who is student of any university to apply and experience this great event. All I can say is that it has been a lot of fun and great source of energy and motivation being part of Hack Cambridge.
Cover photo: University of Cambridge by llee_wu (flickr)