Words by Nauris Kalnins
In the first term of my first year at university, I attended the HackSussex 2019 hackathon, keen to experience a type of event I have only heard of before. A hackathon is a usually 24 hour long design-sprint where participants (hackers) collaborate on projects and the goal is to create functioning software or hardware.
The organisers did everything to support the hackers. There were assistants there to help with coding/hardware/theory issues recruited from the staff and sponsors. Sponsors and guest speakers ran workshops related to the challenge themes/topics. Food and drinks were there to help through the 24 hours sprint and there was a setup for sleeping on the spot. In my case on a beanbag under the desk I worked on (I would not want it any other way). The teams came pre-agreed or assembled on the spot from the participants, as was the case with mine. I made a good friend in that team and more friends during the event.
The spirit of ingenuity and innovation permeated throughout the event and culminated in presentations of the hacks in front of the judges. Not all teams made it to the end. Ours presented and in the end won one of the tracks. If one can pinpoint specific memories of university that made the experience unforgettable for them, that was it for me.
Last year the Covid pandemic hit and changed everything. No more in-person events, no large or small gatherings and constantly shifting restrictions would have seemed to deal a lethal blow to a type of event that precisely relies on getting a large number of people into the same venue for at least 24 hours. There was no space for a group of people driven by passion for technology to come together and change the world.
However, a community built upon working around unexpected challenges would not be stopped even when the world stopped.
As I was making notes for this article I was also taking part in the HexCambridge 2021 hackathon. Going fully online opened the doors for an event that could connect anyone anywhere. The number of participants could be increased significantly as the event can be accessed from the comfort and safety of your home. The sponsors can involve their staff on short notice to help the hackers with the challenges and the event and workshops can be streamed on Twitch for access that has never been wider. There is even more space for involvement of sponsors and recruiters in the event as it now can be accessed on a specific time from anywhere. Every opportunity to use the online platform that was there was taken without a doubt and used to the fullest.
The isolation stayed the same but now it is not a helpless one any more. I did not win a challenge this time, but I took away a realisation that there is always an opportunity to do good and try to push a change in the world. This is the perfect time for events like hackathons to bring people together from around the globe, from the isolation of their rooms to work together. Next time you sit down at your screen consider taking a look at hackathons happening online. Maybe that spirit of working together in the same room is not as easily recreated, but an obstacle has never stopped a hacker. Find out if you are one?
Links to find a hackathon: