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Hackathon successes for Informatics students

Posted on 19/12/2014

Informatics students have achieved great things this year at hackathons across the UK. But what is a hackathon?

A hackathon is a place where people who are involved (or want to get involved) in the fields of software development and design come together to build a product, usually in a period of 24 hours. At the end of those 24 hours, engineers and other people in the tech industry judge what the teams have produced. Hackathons are usually sponsored by some of the biggest tech companies in the industry. The KCL Tech Society ran HackKings in February 2014, which was sponsored by many of the UK and the world’s leading tech companies including Facebook, Index Ventures, Codecademy and Just Eat, and its grand prize for the winning team was a £15,000 investment and an office space in Central London.

“It’s an amazing learning experience,” says Ammaar Reshi, president of KCL Tech Society and co-founder of HackKings. “[Hackathons] test your technical ability and creativity in a very limited amount of time. Hackathons are pretty much replacing careers fairs.”

Students in Informatics at King’s regularly attend hackathons across the UK. At MLH Launch Hack, one of winning teams was a team of King’s students. Three of the ten finalists at StudentHack, the UK’s largest hackathon which takes place twice a year in Manchester, were also teams from King’s.

At TechCrunch Disrupt, an annual world-wide hackathon that takes place in a different country every year, a team of Computer Science students at King’s won the runner-up prize for their app: Appilepsy, a free mobile app that runs an intelligent algorithm in the background of your phone which analyses your phone's 3D accelerometer data in real-time to detect if the user is having a convulsive epileptic seizure.

“Being part of a team at a hackathon gives you the experience you wouldn’t necessarily get outside the classroom,” says Alex Telek, a second year Computer Science student at King’s and one of the developers of Appilepsy. “Getting to meet and work in a team of talented people with different skills is a great advantage on its own.”

Not only that, but some Informatics students organise their own hackathons. Fares Alaboud, Vice President of KCL Tech, ran UnituHack: a half-day hackathon that brought students and staff together to solve problems that they saw existed in higher education or to improve solutions that currently existed in order to enhance the academic experience for students and staff alike.

“The ideas and the solutions that came out of UnituHack were awe-inspiring,” says Fares. “Two of the judges were lecturers at different universities, and they wanted many of those ideas used in their own classrooms. That’s when I truly saw the change hackathons can make. I felt that this related exactly to teaching a man to fish: hackathons gave everyone the atmosphere, resources and networking opportunities they needed to build something that could have a permanent impact. In the case of UnituHack, students and staff were making a difference in the academic lives of everyone around them.”

Winners or not, well done to all of the King’s Informatics students who spend their weekends being productive and creative!

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