If you’re interested in computer science, chances are you’ve heard of “hackathons”. In the same way that applying intense pressure to carbon atoms gives you diamonds, the tension and suspense of hackathons produce the finest diamonds of software and hardware projects.
For those that have never heard of hackathons, they are coding competitions that can last anywhere from 24 hours to 3 days. What ensues are hours of coding to build your project from the ground up. Your project can be anything you like. Got an idea for a mobile app? Code it! Want to build a web extension? Code it! Want to take apart and digitalise a Furby? Code it!!
As much fun as uninterrupted programming and debugging for 24 hours plus may sound, it’s not all coding! These hackathons will have (non-tech-related) games going on at various points in the competition as a breather, so you can take a break from duelling with your code to duel someone at table tennis!
Durham University Computing Society (CompSoc), alongside many kind sponsors, hosts its very own large scale hackathon called DurHack. I took part in 2022 and it was one of my favourite experiences ever. I walked in a wide-eyed first year, barely knowing what to expect, and walked out with three of my closest friends and our gold badge for winning first place! Yes, even inexperienced, total-hackathon-beginners can win prizes. You don’t have to be a wizard at the keyboard or even study computer science – I’ve met mathematicians, physicists, business, and even history, students!
Our project was called the Lean Mean Washing Machine and was an application that scanned the washing labels on clothing items. It used machine learning, trained on images we collected and labelled ourselves, to tell you what the symbols on those tags meant (so you never have to shrink your favourite jumper again).
Why DurHack (and hackathons generally) are so great
What was amazing to see with our project was when we hit the 12-hour mark: we were in the deepest depths of project building and experiencing minimal success. However, because you are surrounded by computer enthusiasts, you are never short of someone who can help. Not only did the sponsors help us, but other competitors did too! Despite being on opposing teams, they helped us fix our bug! That’s the great thing about hackathons, they’re not all about the competition. They’re about putting programmers in the same room and seeing what they can come up with. They’re about coming together for the joint interest of technical project creation. That is something that unites all computer scientists, regardless of background, experience, or education.
The diamonds of software and hardware projects!
They all came to be because a hackathon brought a group of programmers together to build them:
- an AI chatbot that alerts you of fake news
- a digitalised coffee machine that makes you a cup of coffee from your command line
- even a daily Wordle spoiler – that one was brave!
It would be a crime not to also mention the stash: tea flasks, notebooks and pens, laptop stickers, and my personal favourite, the t-shirts. Not only are you decked out with free stash, but because it’s an overnight event, all your meals whilst there will be catered for. If you’re really lucky, you may even get to hold Dino Dan!
How do I take part?
DurHack’s 8th iteration will be taking place in November 2023 so make sure to register at https://durhack.com/ to find out more and take part. Who knows – maybe you’ll walk out with the gold winner’s badge this time!
Find out about STEM Careers Week 2023 – Durham University which takes place from Monday 16th to Friday 20th October 2023. Although the week is hybrid, the STEM Careers Fair on Wednesday 18th October 2023 is in person and cannot be attended virtually.
Create your own personalised prospectus here
Photography credits: DurHack & Shireen’s Shots photography