An Aspiring Dr Hackathon

With a medical background and basic coding experience, I took part in a Hackathon run by Warwick University last weekend — my first Hackathon — and here’s how it went.

A Hackathon is an event where multiple people work collaboratively to design and create a software project. The participants tend to have a variety of different backgrounds — from user interface design to coding (and even non software-related skills). Their final project needs to meet the objective, usually defined by the event organisers. This usually all takes place over just one weekend, with interesting and interactive workshops and tutorials sprinkled throughout — so time is of the essence!

It was the Friday before the Hackathon began and I had a sudden urge, out of nowhere, to enter into a Hackathon. Now I know that sounds pretty unlikely, but it was as if a fire within me had become ignited by the sheer thought of being re-acquainted with my old coding hobby. I had coded in the past and even studied it at university level but never took the skill further. Instead my focus had always been on being a medical student, potentially at the cost of what software development could have offered. I impulsively searched for Hackathons happening soon and stumbled across WarwickHack2021. I couldn’t believe my eyes!

Quickly, yet also with a sense of unease, I clicked the all-important ‘Enter’ button for the virtual Hackathon, starting in less than 24 hours. Why the sense of unease? I had never undertaken anything like this before, none of my friends were familiar with how these worked either, perhaps I wouldn’t be up to standards with my coding knowledge, or maybe I wouldn’t any find teammates to work with. I also questioned how skills in medicine could ever help with a software design task. I had no idea what to expect.

Despite these slight qualms, when the next day arrived, I got onto the website with excitement to find my teammates. Within a few minutes I was in a team of 3 others, each with different backgrounds. We all introduced each other and explained our backgrounds — maths, physics, informatics etc. All of my worries suddenly slipped away into the past as they made me feel welcome and not at all lacking in skill. Together, we watched the opening ceremony and soon started to plan our project and delegated responsibilities. Things were just beginning to get interesting!

Our project was creating a carbon footprint calculator for different items of food. The user could create a list of ingredients of items that they were using in a recipe or buying and calculate the total carbon footprint. As well as this, it also contained helpful tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint.

My job was to research those tips and ensure the most up-to-date version of the database was loaded into the system (for those tech-inclined I also did some error-checking and made a very neat easter egg!). Along the way, I also noticed that I was using transferrable skills from medicine — planning, time-management, team-working, communication (esp. virtually!).

The weekend went in the blink of an eye and I remember being thrilled that I was able to use my coding skills to contribute to this project and learn more about a hobby that I thought I would never pick up again. Additionally, I learnt so much through the workshops and am eager to create my own projects and games with the cool programs shown — perhaps something with a medical theme. In fact, this has given me more motivation to actively seek opportunities to improve my coding skills in parallel with medicine.

Looking back, it’s unbelievable to think that I was ever worried about not being able to contribute to this event. The experience taught me that analytical, problem-solving, and other transferrable skills planted within one background can also flourish in another.

I’m as much grateful to my wonderful teammates and Warwick University as I am to myself for fuelling the re-ignited fire within — it all proved that it’s just a matter of clicking that ‘Enter’ button.

Checkout our project video below!

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Definitely not a writer

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