StirHack 2016: my experience

This spring season, the Stirling University Computer Club has organized the first edition of their own Major League Hacking hackathon: StirHack. For those who don’t know what a hackathon exactly is, I will give you a brief and concise definition:

A hackathon is a gathering where programmers collaboratively code in an extreme manner over a short period of time. While working on a particular project, the idea is for each developer to have the ability and freedom to work on whatever he/she wants.

After this kind of introduction, let’s talk about the main point, the event itself.

StirHack 2016 took place in the University of Stirling (Scotland), which is surrounded by plenty of green spaces, and even a lake. Definitely an idyllic venue where anyone would like to study or do research.

University of Stirling

It is well known that hackers -and geeks in general- love stickers. Not only that, but also tech T-shirts, pens, and everything that stand us out as a coders. So the organization as well as the MLH took charge of this imperious need and provided us a bag with all this stuff in the registration process.

The first thing we did once the opening ceremony finished off, was the team-building. This is a great opportunity to join in the whole group and meet new interesting people. Plus, if you’re a foreigner, forming a group with a few local people will allow you increase your level of the language while you have fun coding and joking in a friendly atmosphere.

Unluckily, there were already three of us in our team, and the maximum components in a group were four. So there wasn’t much margin to attract other attendees to our team, even though we were open to accept anyone. In fact, one guy got closer to our table in order to join us,  -and I’m not proud of this- but when he just heard us speaking English he ran away as quick as a wink. We three are still laughing at this!

Stirling University’s mascot gave us a warm welcome. It’s adorable, isn’t it?

When the teams were already built, next step was moving into the hacking area, aka the classrooms. We were smart and settled in a table next to a radiator. Something told us the weather at night wouldn’t be as warm as at midday. But it wasn’t time to think about that, we had to decide what to do.

Although we had an initial idea, it doesn’t took us much realize that it was a bit silly. However, we all knew we wanted to try developing something using the Android platform. No one of us were an expert in the field, but we were willing to explore and test out our skills. And where there is a will, there is a way! One of us came up with a great idea and we immediately got to work into it.

During the development stage, we lost track of time. We had to face several problems, but every time we fixed an issue we felt better and it encouraged us to go ahead. But not all was coding! Between bug and bug we strolled through the campus and sometimes passed by the supplies room, which was filled of food and beverage to take by your own throughout the hackathon. (Yes! Free and unlimited snacks and energy drinks! -all this apart the regular breakfast, lunch and dinner-) What more could you ask for?

Although it doesn’t seems, there were healthy food and drink too

Night fell and our project was almost done. So I took it into advantage to sleep for a while, and was then when I could use the sleep mask and the ear plugs. At first, I fell asleep on the moquette, but a short time after, I wake up due to cold. In that moment was when the radiator near our table became essential, because I turned it on and thanks to it I could sleep until next morning!

For my surprise, during my nap, my fellows kept working on the project, and when I woke up, an interesting functionality had been added to the app. So the last thing to do was preparing the demonstration, which was rather challenging to us due to we had not spoken in public in English never before. But finally it wasn’t a big deal. We made a simple presentation and showed the application running. Actually, not a lot of words were needed, but I believe we got out of trouble quite well.

Slide from our presentation. It suggests you interesting points around events of your interest.

The event was reaching its end, and while we were astonished seeing the impressive projects made by the other participants, we were called to stage and had been named finalists! We thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t. We just couldn’t believe how they had selected our project, and in that moment we felt very proud of the work done. A group of beginners, with a humble app, reaching the final. It will be hard to forget that moment, I think it was the most satisfactory since I started my degree.

Because of that I want to encourage all those beginners -as us- attending this type of events, especially the medium-size hackathons, because they provide a familiar atmosphere which is perfect to get started and finding out more about this exciting world. Doesn’t matter if you don’t know a lot, doesn’t matter if you’re shy, because there is a kind of magic in that events that helps you growing up much faster than you will imagine. The only thing you have to do is give yourself a chance to build something great. And only like this, perhaps you will be able to, someday, make a tool useful for everyone, or even develop an application that helps saving lives.

Finally, I would like to thank and acknowledge the work of everyone who has made this story possible. Thanks to the Stirling University Computer Club, thanks to the Major League Hacking, thanks to my team mates, and thanks to my family. I’m looking forward seeing you next year, Stirling.


Happy coding!