Interview with Hack the North Hacker

Q: Hello Katie, tell me a bit about yourself.

A: Yes, I’m in second year 2A biomedical engineering and I did my first coop in software. I also know a little bit about machine learning and hardware. 

Q: So for those of us who are unfamiliar with hackathons, what are they?

A: Hacking is about finding a short-cut solution to a problem that you’ve observed in your life. You’re essentially using technology to resolve that problem: make a prototype, then pitch it as a start-up idea in anywhere between twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

Q: Hack the North was recently hosted here at the University of Waterloo. What makes this hackathon different from others?

A: Well, I think the biggest difference I noticed is the resources; it has a lot of sponsors, a lot of workshop hosts, and a lot of companies that it’s partnered with. When you need help with certain technical aspects, representatives from those companies whose products you’re working with are often physically present in the building.

Q: Describe–what was your role in this competition?

A: Well I attended as a Hacker, with a group of two other students. Over the course of thirty-six hours we thought about a problem, and we thought about what the users would want: what is realistically something that they would use on a day to day basis? From there we sort of looked into technical skill sets and technical stack, and built a prototype out of it.

Q: What was the atmosphere like?

A: When you come in for the opening ceremony, everyone’s excited; everyone can’t wait to get started, and often we rush off trying to grab hardware or heading to workshops. But eventually, you reach a stage where you’re sleep deprived, your project is failing and you haven’t eaten anything healthy for over twenty-four hours. Close to pitching time, however, most people are satisfied with the projects they’ve made and everyone’s eager to check out other people’s ideas.

Q: What was the coolest project you saw?

A: One of the teams made a VR game that allowed you to portal between different environments. I thought it would be really cool if that could be made based on real maps of the world–travelling the world through VR!

Q: Why do you think people keep coming back to hackathons?

A: I think the biggest one is that there’s just so much opportunity to learn from other hackers, mentors and workshops. They give you the opportunity to just forget everything else and dedicate the entire day (or two) to one project. Also, they provide a lot of resources for you: tangible resources like hardware, but also the network and the specialists that can answer questions. 

Q: When would be the next opportunity to join a hackathon?

A: I would highly recommend looking at Major League Hacks; they usually have hackathons at least once a month.


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