All participants in the first UIT High School Hackathon.

 

I got my first taste of UIT at the first UIT High School Hackathon where my friend and I attended to hopefully create our first app! When we got there I was put in a group with the rest of Glace Bay High School students and partnered with Carol Louie as a group mentor. Carol recommended that we make a Flappy Bird like game. By the end of that hackathon we made a lovely Flabby Bird knockoff called My First Trip to France, which consisted of a nose called Pete McSmells flying through the streets of Paris dodging giant pillars of cheese. If you don’t believe me, Carol Louie has a video demo still on her website here.

One year later a second UIT High School Hackathon comes around and I was sure that I wasn’t going to miss it. The next year had a smaller group of people but it was just as fun. And since it was during my grade 12 year, I was sure I was going to attend UIT after I was finished with high school. So I got to see Gavin Uhma again, I got to meet the current staff of UIT, and even saw the newly renovated UIT classroom and lounge.

Attending the UIT Hackathons really got me interested in learning about code and how ‘easy’ it is to create a mock-up of any popular mobile game. It made me want to learn how to create my own mobile games and it was a great introduction for me to programming. One team during a hackathon used Scratch to create their mobile game, which seems like a great way to begin game development. Not only has these hackathons brought me into the programming world, it helped me meet some great new friends with very similar interests. Hackathons are even a great team building exercise because it forces everyone to work together.

I think anyone who has the opportunity should attend a hackathon. It may make you nervous if it’s your first time, but really it’s just a fun activity. You can meet new people and either get an introduction to programming or show off your skills to everyone. Not to mention there are always great prizes. And even if you don’t accomplish much compared to the other team, it’s really just for a fun, non-competitive, learning experience.

My team for the second UIT High School hackathon.

A big dream of mine right now is to become a video game developer. Mostly just because I like playing video games and having a job that is related to video games in any way is a win in my book. While that dream may take a lot of personal connections, hard work, and luck to achieve. If I were to actually live it, the very first step would probably be to create a mobile game. And thanks to the hackathon, I’ve got that step already started. I definitely look forward to any future hackathons to test my new skills and also hopefully start making some more mobile games because I think making that was quite fun.

 Hackathons

Hackathons are a blast, and something I personally enjoy. However it always causes confusion when I try to explain them to people who aren’t really in the Tech Scene. Most people imagine a group of people with sunglasses and trench coats sitting in a circle typing furiously and then shouting “I’m in!”.

"We're in!" - People at Hackathons

Hackathon in progress

I’ve only been really into coding since I started university so that is where my Hackathon experience starts.  However I did have some Hackathon like experiences before university.

Coding Before University

Before I was in university I was only coding in small amounts of C++ and Java. Unfortunately my school didn’t offer anything in terms of coding courses. I also never heard of any opportunities to attend hackathons. The closest thing to a hackathon I participated in was me and two friends attempting to make a video game. Which resolved several long days huddled around laptops in a basement coding furiously (It didn’t help none of us  knew what we were doing).

I’m sure there were hackathons happening locally before I went to University, However, I didn’t really attend any until University Hackathons

Hackathons during University

While I was in university I attended hackathons every now and then. At that time I was mostly coding in Java. Java is not super conducive for doing work at a Hackathon. Between compile times and the work required  to even have a basic UI (Swing is a terrible terrible thing.) it slows you down.

Most of the hackathons I attended were weekend long events where everyone either stayed late or crashed on the floor. Usually they involved pizza and beer. Those were pretty wild events, very few resulted in victory but they were always fun. One hackathon resulted in a simulation of plants that existed over multiple generations. There was even a few text based RPG’s and Adventures of varying complexity.

Hackathons at UIT

We did two hackathons at UIT which were both amazingly fun experiences. The first was a fun halloween exercise which gave us a fun opportunity to work together. At that point we were all pretty early on in our learning process and most of the webpage my team built was simply jQuery.

The second was recent where I got a chance to team up with Bobby and Andrew, who I hadn’t worked with before. At this point we were all further in our learning and we were able to create some pretty hilarious webapps. This time around we ended up using React, Express, and all sorts of packages there was a clear upgrade in the Hackathon projects.

There were a great chance to work together to practice cooperation and make something fun.

In conclusion

Hackathons were very intimidating to me where I was first deciding to go. I expected that everyone there would be expert coders. That me as a first year would know nothing and not contribute. However that is rarely the case and more often then not hackathons are a great opportunity to hone your skills in a fast paced and sometimes chaotic environment.

I will continue to take part in Hackathons when I get the chance, and would really like to see a hackathon scene like in Halifax. Where just every few weeks you can find one to attend.

My first hackathon experience was the first Marcato hackathon in 2014. At the time, I was seventeen years old, and the youngest person there. I went in not knowing what I was going to make or how I was going to do get it done within two days. At this point in my life, I was working on a 3D game built with Java, but most of my time went to balancing high school with recording my own music. The goal I had in the back of my mind for this hackathon was to make something simple and useful.

I really enjoyed being in an environment where I there were so many other coders like me in one space. But also, I have to admit I felt totally in over my head. I didn’t know anyone there! At the time, I was super quiet and even more introverted than I am today. It just felt like everyone had much more experience than me, and it was overwhelming. So I kept to myself and observed from a distance. Baby steps.

The guy who was sitting in the spot next to me probably noticed that I didn’t know anyone, and he chatted with me about programming languages and tools. At school, I didn’t know anyone else who was nearly as interested in programming as me. So it was a great experience having someone else with the same hobbies to talk to. This is why more kids need to get into programming at an early age!

days[0]; // coming up with an idea.

I spent most of the first day playing around with Java and just trying to come up with something to build. I got started with the Twitter API because I was comfortable with it. Before the hackathon, I had used it to build a simple program that would help me find potential fans for my music, based on the followers of similar artists.

While I was trying to figure out what to build with the Twitter API, I decided to check out JavaFX and it seemed like a pretty cool way to build user interfaces. I noticed it had a chart/graphing library built in so I played around with that and got the idea to use it to display some sort of data that gets pulled from Twitter. Boom, Tweetographics was born.

Tweetographics was a simple program that lets you view the geographical demographics of a Twitter search. I started trying to pull the geolocational information from the Twitter user’s profiles but that provided to be too imprecise as users would enter inconsistent information (example: “My Room”, “Mordor”). I knew that Google Maps sanitizes all this information and corrects it when you type a location name into their site, so I checked out their API to see if it could handle this for me, which it could! I added it to the chain of APIs I was using my program was starting to look like something useful. Perfect!

days[1]; // presenting it.

By the end of the first day I had a working demo. I spent most of the second day tidying it up and adding different chart types. I also chatted with the CTO of Marcato, Morgan, and I showed him my game I was working on. Showing what I was working on to something with experience gave me a boost of confidence because I really didn’t show too many people what I was working on at this point.

Then it came time to present. Oh man. I hadn’t ever presented my programming stuff to a room full of people before. I almost backed out, but finally worked through the anxiety, and got up and got it done. It went better than I expected. Once I got up in front of everyone, the anxiety just kind of disappeared. The hardest part was working up the courage to stand up in the first place.

days.slice(2); // every day after.

Those two days definitely marked a milestone where I started spending more and more time coding with a different outlook than I had before. I started taking it more seriously and changed from my idea of going into music production as a career, to computer programming.

Not long after that, I picked up PHP and started taking a closer look at web development because it’s the most streamlined way of getting software to another person’s computer letting them use it. I wanted to start building things that other people could use, rather than just building things for myself.

 

  Before attending UIT did I know what a hackathon was? No. Do I imagine most people no what one is? Probably not. But, that being said I think they’re definitely on the rise, and in the next few years, who know maybe many more will.

  The first time for me seeing one was during the movie, The Social Network. I didn’t really understand what was going on when seeing the hackathon in the movie.

     The scene when everyone’s hacking to get a spot into FaceBook. They have ten minutes to get root access to a Python web server, expose it’s SSL encryption and then intercept all traffic over it’s secure port.

   Then every tenth line of code written, they have to drink a shot. And hacking supposed to be stealth, so every time the server detects an intrusion, the candidate responsible has to drink a shot. There’s also have a program running that has a pop-up window appear simultaneously on all five computers. The last candidate to hit the window has to drink a shot. Plus every three minutes they all have to drink a shot.

   One of the best scenes of the movie. And something most people can relate to, drinking game. Plus Eisenberg really portrays the hackathon as a really cool nerd moment. 

     The first know hackathon was a development event held in Calgary (yay Canada) on June 4, 1999,where 10 developers came together to avoid legal problems caused by export regulations of cryptographic software from the United States. Since then, a further 3-5 events per-year have occurred around the world to advance development, generally on University campuses.

It’s been almost 2 decades since then and the tech world loves hackathons. Nowadays if you can hack it at a hackathon you could walk away with great prizes, cash, or a new job. Many major companies, like Google, FaceBook (ofcourse), and salesforce. Just to name a few, all do hackathons.

Every month or two, Facebook asks its engineers to take the day off from their regular duties to tackle any project they want. For Facebook, they often lead to important products, including its first video player, its developer platform, and its chat system. After Facebook’s engineers prototype their ideas, they present and vote on them among their colleagues. The highest voted ideas get presented to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the executive team.

As Facebook product chief Chris Cox puts it, “This is like our ‘American Idol.'” But for developers. Great way to keep things fresh and fun at work!

Here are some of the cool “hacks” that Facebook employees created:

  • Hand controllers for the Oculus VR headset that get physically hot and cold: An employee from Facebook-owned Oculus demoed modified hand controllers for its headset that simulate the feeling of heat and cold in virtual reality using embedded thermal coolers. “This is quite warm,” remarked Zuckerberg while warming his hands at a virtual fire.
  • Location requests in Messenger for when a friend is missing: If you can’t find a friend and become worried about their safety, Messenger could one day let you send a request to see their location. A timer would begin on the friend’s phone that gives them a chance to approve or deny the request. If the timer expires on its own, their location would be sent to you automatically.
  • Offline messaging: A Facebook engineer demoed offline messaging in the company’s stripped down Messenger Lite app for emerging markets. Once implemented, the feature will allow people without internet access to message each other using the WiFi signals in their phones. Zuckerberg seemed to really like this idea during the demo and even said that “this is something that I’ve thought we should build for awhile.”
  • Shared photo and video galleries based on what people post in a person’s comments. Facebook engineers demoed the use of machine learning to automatically create shared photo and video albums based on what people share in the comments of a post. So if you ask for photos people took at a wedding, what your
    friends share in your comments would be turned into a shared album for everyone to see.

 

Hackathons; what are they?

Hackathons

noun, informal

  1. an event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.
  2. “a series of 48-hour hackathons to build new web and mobile services”

They’re these cool events where nerds unite to compete in programming competitions. In other words, something every programmer needs to try at least once. I’ve participated in two hackathons, both hosted by UIT. I attended the 2016 Halloween event and another that didn’t really have a theme, but was more fun.

The Halloween event was teams of three. I was paired with Spencer and Bobby and we made a timer that counts down from the time you input and plays a scary sound when the timer hit zero. Obviously, it was designed to be hidden on an unsuspecting victim’s computer to catch them off guard. The team that won made a spooky trivia game that would scare you if you got the answer wrong.

More recently, we had a smaller hackathon where the class was divided into two teams of three, and we had four days to come up with any project that required us to learn something new. My team was with Spencer and Riley. I learned to use Python to make a Reddit bot that went around subreddits replying to certain trigger words with a random Chuck Norris joke from the ICNDB. That account got banned from a ton of subs, got less than -100 comment karma, and was reported ten times on /r/spam. I would link to the bot but people have replied to it with death threats directed at whoever made it. People didn’t seem to appreciate my art for some reason.

How can I spam Reddit without people realizing?

hackathons

reddit loves cats.

I decided to try a new method to shamelessly grab karma, so I set up a new bot to go in /r/CatsStandingUp. In this sub, every comment is just the word “Cat.”, so all the bot does is reply with the same message. This bot has received over 1,500 upvotes and no reports on /r/spam as of May 22nd.  Spencer made a variation of my bot that would grab comments with the word “banana” to reply with Rob in his banana suit. The other team made Wump. A Wikipedia article summarizer that writes in the style of Trump tweets. It’s awesome and they won, but our’s was definitely cooler (not really).

Hackathons are a great way to practice and learn coding. They also get people talking, which can be a problem for a group of nerds. If you have any interest in coding, I can’t recommend it enough just to get out there and try. It’s more fun than you’d think. 

I don’t think I could ever imagine myself as a “boss”. It just seems super weird to me. I like working on stuff, not managing people. But as I think about leadership, I realize that I do really enjoy helping people learn stuff. I really like working with other people to build cool things. It’s a lot better than building something on your own, because at the end you can high-five that person and say “we did this!”. I think I’m pretty good at guiding people along coding projects and stuff. If I were leading people… I would I hope that I wouldn’t be a “boss”, but rather, the guy who likes collaborating and building cool things with a team.

There are 6 different types of leadership styles and I think if I’m one of them, I am “The affiliative leader “. I like working with people, and I like helping them learn. I would want people to feel like they are belong, and know that they are a part of building something awesome. I would focus more on collaboration and teamwork than I would making sure everything is done perfectly. I want people to be actively engaged and not feel like they’re just working a job or working on a particular feature because they have to. If I’m doing something wrong, I want them to be able to tell me. I don’t want to be an authority figure. That makes me cringe when I think about it. I would want to lead people in the right direction.

I think the real difference between being a leader and being a boss or manager, etc. is that one is a job title that you have until you leave that job, retire, or whatever. The other, being a leader, is something that you can only be if you really are leading people. You can call yourself a leader, but if your team isn’t on the same page as you, and they’re not following you then guess what… That’s not being a leader, that’s only pretending! To be a leader you must step down from the pedestal and realize that we’re all in the same boat – you’re no better than your team. Because without your team following you, you’re just kind of wandering off on your own. You can’t be a leader without a team behind you!

Ideally, a leader will help guide their team to success by making sure that each individual member feels like they’re positively contributing and has a meaningful presence in the workplace. They should listen to their ideas and take the time to hear what they have to say. Your team isn’t robots (yet!) so treat them like people!

Reading the StrengthsFinder book said a lot to me. It talks a lot about leading with your strengths, and not worrying about trying to “fix” your weaknesses. This resonated with me, because all through junior high school and high school there were classes that I struggled at… But I would go home and code for hours and make some really cool programs at young ages. It was still frustrating for me though, because I felt like I couldn’t do things that “normal people” could. Now I realize that I just learn differently. I can make up for where I lack, and I wouldn’t change anything…  But it gave me some real insight into attempting to overcome my own weaknesses… Such as: “Why bother?”

I think that rather than trying to push team members to overcome their individual weaknesses, I would pair up team members with other team members who have contrasting strengths and weaknesses. Not only will each team member be a part of something that keeps them actively engaged, they will have also learned something from the other employee that they may have struggled with before.

There is no secret formula to great leadership, and I don’t think there is a “one size fits all” solution, either. Not everyone is always going to like your style but if you talk to individual members of your team and hear them out, you will have a better idea of how to make something work in a way that your team can be successful. That’s why a leader must be able to empathize with their team and see things from all angles before making a decision.

How to Steer?

Leadership is something that can be taught, but most of it is a born quality. That being said many can rise to the occasion to show leadership traits. To me a good leader can look inwards and be objective to oneself. Listen to all sides, and make the right decision for the whole when needed to. A true leader, doesn’t berate others when their opinion contradicts their own, he/ or she, values the input given by others. You should be able to talk to a leader without any fear of being judged. A leader should make you look forward to being around them, or make a chore or job easier, not more difficult.  

 Being a leader can be a hard job. In different careers, and professions it can be symbolic and the requirements of a leader and those he leads can be more demanding and different. The more people you lead the more you can only show so much.

 A General in war may only show as a figurehead to maintain morale, and teach through strength and perseverance when in the face of the enemy. While a teacher should be more accommodating and friendly with an entirely different face and leadership approach.  

  I’ve been working since I was 13. I’ve seen all different types of people in the leadership role. Some good, some alright, and some shouldn’t speaking to people in public. Some are people you could run to with a problem and some are your problem. That’s the business of business I guess. You either bare it or look for another job.

  As a history nerd I have ALOT of leaders of admired. But for the sake of the reader and being relevant i’ll only mention my modern day 19th century leader idols, and my two own personal mentors who have affected my life.

 

Famous leaders

   Henry A. Wallace, a man ahead of the times, who during some of the darkest times in American history stood his own ground. Despite the masses, and often outcried to those who would deface the values of his own democratic party, and most often in his own party.

  As of 2017, he remains the last Democratic vice president who never served in the United States Senate and indeed the last vice president of any party who had not previously held any elected office.

Wallace also famously spoke out during the Detroit race riot of 1943, declaring that the nation could not “fight to crush Nazi brutality abroad and condone race riots at home.”

 After Wallace feuded publicly with other Democratic high officials, Roosevelt stripped him of his war agency responsibilities. Although a Gallup poll taken just before the 1944 Democratic National Convention found 65% of those surveyed favored renomination for Wallace and only 2% favored his eventual opponent, Harry S Truman, it was Truman who went on to win the vice presidential nomination.

 During the 1944 Democratic convention Wallace had a favorable lead on the other candidates for the vice presidential nomination, but lacked the majority needed to win the nomination. In a turn of events much scrutinized, just as Wallace began to receive the votes needed for the nomination, the convention was deemed a fire hazard and pushed back to the next day. When the convention resumed Truman made a jump from 2% in the polls all the way to winning the nomination. Wallace was succeeded as Vice President on January 20, 1945, and on April 12, Vice President Truman succeeded to the Presidency when President F.D.R died.

J.F.K

 My second and absolutely  one of my favourite historical leaders is J.F.K. While his leadership definitely had tough decisions, and may or may not of always been right.. He stuck by them and even while dealing with the U.S.S.R during the height of the cold war, he kept a cooler head than most. His presidency could be said to be the epitome of a modern day tough leadership.

 For example; In a July 1961 speech, Kennedy announced his decision to add $3.25 billion to the defense budget, along with over 200,000 additional troops, stating that an attack on West Berlin would be taken as an attack on the U.S. The speech received an 85% approval rating. And eventually lead to what was known as the Berlin wall. Where East and West Germany wouldn’t see each other till Ronald Reagan’s Presidency in Nov in 1989.

 The bay of pigs where  fifteen hundred U.S.-trained exiled Cubans, called Brigade 2506 landed on the island, and were swiftly defeated and captured. After twenty months, Cuba released the captured exiles in exchange for $53 million worth of food and medicine. He took responsibility for the failure, saying: “We got a big kick in the leg and we deserved it. But maybe we’ll learn something from it.”

 J.F.K’s leadership record is huge, includes the Cuban missile Crisis, intervention with Laos, first President to make diplomatic treaties with Israel. Not to mention his space program, which helped beat the U.S.S.R to the moon. And last but certainly not least his help in abolishing Jim Crow laws and segregation schools still prevalent in the deep south.

  If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking out my lecture. I do wanna just make a quick note that my own personal leaders/ mentors that affected me the most are. My Grade 11 & 12 teacher Mr. Blum. He’s what made me actually like school, through his monotone voice, and punny sense of humor. I remember taking his European History course and liking him so much as a teacher and a mentor, that in grade 12 I took his english class called African Heritage. Where our class of six got a picture on the front page, and the reporter named me Billy Gregon…….

And of course the biggest mentor/leader my dad. Whose taught me all the good traits that embolden who I am I wouldn’t be half the person I’m without his example.

 I think the famous J.F.K quote is where i’ll leave this at. “It’s not what your country can do for you. But what you can do for your country.’

What I take from that quote is,  it’s a two way street when it comes to personal endeavours whether work or other social interactions with leadership in place. When it comes to steering the ship in the right direction. You can be a great captain but if the people under you don’t follow the orders properly or can’t work together then you’re not going to get far. And vice versa if you have a terrible captain you could just be drifting to sea or worse…..