Ctrl. Alt. Compete: meet the humans of hackathons

The Warren Centre
During the Humanitarian Innovation Hackathon students created tech-driven solutions for humanitarian challenges.

If you’re big-time into STEM, chances are you’ve heard – or competed in – a hackathon.

The sprint-like events allow those with killer science, tech, engineering and maths smarts to collaborate on software projects, with an end goal of creating a functioning product. Divided into teams, participants often have a specific focus – like the type of operating system they can use – yet the innovation possibilities are endless.

And they aren’t just massive programming parties either! Some seriously awesome innovations have come out of them – including million dollar start-ups EasyTaxi, Carousell and GroupME.

We crashed The Warren Centre’s Humanitarian Innovation Hackathon to meet the young student programmers participating before they became mega-famous tech giants.

The event

Hosted by The Warren Centre and in collaboration with humanitarian organisation RedR Australia, this particular social impact-focused hackathon asked students to create tech-driven solutions to pressing humanitarian issues.

“The Hackathon saw university students Australia-wide work in teams to undertake rapid prototyping bursts to develop pragmatic solutions to problems,” explains The Warren Centre’s executive director Ashley Brinson.

“The challenges were not known to the students until Saturday morning, but the problems they were asked to create solutions for were drawn from RedR’s response efforts in a refugee camp,” adds chair of RedR Australia, Elizabeth Taylor.

The participants

We asked three hackathon participants on what made them spend the weekend creating code with a bunch of strangers, and what they’ll use their STEM skills for in the future.

Brittney Gardner, University of Sydney:

“I decided to sign up because I love humanitarian engineering – I study biomedical and project management and I love blending humanitarian into those subfields! I’m really interested in women’s health and development, and using technology to do that.

“During the hackathon we looked at gender-based violence in refugee camps and created a wearable RFID bangle that we named ‘WhereMe’. Women would be able to scan their bangles as they walked to their bathing facilities and an alert would be sent to a central location if someone didn’t return in a certain amount of time. They would be accompanied by motion lights too!

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“In the future I would like to work in the field of orthopaedics. Currently I’m doing an internship at a company called Stryker and I would like to take a few of their products and work that into a more humanitarian context.”

Edward Merewether, Macquarie University:

“I heard about the hackathon from one of my professors! Because we weren’t sure what the tasks or the challenge was beforehand, I prepared by making sure I was up to date with my Python as I am a coder. Apart from that it was very much just a turn up!

The Warren Centre
Participants were divided into teams during the weekend-long event.

“Medicine and robotics are two areas of interest that I have! I’ve been working on projects that I hope build my bio-engineering knowledge. What I’m trying to develop right now is ultrasonography on a robot. You could have one working with professional sonographers anywhere in the world! During the Ebola crisis it would mean no infection risk.

“I’m not studying and getting [STEM] skills just because I can – I would like to have an impact on the world and make people’s lives better!”

Rhys Keogh, University of Technology Sydney:

“When I was in high school, I really loved maths and science and that led me to engineering. I’m still not sure what it is that what I want to do with it, I think it’s a great skill set to have because there is a world of opportunities.

“I signed up for the hackathon as I thought it was really cool to have a cross-institutional event – it’s rare to interact with students from other universities! Our solution was a latrine and lighting alert system that would help women, children and other vulnerable communities when they’re trying to get to the bathroom at night.

“In the future I would love to see a consistent framework to develop refugee camps, not just shelters but entire camp infrastructure – like a refugee flat-pack for people in need who are fleeing violence, war and other awful life threatening conditions! In STEM fields there is a bit of social obligation to consider these days.”

Keep your eye on The Warren Centre’s events page for upcoming Hackathons and more engineering-focused events.

Psyched on STEM + social impact? Suss out five inspiring career options here.

Cassie Steel

Author: Cassie Steel

As Refraction’s digital assistant, Cassie Steel spends her days researching robots and stalking famous scientists on Twitter.

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