One of the initiatives we’ve taken at Birmingham City University this year to introduce new student opportunities and improve student employability on the BSc Computer Science course has been to encourage students to participate in Hackathons.
These Hackathons are typically time-constrained programming contests, where students work in small teams to create prototype software that meets designated requirements. Students then need to pitch or present their software to a panel.
We have been supporting sending students to Hackathon events held around the UK, with the aid of the new Hackathon and Computing Society. Students participating have been benefiting from improving their programming knowledge, exploring new technologies, meeting industrial contacts and developing interpersonal skills.
We have also recently held MicroHack, our first internal Hackathon. This was designed to improve student confidence and encourage them to participate in the external Hackathon events.
MicroHack was held on the afternoon and early evening of Wednesday 16 December 2015, with teams required to develop prototype software on the open theme of personal or professional development for students, with submissions using the Microsoft Azure cloud hosting platform. Oliver Vlaytchev worked with me on the organisation of the event and Liam Biddle arranged funding through Microsoft.
There was a real social buzz for the event. The student participation and results are well captured in the Storify.
The Hackathon succeeded on multiple levels, including raising the profile of the technology of our sponsor, engaging students with innovations and external practice and generating good publicity for Birmingham City University. The teams that participated presented some excellent ideas, worthy of being released products with more development time. We did run into a few minor administrative issues regarding the smooth running of the day, which are useful to know about for future larger scale events, but none which impacted on student enjoyment. We did discovered how important it is to have a large team of staff running things, all of whom have designated roles and duties.
This event was a precursor to a Hackathon with 24 hours of programming, which will be running on 29 February to 1 March 2016. We are open to ideas of technologies to use and encourage students to engage with – interested companies can feel free to contact me for more details. Importantly, we have a full university marketing push behind this BCU Hack event, which will be of benefit to everyone involved.
Following MicroHack, I’m even more confident that Hackathons are of value for students looking to enhance their programming skills. They match up well with the Birmingham City University course on BSc Computer Science and its aim to produce graduates who are work-ready for the real world. I fully intend to continue to push Hackathons and their benefits and to find ways to get more students involved with these.