During the first weekend of November, hackSheffield, a student-led hackathon at the University of Sheffield, returning for its fifth year running, brought together 160 students for a 24-hour ‘programming marathon’. Across the two days, 37 teams comprising of one to four people competed in a series of challenges, turning their new and exciting ideas into reality.

hackSheffield was founded nearly four years ago by a group of students who wanted to bring the official student hackathon league, Major League Hacking, to the Steel City. Since the first hackSheffield event, Sheffield’s ranking on the MLH leaderboard has increased significantly, from 20th in the Spring 2016 season to second in the 2016/17 season. In the 2019 Europe Major League Hacking rankings, the Sheffield team clocked in at fourth position.

This year’s hackSheffield 5 was another major success, with a huge turnout and an impressive array of projects created over the weekend. A wide range of challenges, including “Spookiest Hack” ensured that everyone attending was able to find a category in which to participate. 

Jen Ollett, Design and Publicity Officer, said: “We always get some people who don’t present at the end or leave midway through, but we had one of the lowest drop-out rates we’ve ever seen this year. I think having a spooky theme that even the less experienced programmers could make something out of really helped.”

First prize for “Best Hack” in the 2019 hackathon was awarded to “Pi-ggy Bank”, a project based around a Raspberry Pi computer that uses a camera and AI to recognise coins dropped into a box. The aim of the project was to help users keep track of the coins they put into a piggy bank. Each member of the winning team was given a Raspberry Pi kit worth £90. The team in second place won Xiaomi Mi Band 4 fitness trackers, and the team in third place won Anker SoundCore mini bluetooth speakers.

Of course, such an event requires careful planning and attention to detail. The team organised all the meals for the hackers, including drinks and a late-night pizza. A snack bar offered food and drink throughout the event, and there was a hot drinks station for tea and coffee — vital for making it through to the end!

Quiet rooms were setup for participants to take a break from programming, and the whole second floor of the building was turned into a sleeping area and furnished with air mattresses for anyone who needed to take a nap part-way through the hackathon.

Although hackSheffield had some hardware of their own for the hackers to use, the event was run in partnership with MLH, who provided a hardware lab and other resources for participants. Sponsors of hackSheffield 5 set their own challenges and ran workshops throughout the 24 hours. One particularly popular challenge among participants was run by the Sheffield Artificial Intelligence Society.

While many workshops were aimed at helping teams complete their projects, some were more for relaxation, such as a salsa workshop, and slideshow karaoke, a fun way for attendees to practice their presentation skills. hackSheffield also ran a Discord server so participants could contact the committee and mentors for assistance with their projects.

This year, the organisers decided to overhaul hackSheffield, rebranding with a new logo and website, and “streamlining” the behind-scenes setup. Ollett said that, for the team, “the hardest part is getting everything to come together into a successful event at the end. There are so many details that go into a successful hackathon, from food, to sponsors, to the merchandise.”

The annual hackathon is set to return next year. Between the main hackathons, hackSheffield organises smaller events and arranges trips to other hackathons throughout Europe.

They invite you to stay tuned for information about their events by subscribing to their mailing list at hacksheffied.co/join.

Featured image: hackSheffield

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