R. U. Hacking? - University of Reading Student Chapter

On the 26th-27th June 2021, The University of Reading’s, Student-led Tech Society, R. U. Hacking? Hosted their Annual event. The R. U. Hacking 2021 Hackathon. Due to the complications caused by the Coronavirus global pandemic, an event which usually would thrive in a physical environment, was compelled to be moved into a virtual setting if it was to take place this year. 

While initially this seemed like an intense obstacle for the organisational team, it did allow some possibilities which previously couldnt be considered. The most prominent of these was the locationless, physical-less aspect allowing the event to be opened up to the entire globe, with no travel requirements and no limitations outside of having an internet connection, the R. U. Hacking? Team were able to produce an inclusive event which spanned throughout all 6 inhabited continents; with over 1000 sign ups and over 500 active participants interacting via the 24HR live Twitch stream or communicating through the Discord server. 

Hackathons are Limited Time period events, some can be a weeklong, some 48 hrs and R. U. Hacking? 2021 was limited to 24 hrs. In these time periods you have to collaborate and cooperate with your teams in a design-like sprint event. 

Hackathon is a portmanteau of the words hacking and marathon. This is not hacking in the common computer security usage, but more in the sense of exploratory programming, to “Hack” something together, usually resulting in a slightly less-than-elegant, possibly not optimally efficient solution. But a working product none-the-less or atleast a presentable Concept.

The fundamental idea is that everything produced and submitted must be from work done in the dedicated time period. 
To add to the chaos, the teams get set challenges in which they can participate, specific criteria that their solutions must adhere to, for the possibility of winning extra prizes or rewards, in R. U. Hacking? 2021, the team brought in many world leading tech companies to set challenges, as well as sponsoring the event and running talks or workshops to keep the participants engaged and involved alongside their hacking periods. 

Some of these included: 
•    Leading Reseller Hosting company: 20i 
•    Global Software Giant: Citrix
•    Contact-Centre-as-Sevice(CCAS): Cirrus Response
•    Mobile Computing pioneer: Zebra Technologies
•    API revolutionary: Postman
•    AI R&D group: Bayer LifeHub UK
•    Professional body: BCS

The challenges set by these organisations ranged in varying levels of complexity, technicality and intricateness for the desired solutions, while the domains of each of the sponsors varies drastically and the versatility shone through the challenges, one true core value remained prominent amongst all these: Innovation.
•    Make something Boring FUN! 
•    Create a solution to a challenge faced by organisations to have a positive impact on employee experience. 
•    Design an online solution to enable organisations to calculate environmental footprint, through AI and accessing existing online resources.
•    Overcome the key functional, technical, and commercial challenges presented by COVID-19 Vaccination Certification
•    Revolutionise the University “Clearing” Process
•    Best Piece of art using ASCII!! 
•    Many More including : Education, Sustainability, Healthcare, Technology for seniors, Shaping the future, and challenges including the use of certain technologies! 

In total, there ended up being over 15 challenges, ranging in sizes with a combined total of over £3000 worth of prizes, plus work experience, mentorships, internships and further collaborations with the sponsors! 

There were opportunities for the participants to interact with the sponsors, and with each other, through workshops, such as Postman’s API 101 workshop, or Q+A sessions offered by many of the sponsors.

Some of the final solutions were absolutely phenomenal, with the Standout winner from BCS’ challenges being “Face The Facts”, a voice/face/text recognition and privacy preserved Machine Learning tool to support the diagnosis and treatment of people with Depression.

A Virtual coffee meet app designed by one of the team aimed to increase social interaction throughout a company, outside the immediate teams that they work with, attacking an extremely prominent problem derived from a virtual “working-from-home” environment. 

A creative solution to coerce children into helping with chores was invented by “Tiger Tabs” allowing parents to create a points based game, with rewards and a competitive aspect - while another team leveraged the Google Maps Direction API to create a more practical Mapping tool kit to be used in Microsoft Excel.

The event turned out to be a major success, with all of the participants thoroughly enjoying themselves, and the extreme versatility between those who have participated and won multiple hackathons, working in synergy with the influx who were attending this as their first step into the hacking community. The community spirit shone throughout the event, with the collaboration while hacking being paramount, but also the downtime in between - playing games together, attending the mini events and generally showing the hacker ethos to its full truest colours.

All the created project and winners are available to view : https://r-u-hacking-hackathon-2021.devpost.com/project-gallery