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All About Hackathons: Opportunities at BCIT and Beyond

Interview with Mo Baydoun

With the annual BCIT Student Association QDS Hackathon (which stands for BCIT’s motto, Quisque Dominus Summi, meaning “to each their highest attainment”) coming up in January, you might be thinking: What is that? How do I join? Should I join? And actually, what is a hackathon, anyway?

To get you all the details about hackathons and the upcoming QDS Hackathon event, I chatted with Mo Baydoun. Mo is the Chair of the School of Computing and Academic Studies. He is also a full-time CST BTech (Bachelor of Technology in Computer Systems) student in the Game Development stream.

What is a hackathon?

Despite the name—likely the source of all the confusion—hackathons aren’t about “hacking,” per se. This isn’t those clichéd movies where you keyboard-smash for five seconds to hack the “firewall” or “mainframe.” (It does look cool, though.)

Instead, hackathons are engineering-focused events where “people from different backgrounds come together to create something,” Mo explains. That something is a functioning program, and how you design it is, in Mo’s words, “totally up to you.”

Depending on the hosting organization, hackathons can last around 24 to 72 hours with food provided throughout. On the last day, each team presents what they’ve built, and a winner is determined by a panel of judges who are usually the event sponsors.

But hackathons aren’t just centred on software engineering. Teams generally consist of a marketer and a designer in addition to a computer programmer, all collaborating on the themed project. The work that the marketer and the designer create may also be considered for prizes. For instance, teams may win from UI design prototypes alone, developed using applications such as Figma.

What is the QDS Hackathon?

Hosted by the BCIT Student Association and sponsored by BCIT, Teck Resources, and Northeastern University, the QDS Hackathon will be happening from January 6 to 8, 2023 at the Great Hall in SE2 on the Burnaby campus. The theme is Data Analytics—participants will be provided a prompt and asked to create solution-based projects with the data they are given. Food will be provided throughout the event.

All BCIT students are welcome to join, no matter the skill level. Teams can have up to six members and should include at least one programming student and one business student. Interested applicants who do not have a team can join the QDS Hacks 2023 Discord channel to find one, or if they prefer, they can be automatically placed into a team.

What do you get out of the experience?

A great thing about hackathons is meeting new people and making professional connections. Mo notes that the industry sponsors for QDS are also mentors, so students will have opportunities to reach out and network. 

Participating in a hackathon also offers the rewarding experience of building something amazing that you can showcase. As Mo puts it, it is “one of the best ways to just get something on your résumé that you can show an employer. It shows passion towards computer science and displays your skill set as well.”

Joining one can be intimidating, though, especially if it’s your first time. Mo knows exactly how that feels—he was in a similar position prior to his first hackathon. After pushing himself to get involved, he’s discovered just how fun they are. 

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with just joining the hackathon and building whatever you want,” Mo says. “You don’t have to [go in with] the expectation that you need to win. You [can] look at it as a way to personally develop. I think that’s the best way to look at it.”

He points out that many students are in the same position, hesitant about joining because they don’t believe they’re quite at the skill level they should be. To this, he advises seeking out someone with more experience to join the team. This helps create opportunities to learn from them and get an idea of how to plan and work out solutions.

Plus, Mo adds, being a part of a hackathon means you get free food. (“And money if you win!” I gleefully throw in.)

But whether you are a beginner or already have some experience up your sleeve, the most important thing is to go into a hackathon with a fun, positive, and open mindset. 

“[Don’t] let [any knowledge gap] stop you from just participating—the possibilities are endless,” Mo says. “Just go in there and have fun. Think about what you would like to see and build something that you would be happy to say that you made.”