My First Hackathon: EEE Undergrad attends Sir William Siemens Challenge 2022

Ece Erkan, who studies BEng Electrical and Electronic Engineering, was one of 70 students nationwide who travelled to Birmingham to take part in the SWSC 2022, and writes here about her experience taking part

Photograph of Ece soldering during the Hackathon
Ece working on soldering during the Hackathon

Ever since I attended my first programming lecture at university, I have always wanted to partake in a hackathon, so you can imagine the excitement I felt when I saw that the applications for the Sir William Siemens Challenge 2022 were open. In the run-up to the event, my team held multiple meetings during which we laid the groundwork for our design and brainstormed ideas. The teams were allocated by Siemens, and I particularly liked how interdisciplinary my team was, with people from different engineering backgrounds - but to our surprise we were all University of Sheffield students! Prior to the challenge, we were only told that the teams will be building an automated installation which would represent some data collected around the University of Birmingham by Siemens. The data would be presented in a raw format meaning the teams would also have to analyse and convert this data into a human-readable format. Since we weren’t told what the content of the dataset would be until the day of the challenge, we had to keep our initial design concept flexible enough to be adapted to any unforeseen data we did not consider.

As you can imagine, the challenge was quite intensive with only 48 hours given to process the dataset and build a fully autonomous application from scratch. We were provided with an extensive list of electronics components and mechanical parts as well as access to the MakerSpace at the University of Birmingham's School of Engineering Building. Having split our design into two areas; mechanical development and software & electronics development, each team member was assigned a task in accordance with their skillset. Given the duration of the challenge, it was of paramount importance that there was clear communication between the two subteams, which we ensured through regular update sessions. Participants were also encouraged to develop new skills. For instance, as someone from an electronics background, I decided to use laser cutters during the challenge.

Group photo taken at the Sir William Siemens Challenge Hackathon 2022
Group photo at the Sir William Siemens Challenge Hackathon 2022

It was so motivating being surrounded by brilliant engineering students who worked tirelessly to bring their designs to life. Even though there was an ongoing competition, everyone was extremely friendly, and different teams helping each other out was not an unusual sight. The event was also attended by many people working at Siemens, as well as past participants of the challenge, which gave me the opportunity to network and gain insight into life at Siemens.

My first hackathon has been a truly rewarding experience, and I encourage everyone to apply for this annual challenge. Events like this act as a great tool to put theory learned at university into practice and appreciate the applicability of engineering to real-life. It is also a good idea to check out some student-led projects within the university if you want to simultaneously get experience outside a classroom environment, and work with other passionate students.

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