A Hackathon is a design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers among others collaborate intensively on software projects. It is also known as a hack party or a hack day. The main goal of a hackathon is to create useable software. The organizers decide themselves the number of days that the event should run for, the time as well as the venue. Since it uses internet, they usually make sure that, the venue has access to internet connection. During the scheduled time, the participants are required to create a software using an Application Programming Interfaces also known as API’s. A specific programming language or operating system may not be required.
ForLoop is a community of passionate software developers across Africa. It was founded in the year 2016. The ForLoop Hackathon series was born to help talents in programming become developed and well exposed. The first edition was held in the University of Lagos, in February 2018. The ForLoop-UniGhana, the University of Ghana version of the hackathon, under the theme; “API’s for Good” was held at the Computer Science Department specifically, the Library on the 9th and 10th of March at 12pm on the 9th through to 6pm on 10th. The event was to go on throughout the night hence participants were allowed stay through the night to work if they wanted to.
Before anyone got involved they were required to register via a link and give a little information on themselves. Likely participants were to answer whether they wanted to work alone or in groups. There were prizes involved for the first , second and third positions.
The sponsors involved were NIIT, GugaLayer, Flutterwave and Africa’s Talking. Some of these sponsors provided souvenirs like pamphlets and wristbands for participants.
The event started a little after 12pm on Friday. Participants came together in groups. Some already had their groups intact since they wanted to be with particular people. Those who were not enough to make a group were added to others to make the group complete. The maximum number of people in a group was supposed to be six. In all about seven different groups were formed.
One of the facilitators, Mr. Oreoluwa Ogundipe told participants that, even before they start creating anything, they should brainstorm, find a particular problem that can be tackled using an application and then develop it. He said that whatever they create by the end of the event should be accessible and useable. From observation, I realized that most of the participants were very abreast with things concerning programming and coding as well as API’s. They basically had to build ideas using other peoples API’s. They were not restricted to a particular API. All the groups were doing something different. Most of the participants were guys with just few girls, not more than ten.
Another facilitator, Mr. William Imoh said that, communication is the key to building and when participants communicate well, they will have an easy way out in their building process. Snacks were provided by the organizers of the event. The facilitators went around intermittently to help students out.
One group was trying to develop a website they called “Shipay”, which is supposed to address the problem of shipment to Ghana. The entire idea was that, sometimes users are browsing an online shore and they see something they want to buy but due to the fact that the website doesn’t ship to Ghana or these people don’t have a physical address to ship it to Ghana, they get stranded. The app would provide shipping address and other billing information that users will sign up to and pay for so that they will make their orders. Thus the app developers would handle the shipment and notify them when their products arrive. This group was hoping that by the end of the event and upon further development, the application would help those who don’t have VISA cards to be able to use their mobile money accounts to make payments with regards to shipment. This group used API’s like Rave and Africa’s Talking SMS.
Another group was developing an application which allows students to reach out to school authorities without coming into direct contact with them. At the end of the day, student needs, grievances and suggested are pushed to these higher authorities without their faces being seen via this SMS application they were trying to create. The aim is to help students pour their hearts out without fear of being punished in any way.
One other group was building an application which users would be paid for using. This app is supposed to help companies get their customers to take surveys concerning their services so they can improve on them. These few were some of the things these student programmers were trying to bring up.
On the second day of the event, some participants had dropped out as they didn’t want to continue. The others were still trying to build their concept. Most of the groups had one or two members staying at the laboratory through the night to work. One level 300 student of Legon, a participant said that he had a challenge with using some of the API’s since it was new to him. A lot of them said same and stated that it was their first time of taking part in a Hackathon and so they were not so prepared. Some too said that they wished laptops would be provided for them so there won’t be any bias when it comes to who should win. About three groups had issues with getting stuck when they were almost done. They said they wish that the facilitators would be many so that they won’t have to wait for one particular facilitator to address everyone’s problem. Extra time was given to the participants to help them work better.
By the time the Saturday session was over, participants had made a lot of progress with the building of their concepts and had finished the various ideas they have come up with.
The winners of the Hackathon were not declared on that Saturday because their work had to go through test review and approval by the ForLoop team and so the organizers are yet to officially announce them.