What does hackathon mean to you?

The word hackathon has been used to describe a wide range of group-based activities, but because of that it can lead to a wide range of expectations as to what the activity will consist of. It is often used around events where a tight-knit group of developers work together to rapidly get a new feature up and running in a piece of software. It can also be quite competitive to see which group of data scientists can produce the best solution to the stated problem. To others, it is more exploratory in nature, an open space where people are implementing and testing out new ideas. The main constants seem to be a group-based activity involving code and/or data, and pizza. Always pizza.

People have approached us a lot, saying they want to do a hackathon-style activity. When we dig a bit more into it, we are not sure the word applies to what they want to do or what we are training to deliver as part of Health and Bioscience IDEAS. Most of the discussions we have been part of are around group-based learning activities that are a bit more open-ended than a typical class or short course format. We are not sure describing it as a hackathon would be productive in those circumstances. Some more experienced hackers may come with the expectation to build a new piece of software. On the other hand, individuals new to code may be intimidated and turned off.

We are working on developing some collaborative and educational events around data science and coding. It is similar in spirit to the open and inclusive activities of BrainHack, in which attendees from all different disciplines come together to work on a problem. The participants aim primarily to reproduce a given paper that introduces a new data science technique involving medical imaging, and then extend this paper further by introducing new questions and/or using other datasets.

We are calling the series of events TeamCoders, partly because we are doing this event jointly with UCL Clinician Coders and partly because it involves working on code collaboratively. We will start soon with dry run sessions and then move forward with open sessions in the late spring. If this sounds interesting to you, then please mail us at HealthBioscienceIdeas@ucl.ac.uk

– Dave Cash