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A day in the life of a Natural Sciences student – Organising DurHack

Being tied to a single subject like Maths or Computer Science never felt quite right to me. Studying Natural Sciences, on the other hand, allows me to select modules across a range of subjects that pique my interest. I’m able to tailor my education to what works for me and to what enables me to make the most of other opportunities that Durham provides.

Perhaps the most exciting of those opportunities is my involvement with the Computing Society – a society focussed on tech. As President of CompSoc for two years, it’s been my responsibility to arrange workshops, talks and activities for fellow students by working with sponsors and tech companies in the area. Our highlights include an Artificial Intelligence workshop at Waterstons’ offices in Durham, several successful pub quizzes with TPP, and our flagship annual hackathon – DurHack!

Above: Artificial Intelligence workshop at Waterstons HQ in Durham

In fact, I’d say that DurHack has been the single most important part of my university experience. I’ve organised it two years in a row, and this year will be my third (and, sadly, final!) time. DurHack is the biggest hackathon in the North-East – a weekend-long invention marathon where hundreds of students come together to solve problems through tech. Students team up in groups of four and have just 24 hours to use their programming skills to create an app, VR game, a hardware hack (I’ve seen some really cool stuff done with the robots we have available), or another kind of project. Everyone demos their project at the end and the best ones win prizes for their teams!

Above: Hackers at DurHack 2018 enjoy their pick ‘n’ mix sweets while working on their project, Cult Leader Bot. Photo credit: Mateusz Jaworski, Durham Photographer, used with permission.

We’ve had sponsors like Bloomberg, Barclays and Waterstons support DurHack by providing tech mentors, hardware, and cool swag and prizes. DurHack has grown every year – if you’re interested in tech (no programming knowledge is required) then you should definitely check out come along to the next DurHack!

Above: A hacker shows off the stickers he’s collected from attending hackathons all over the UK. Can you spot the DurHack one? Photo credit: Mateusz Jaworski, Durham Photographer, used with permission.

Hackathons have been a stepping stone for me to accelerate my career. I’ve used my experience of attending and organising hackathons to get a spot on an industrial placement at Komodo Digital, where I’m working for one year as a Junior PHP Developer, before returning to finish my degree. The opportunity to work in industry is invaluable and sets me up well for when I apply to graduate jobs.

Moreover, I’ve used my experience of organising hackathons (managing a team, handling a large budget, interacting with companies on a professional level) to become a Coach for Major League Hacking. This means I frequently travel to hackathons all across Europe and represent MLH and their sponsors, and I assist the organisers in running the hackathons on the day. It’s a developer relations-focussed role, which is an industry I’d very much like to continue being part of once I graduate.

Above: Robbie (left) presents prizes on behalf of MLH at AUHack, a hackathon in Denmark

I have to thank the flexibility offered by my course – having started out on a Maths degree, I transitioned into Natural Sciences in second year. The opportunities presented to me by being part of such a flexible department have led me to organise a successful hackathon several times, and I’m now taking the next steps to work with hackathons across Europe as well as gaining full-time industry experience as a Junior PHP Developer at Komodo.

Robbie Jakob-Whitworth

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