Hack to the Next Level: HackBlagoevgrad
On Nov.14, AUBG embraced young enthusiasts, eager to participate in the first IT-forum in Blagoevgrad – HackBlagoevgrad. Around 80 amateur hackers and software developers signed up to present their ideas, acquire new skills, and compete for the 2500-leva first prize.
The forum spanned a week, from Nov.14 to Nov.20, and was divided into two parts – an IT conference and a hackathon. The conference, held from Nov. 14 to Nov. 18, consisted of lectures and workshops, delivered by professionals in the software development sphere. Next was the hackathon, which continued from Nov. 18 to Nov. 20. AUBG hosted the event, providing conference rooms in Balkanski Academic Center for the lectures and consigning both the Sports Hall and the Auditorium for the weekend challenge and the award ceremony afterwards.
Under the slogan “Hack to the Next Level”, the hackathlon was the first event of its kind to be set up in Blagoevgrad. Its organization was carried out
by students, with the support of sponsoring companies and HackBulgaria. Among the organizers were members of The Hub, who shared similar interests and views. To elaborate on the latter, the students were more than willing to bring their ideas to life, which they achieved through HackBlago.
When asked about how they came up with the idea, Nikolay Babev, one of the organizers of the event, shared, “It started as a joined initiative with HackBulgaria and we decided to create this huge event, because there has never been an IT-forum on campus.”
Yana Aleksieva, a member of the organizers’ team, added, “When attending a lecture of HackBulgaria, they emphasized the importance of encouraging the companies in Sofia to see that over here there are so many young people, who want to do something in the sphere of software, and that’s how we came up with the idea for the conference and lectures.”
“We started looking for sponsors and companies, which will help, because we were mainly dependent on them. During the summer the ideas shaped and we decided to implement everything as soon as we came to AUBG,” continued Babev.
The event aimed at forming an IT-community in Blagoevgrad and a connection between students and companies. Through HackBlago participants had the opportunity to create something different and unique, to learn to be brave with their proposals and to gather their ideas in a competitive atmosphere, where they could actually use them. HackBlagoevgrad emphasized on bringing out the best qualities in the participants and
provoking them to think big. Apart from that, the participants fully observed the work process with its difficulties, which is a premise for their better preparation for future jobs.
However, according to Babev organizing such an event required “a lot of courage and a lot of effort. You need to start contacting people as soon as possible and in the beginning you send as many emails as you can, hoping for the best. Luckily most of the IT-companies in Bulgaria are new and they are flourishing. Therefore they are looking for a place to market themselves, like in such IT-events, which are very common in Sofia, but rare in the small cities in Bulgaria.” explained Babev.
Amidst the sponsors of the forum were both
new and established companies like Microsoft, Dreamix, ScaleFocus, JobTiger, Documaster, Infragistics, Programista, Centroida, Proxiad, VMware Bulgaria, Red Bull, Easy 3D, SiteGround, Dopamine, Olimex, Strypes, CoresNetworks, Jacobs, Rilana, and several media and industry partners.
HackBlagoevgrad benefited not only the participants, but also the partnering companies. The sponsors viewed the event as an overview of young talented people, able to become a valuable part in their companies.
“HackBlago is the first IT event that is so big and in the same time is happening in Blagoevgrad, so they were very eager to help. The organization itself is mostly a correspondence with the companies arranging the lectures and arranging which mentors will come for the hackathon, so in general it required a lot of emails, a lot of hard work and administration from AUBG,” clarified Babev.
To further arouse the interest, the organizers also held some games with prizes for the subscribers of the event’s Facebook page and for the attendants of the lectures. They also provided free food and drinks to the participants.
“I always have high expectations and the mindset is really important. I hope that people will have fun, that they will enjoy participating and that it will be very beneficial for learning, because the best way to learn is while doing something and having fun at the same time,” said Babev. “We hope to get good connections, meet nice people and enjoy the weekend,” he then added.
In terms of the challenges they faced, the organizers mainly stressed on the organization itself. “It was very tough, because we are a small team, organizing such a big event. The work is done by not more than 10 to 15 people. A lot of the companies did not want to invest in us, because we were a new initiative,” commented Babev.
Nevertheless the organizers hope that the IT-forum will be successful enough so that it could be done next year as well. This is one of the main reasons behind encouraging participants to share and popularize the event.
“As most events happening in AUBG, we targeted the students here, but since we are a small community, we tried to expand our scope as much as we can. So we were targeting high-school students from Blagoevgrad and Sofia, as well as some students from universities like Sofia University, Technical University. Initially we had around 80 registered participants and because it is free we expect some people to come at the last moment or some not to show up, but we put the limit to 100 people,” disclosed Babev.
Taking part in the lectures and competition was free for everyone, however, participating in the hackathon required registration.
The lectures held during the week were an important stage of the whole event, given that they offered practical knowledge and skills to the participants. Students could acquire first-hand experience from experts and incorporate some of the ideas and techniques into their own projects and future careers. Lectures featured Saas Integration, how to use Firebase in Android to develop mobile applications more efficiently, explaining Git, an overview of Project Management, Developer’s Guide to Azure IoT, an overview of Backend Architecture, and many others.
The hackathon officially began on Friday
, Nov. 18. Its beginning was marked by registrations, a speech, and team formations. In the evening the ABF Sports Hall was overflowing with hackers from all over Bulgaria.
“As my team and I won the StartUp Weekend, we found people who want to use our product, we decided that it would be a good idea to further develop the idea during the HackBlagoevgrad challange. I expected meeting with people, who are passionate in programming and improving my coding skills. The competition totally fulfilled my expectations.” said Plamen Duchev, a member of the team “Ater”.
The teams’ main task was to develop an innovative technical product, that could solve problems on a local or national scale.
“I signed up for HackBlagoevgrad, because I wanted to challenge myself. I’m passionate about programming and basically competing against other experienced programmers was an exciting challenge. I knew that the title “hack to the next level” would be to do one step forward in programming- basically to do a big project. I expected to be hard and challenging.” revealed Kristina Nikiforova, a team member of “Torba Banani”.
Each team was required to have between two and five people. They had the help of mentors and organizers who guided them throughout the event. Among the mentors were Aleksandar Kanchev, Antonio Iliev, Boyan Sheytanov, Georgi Goranov, Iliya Vatahov, Ivan Yonkov, Ivaylo Mitrev, Joseph Pilov, Kaloyan Kolev, Nikolina Shopova, Teodor Savov and Viktor Ivanov, each specializing in a different field. They
assisted the participants with their know-how in software developing, implementation of the right technologies and any other problems, occurring during the work process.
During the competition stage, the Sports Hall became the teams’ second home. They drafted their projects, argued, and almost surrendered to despair. Participants had to isolate themselves from any possible distractions, overcome the fear of failure, and get motivated from the competition. The teams kept working relentlessly, leaning on research, thorough planning, visual presentation, coding, developing, and demonstration. They had 48 hours to develop their software project.
When asked about the challenges they faced Nikiforova shared: “It was when I had to decide with my team, which programming language to use in developing the website that we were planning to create. At the end we chose to work with php, since I’ve already had a lot of experience with it. The end result was amazing, so we did the right choice.”
Gopal Chitaure, whose team “No Fear” created a real-life survival game, said, “Coming up with an idea and making a prototype of it was the most difficult, but also the best part of HackBlago.”
“For my team the most challenging thing was to allocate the tasks between us and to do all the work in this short time period,” revealed Duchev.
passed, the exhaustion hit the participants. However, their tenacity and dedication kept them on the right track.
“For the first time I had to develop an Android application and it turned out to be very beneficial as I learned a lot of new things,” shared Duchev.
The participants had the chance to improve their skills, meet new people, and learn more about the companies, where they can eventually do an internship or even work.
“I gained a lot of practical experience. Throughout the whole development process, I learned new functionalities. I’ve also done a lot of research, which was really useful. Most importantly, I gained more confidence in myself in what I do,” noted
On Sunday, Nov. 20, the teams presented their final ideas for technological projects to the jury, mentors, sponsors, and AUBG students at the Balkanski Academic Center Auditorium. The judging criteria was based on functionality (feasibility, difficulty, extendibility), originality (creativeness, innovation, viability ), and presentation (persuasiveness and demo). Each team had five minutes to present their ventures and answer questions from the jury and audience.
“The jury consists of people, working in the software industry for years and they are mostly coming from the companies, sponsoring us. Some of them are even AUBG graduates,” explained Babev.
The jury included Aleksandar Kanchev, Antonio Iliev, Boyan Sheytanov, Georgi Goranov, Ivan Yonkov, Stoyan Ivanov, and Teodor Savov.
Sixteen teams presented their projects – “CCCP”, “The Matrix”, “GLMR”, “Ater”, “Growing Up”, “Mechanics”, “101”, “CME”, “No Fear”, “Code Runners”, “Torba Banani”, “D3V Machines”, “Blade”, “Null”, “Less is More”, and “Team Simple Code”.
They incorporated their ideas into simulations, apps, sites, games, presentations. The projects varied from restaurant services improvement, recycling, parking, real-life challenges, medical help analyzer, improvement of the sleeping cycles, medical note checker, and many others.
“Our project was a mix of PokemonGo and card game mafia. Since PokemonGo was really popular, we tried to integrate the tech with our favorite game,” elaborated Chitaure.
his team’s project, “During this summer my team and I were dining in a restaurant and as we were unsatisfied from the waiters we decided to develop an application that serves as a menu and you can order instantaneously from it as long as you scan a QR code( on the table. The best thing about this application is that it closes the cycle between the client, the waiter, the kitchen and the bar and it automates the process.“
While the judges were deciding on the winners, some of the Hackathon sponsors – VM Ware, Proxiod, and Centroida presented their companies.
As the event concluded, the organizers distributed the prizes from their own games and thanked the supporting companies and participants for the involvement. Proxiad, VMWare, MM Solutions, and Astea Solutions gave special prizes to some of the teams.
The third place, with a 750 leva prize, went to “D3V Machines”, who developed an idea for efficient disposal of garbage. The second place, with a 1500 leva prize, went to team “Less is More”, who came up with the idea to use a Bloom filter to count votes,
in presidential elections for instance.
The team to win HackBlagoevgrad was “Torba Banani”. Their project was “a web-based game, that allows you to create avatars and do different challenges, that you should do in the real world. The idea behind it is that this game motivates you to dare more, to challenge yourself, try new things, and be brave. The idea was generated by one of our team members Hristo Staykov and was approved by all of us,” explained Nikiforova, a participant in the winning team.
Acording to participants and organizers, such events are beneficial for the personal and professional development of young people, who can bring success in the IT industry with their innovative ideas and ensure a qualified and motivated staff in the IT field.