Ever heard of a hackathon? Sounds scary, right? Don’t worry, it’s not that type of hacking.

Hackathons provide a venue for self-expression and creativity through technology. People with technical backgrounds come together over a set period of time, they can work on their own or form teams to work around a problem or idea, and collaboratively code a unique solution from scratch  – these generally take shape in the form of websites, mobile apps, and robots.

One such hackathon took place here in Jersey last month.  uHack is the brainchild of 18 year old Benedict Lewis who now has his own startup company, it’s Jersey’s only youth hackathon, organised by students, for students.  This was the second event, with a third currently being organised for early 2017, if you’d like to find out when it’ll be then check out the uhack.uk website for details.

Benedict explained “We’ve had 140+ people take part across both events, with representation from every secondary school on the island.  Each year, a judging panel of industry experts vote on the projects. This year included Deputy Rod Bryans and previously we’ve had Aaron Chatterley (feelunique.com) amongst others.”

uHack took place at the Digital Hub.  It started at 4pm and competitors worked through the night until 11.30am, the submission deadline.  They then had to make their final presentations in front of their peers and the judging panel.  The event finished at 1pm, when we imagine everyone retired to their beds to recover from the lack of sleep.

The winner of this year’s uHack was 11 year old Beaulieu student Greta Chapman. She only just started coding this year, thanks to the recent change in Jersey and the UK that has seen the reintroduction of computer science as a compulsory element of the curriculum.

She explained “I found the task quite difficult at times, I was hitting hurdles along the way the way that took a long time to solve, particularly in the early hours of the morning.” Her idea was simple, as many of the good ones are. She programmed a BBC MicroBit device to display a very simple version of the classic PacMan game. For those of you that don’t know, us included, the BBC MicroBit is a small, portable device which was given to millions of UK and Jersey schools if they applied for them last year. It is a deceptively simple device that gives anyone the ability to start coding with very little background in coding.

Greta said “I found working through the night the most difficult part of the project”. She decided to work on her own because she had never completed a project like this before and didn’t know her own limitations. She ran into many obstacles along the way but the feeling she got from overcoming them was worth the frustration before it. Preparing a presentation in front of various experts she had never seen before as well as the crowd of fellow students from around the island, all older than her, was extremely daunting, let’s not forget she is only 11 years old!

Greta got through the presentation and felt a huge sense of relief when it was all over but had enjoyed it. She said “all the other ideas were great and I was utterly shocked when my name was revealed as the overall winner, I just didn’t believe I was going to win, it was just fun and wasn’t expecting anything”. Her mum attended the presentations and was overcome with emotion and awe at her daughter’s accomplishment.

Her teacher at Beaulieu said that there were many worthy winners and it came down to who could present their idea and convey their message most effectively in the end, “I think Greta has shown that no matter your age or gender IT is within the reach of everyone that has an interest, she has learnt a great deal from the experience and it’s something we mark in the diary as a must do event each year now”.

Following closely behind Greta was the two man team of Jacob Laity and Harry Baldwin, two 12 year old Victoria College students. They worked on an ambitious project to create a very useful Jersey Parking App.

From the outset the boys knew that they wanted to involve an Apple Watch component, so that drivers would not have to look at their phone and break the law, wise boys! To start with they just wanted to get the App working and it proved as difficult as the expected. They know that a good number of Jersey car parks register how many spaces there are at any time and this data is freely available online. They accessed the live data from a phone to display the free spaces, simple but challenging. Like Greta the frustrating lows were eclipsed by the joy of solving errors and the many challenges they faced. They wrote the App using Apple’s own Xcode, a challenging task for anyone never mind two Year 8 students, all that saw the project were impressed at the audaciousness.

Despite many last minute issues that threatened to cripple the project they came through and in less than 24hrs programmed, tested and succeeded in their goal. They have decided to continue with the project and recently added the Apple Watch App to the project with much pride felt when the Watch said Minden was full and their sign concurred.

I think there are a great many of us who hope that this useful App will see the light of day, with the determination already shown by these two it’s more than likely that it will.

With our minds already blown by what these bright young things had achieved we wanted to know if you can teach an old dog new tricks and Benedict assures us that “You’re definitely never too old to learn to code. Programming is very much a self-taught subject, which simply requires dedication and practice. There are countless resources online to guide you from building your first program (known as your ‘Hello World’) to launching your first commercial program.”

For more information visit www.Uhack.uk