Overview… Innovative Learning Week 2015, Smart Data Hack and the Kenyan Tech Scene

What? Attempting to make a relevant website to communicate the Kenyan Tech Scene at the Innovative Learning Week Smart Data Hack

Where? Appleton Tower and the Informatics Forum, University of Edinburgh

When? 16th – 21st February 2015

Who? Myself, Tharald Sondheim, some other people…

What About It?

So Innovative Learning Week (ILW) is the University of Edinburgh’s reading week in which the university runs loads of events across campus to encourage you to try extracurricular activities to leanr something new in an interesting way – whether in your own discipline or in one you’ve always wanted to try. Smart Data Hack is a week long hackathon run primarily by the School of Informatics designed to get people involved in fun programming and computer science.

This year, Practical Action had sponsored one of the challenges – to design an application to communicate the current tech scene in Nairobi – and as someone with an interest in frugal innovation I thought it would be fun to work on. I didn’t approach it with any particular ideas in mind, and the team was formed by splitting in half the total number of people interested in taking the specific challenge. It attracted quite a lot of interest due to the unexpectedly large prize announced of a trip to Kenya for the winning team.

To go straight to the point, it didn’t go very successfully but it there were multiple factors contributing to this and some were lessons learned.

It wasn’t initially clear what the plan for our team was – the challenge set was very specific which made it difficult to think of something original, and it had little supporting data available and it was difficult to create fake mock-up data too. The glamour of the prize had attracted quite a few students who it became apparent were more interested in competing for it than the actual coding, taking things either too seriously or simply treating it more as a business/logistics competition and refusing to ‘waste time’ trying to learn to code if they hadn’t done it before, both attitudes being extremely unhelpful and making it somewhat unenjoyable.

I’ve got to admit that there were personal factors involved, I was exhausted and was definitely going for the easier options each time they were available. I had a doctors appointment that I was incredibly stressed about (I was diagnosed formally with Generalised Anxiety Disorder) and my degree was officially interrupted due to the personal circumstances I was going through.

Also I felt like I had set aside very little time to work on the hack, a side effect of  a week long hackathon that allows for procrastination. For example, I had already agreed to go for a barbeque in the Pentland Hills with the Edinsolar team (yes we did have a barbeque in Scotland at altitude in winter and it was great) on the Tuesday afternoon.

However, despite this we put together somethings with the ‘idea’ if it could be called such, evolving throughout the week until it developed into some sort of website using the Twitter API.

Unsurprisingly we didn’t win anything at the end of the week and I was a little frustrated and disappointed in myself for successfully having attended a week long hackathon and not made anything working. Still, as I said, mistakes made and lessons learned for next time.


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