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The fast-paced innovative world of hackathons

A hackathon is an event that brings together students and professionals from different skilled backgrounds for a project. It is focused on solving real-life problems and also gives students first-hand experience on what to expect in the workplace. Together, the program comes up with solutions for different problems faced by businesses and communities in a short timeframe. The duration of a hackathon is between 2 to 5 days.

Meet Zweli Coder

I took some time to chat with Zweli Mthethwa who works as a campaign developer at Striata. He started his journey of participating in hackathons because he believed he had a lot to offer and that he was ready to tackle any problem that was thrown his way. using his design thinking and coding skills, he is able to tackle many challenges faced by businesses and the community. He has participated in a number of hackathons, collaborated with different professionals, created amazing prototypes, and interacted with students from different colleges and universities around South Africa.

Zweli Mthethwa

He is motivated by adding value in other people’s lives that is why he dedicates his spare time to tutoring coding. Zweli also offers his services to the general public.

The world of hackathons

Zweli highlights his experience with two hackathons in particular – these involved Algorithms and Software Development. The algorithm hackathon takes place within a short period of time (between 1-4 hours) and is designed to measure your knowledge, speed, or the time taken to solve a problem. It is similar to the process some companies use to shortlist candidates for jobs. Algorithm hackathons are fast-paced and require you to think fast and apply your mind.

On the other hand, hackathons that involve software development take place between 2-3 days and allow the team enough time to ideate and come up with a solution to a problem, create a prototype, present and demonstrate how it works and what value it will add to the target audience. He has participated in over 10 hackathons and is inspired by making a difference and creating software that simplifies people’s lives, automates business processes, and makes an Impact. He prefers working on projects that add value or touch people’s lives because that keeps him going.

The cream of the crop

The hackathon that stood out for Zweli was the IBM Global Legal Hackathon which was held in Sandton because of the type of solution his team came up with. The challenge was to create a solution that would assist the Departments of Justice to examine children during custody battles. The process they were using was not effective because they were not getting the right insights. Children were shy or took longer to answer questions and this caused a delay for the court to make a decision.

He was part of a team called Law-abiding citizens which created a gamified unbiased assessment as their minimum viable product which ensured social worker’s success by providing accurate insights from children who were in custody battles. Based on the pictures the child selected while playing the game. The algorithm would determine which parent was abusive. His team came in 3rd place because they created a solution that was relevant and met the department’s needs.

IBM Global Legal Hackathon

The other hackathon that stood out for him was the MTN hack of the year. The challenge was based on service delivery. The main problem was logging a complaint to the local municipality about a service delivery issue and being able to track it. Zweli and his team came up with a solution that enables citizens to log queries or issues pertaining to service delivery. This solution would allow people to check, monitor and take action.

Team Names:
Back row: Left-right: Andy, Weston Nyirenda, Mpumelelo Kgaugelo Mpe, Zweli Mthehwa
Front row: left-right: Nolan, Mpho Khotleng

What Zweli loves most about coding is that it is a good exercise for the brain. He likens it to a genie that grants wishes because he imagines things and finds ways of bringing his ideas to life through coding. The advice he would give to anyone with an interest to begin a coding career is to find problems that they would like to solve because it will help them find a niche. Do not try to learn everything at once.

When you realise that you want to be a web developer rather, start with learning the front end, master HTML, CSS, and Javascript then you can go back to the back-end and pick a language and a framework that you wanna work on. Once you have mastered the back-end you can move on to databases like SQL. He started his career in coding by solving problems using algorithms and he moved on to web development because he wanted to learn how to create websites.

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