Programming marathonFrom an idea to a prototype in 40 hours
When the young, creative programming community meets at hackathons, they quickly generate practical ideas.
At a hackathon, Marica Bertarini easily bashes out hundreds of lines of code on her keyboard for 40 hours. When programming mobile apps and while belly dancing, the ETH student gets a real rush.
I was almost overprepared for my second hackathon, last year’s HackZurich, yet still somewhat naive. I had a promising idea in my head, a brilliant team at my side and even my provisions were perfect for surviving the 40-hour programming marathon: a backpack with clothes to change into, toiletries, a towel and a sleeping bag. In the end, the clean clothing remained unused and I only had time for an hour’s nap on a couch and the occasional quick sponge down. But even there, I was the exception – I almost always had the washrooms to myself. And a hall full of 350 hardcore hackers doesn’t exactly smell sweet after many hours of focussed, continuous programming. Oh, and speaking of clichés: energy drinks, cola, coffee, fast food and greasy snacks really are the main source of nutrition. Not exactly ideal when you need a fast pick-me-up. On the other hand, your body is flooded with so much adrenaline which produces an unbelievable energy surge that allows you to focus on a single thing to the exclusion of all else.
So all in all, these exceptional two days are quite tolerable. Especially as, at such a hackathon, the main thing is to have fun, although networking and gaining experience are also important, and, ultimately, making contact with investors or interesting employers, like Google or Microsoft, who also always have their feelers out for new talent.
“At hackathons, the main thing is to have fun, but establishing contact with investors or interesting employers like Google is also important.”
However, if I’m being honest, I also had another reason for attending this hackathon: for ages, I had had an idea in my head for a Web app that would revolutionise the way we make appointments with hairdressers, dentists or other service providers. However, with my studies and my job, I simply didn’t have the time to implement this app.
At HackZurich, in a team of three we finally managed to develop an executable prototype. Our project was even voted into the top 25, meaning we were able to pitch it to the jury. In the end, we didn’t win a prize. The idea was new and pretty cool, but not particularly ambitious from a technical point of view.
1/5 The bubbly developer, Marica Bertarini, likes to have her fingers in a number of pies: at the time when she was in the final run-up to her Master’s degree, she was also running the business for her own appointments reservation app, commuting between Bologna and Zurich and also consciously pursuing her hobbies.
2/5 With her style, panache and tremendous vitality the 24-year-old from Bologna’s favourite pastime is developing stylish mobile apps that make everyday life easier for its users or just provide entertainment.
4/5 Everything needs to be balanced: the talented programmer deliberately choses her hobbies in areas that do not include bits and bytes – one of the ways in which she keeps herself fit is belly dancing.
While I do find complex mathematical models, intelligent algorithms and statistics fascinating, mobile apps are my passion. I need fast results and I get a real rush when I can create something that makes people’s everyday lives better or at least adds something fancy. I love programming front-ends, where aesthetics also plays a role. That’s probably the Italian in me – I’m originally from Bologna – manifesting a penchant for style.
After HackZurich, I was able to secure a place at the start-up campus of the Commission for Technology and Innovation, where I developed business plans and explored the market potential of my idea. Currently, I am looking for suitable partners on both the business and the developer side to drive the app forward. At the same time, I am about to complete my Master’s in computer science at the ETH Zurich. I do try to maintain a certain amount of balance by consciously choosing hobbies that take me away from the keyboard and screen. For example, I am totally wild about belly dancing and salsa.
I am excited to see where life takes me after my studies – after all, as a programmer, there are virtually no limits. I saw this when I accompanied my boyfriend to Shanghai for six months during a break in my studies. Of course, I had nothing to do, so I asked the next best development company that I thought looked cool for a job. I was basically able to start the next day.
One thing is certain: I will be at HackZurich again this year. But this time, without my own project – I don’t want to get too bogged down. Maybe I’ll spontaneously join a team, or maybe I’ll just enjoy the fascinating, delirious atmosphere of the event.