You had me at hackathon: How one Titus employee builds his skills

See what one of our employees learned about big picture thinking and mindset at a recent hackathon session.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been curious about the impact technology has on people. And I’ve always wondered, “What’s next?” This curiosity and interest inspired me to pursue a degree in computer engineering at Western University. I realized something else during the course of my studies: I want to help others see what’s possible with technology. For example, I developed a computer science curriculum for kids aged 9-15. I taught HTML, Scratch, Python and we worked with Lego MINDSTORM Robots.

Learning at the drop of a hack

I’ve also been encouraged to step outside my comfort zone to push the boundaries of my own learning. So, I started attending hackathons. And let me tell you, I’ve gained so much experience from these events that have helped my studies and my time as a co-op student at Titus. I was asked to share my experience with hackathons here on the Titus blog, so I want to take this opportunity to pass along some key lessons I’ve learned.

Get a view of the big picture

When you’re working on an idea during a hackathon, you get a glimpse of the full product cycle. You pitch the idea knowing the importance and value it adds to solving a problem and how it’s going to be used. As developers, we need to see things through the eyes of actual users because that perspective helps us understand how our solutions work.

I honestly can’t describe the feeling of pride and the sense of accomplishment when you get to see the final product of your hack. You get to reflect on what you’re capable of learning and the boundaries you’ve surpassed.

Approach problems from new angles and learn new skills

I recently attended a hackathon in London, Ontario, which was hosted by Major League Hacking. The challenge my team wanted to solve was to provide better photodynamic light therapy for skin cancer patients. Currently, photodynamic light therapy uses one standardized wavelength. Our approach was to feed the machine learning algorithm information about each individual’s physiology so the wavelength delivered would be more effective for the treatment. I was initially worried about my lack of experience with databases. But I was quickly able to overcome that fear by collaborating with my team members.

That’s what it’s about – people working together on a solution that will help others.

The hackathon mindset at work

I joined Titus in September 2017. Since then, I’ve been working with the machine learning team to help our customers combine user-driven and automatic classification of their data. Machine learning is a hot topic in information security these days, so you can imagine my surprise when I learned about our own internal hackathon at Titus. The goal of my first hackathon at Titus was to come up with new ways to visualize the results that come from our policy engine. It was a lot of fun being an entrepreneur and seeing real business implications from the solutions you work on.

Hackathons are an important part of the high-performance culture we embrace at Titus. With new technology comes innovation and new possibilities. Seeing how hackathon ideas are integrated into our products allows us to understand the end-user experience and truly appreciate the value of our efforts.

Get out of your comfort zone

By definition, lifelong learning is, “the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge.” Growing as a person involves learning and stepping outside your comfort zone. A hackathon is designed to promote this kind of learning. We’re challenged to learn and implement skills within a short period of time. I strongly encourage everyone to attend a hackathon and stretch your boundaries to learn!

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Farhan Ahmed is a co-op student at Titus, specializing in machine learning. He’s responsible for delighting customers by making it easier to classify data.

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