We want to introduce you Mira, Christina and Miroslav. Mira is a third year student in AUBG and the President of The Hub. Christina is also a third year student in the American University in Blagoevgrad and Vice President. Miroslav is in his first year in the University and also part of the club. They are enthusiastic young people that stand behind the organization of the well known HackAUBG hackathon. So, about the challenges and the format of the event, we learn more from them.
So how did you become organizers of HackAUBG, which is just around the corner?
Mira Radoslavova: Let me just backtrack a little. Basically, the hackathon is being around for 5 or 6 years and it started as Hack Blagoevgrad, which was organized by the precursor of The Hub, who was again a student in AUBG. But we became organizers when we joined The Hub since this is a yearly event, organized by our club.
Miroslav Yordanov: Basically the organization of the event is a team effort and almost all of the Hub’s members participate in organizing it. We have different teams which are tasked with the different aspects of the event. We have a development department which is tasked with creating the environment, logistics department which organizes the event itself and coordinates all of the teams and we have the marketing team which is responsible for promoting the event and spreading the word in general. We have about 40 club members so all of us are doing something for HackAUBG.
Can you tell us what we can expect from the event, coming later in February?
Christina Borisova: As we already mentioned, the hackathon is our biggest event and we spend about 6 months in preparation to make sure that we prepare the best competition for the students. We invite students and young professionals to take part in the competition and it lasts for 3 days and this year the dates are 26th to 28th of February. We invite all the participants to come and join us in this adventure and create software and solutions for the future. We also have a topic that is not revealed until the date of the competition beginning and we have quite a big interest.
And how can you attend the event? You said earlier that it’s not necessary to be a programmer.
Mira: To attend the hackathon you have to put together a team of 3 to 6 people. Of course, the core of the challenge of the hackathon is creating some type of software solution, so some part of your team must have a technical, engineering background. But it’s not necessary for everyone to have it. In the end, the project is to create some type of product that will be on the market. That’s why you also need designers, business-oriented people, and some marketing-oriented people. For them at the end of the weekend, after they’ve been developing for 48 hours or a little bit more, they have this presentation (on Sunday afternoon), when the jury decides which prototype of the product has been developed and has been developed to the best extend and which has the best concept.
You mentioned the jury, so who is going to judge on the event?
Mira: The jury so far has not been announced completely but they are for now AUBG professors and hopefully we’ll have some more from the Computer Science panel in our university. Also, we have one AUBG alumna and her name is Ekaterina Marinova, and another alumnus who is also the founder of the club. His name is Christo Georgiev.
Is organizing online easier or harder? You said that this is the second online edition, so what are the differences between the organization of the physical attendance and online?
Christina: So this is the 5th edition of the hackathon and we are very used to organizing it on the ground and experience the whole magic of the hackathon. But now since we had to change things to online, it’s definitely been a challenge for us and for the whole team to prepare and create this different format for the competitors. We are really trying our best to bring the best experience for our participants because it’s harder when it’s online, but we are very happy with how our preparation is going and we hope to provide our participants with a great and memorable experience.
What platforms are you using for the event?
Mira: We’re going to be using Zoom for the video calls, which will be the opening ceremony, the presentations, and the awards and also part of smaller calls between the participants and the organizers, and perhaps even the mentors. But we’ll also be live-streaming everything on Facebook.
There are not a lot of hackathons with money price, and HackAUBG has one. Is this more motivating for the contestants and also who are the sponsors?
Mira: Sponsors are usually Bulgarian tech companies that have an interest in offering internships or some type of junior positions to the participants of the hackathon. This is why we attract so many active sponsors to the hackathon because they are looking to hire some of the contestants. For example some of them this year are Infragistics, Mareli Systems, VMware and etc. We have many and all of them you can find on our website.
What are the other challenges in front of the contestants?
Mira: I guess the major challenge is just to develop a working product.
Miroslav: I think the hardest part is working in a team and managing the team because each of you will have different tasks in order for the product to succeed and to be the best that it can be.
I’m asking this because there’s a rumor, or maybe it’s a fact, that a lot of teams attending hackathons don’t possess the business knowledge, which is very important and can be a step back in a matter of market development at some later point.
Christina: Being a programmer doesn’t certainly mean that you can win a hackathon on your own, you need to have a team of people with different background knowledge so to be able to develop the project the best way possible.
Are there any successful startups that came from earlier editions of HackAUBG, because as we know, some of the brightest ideas in the IT industry are coming exactly from hackathons?
Mira: Well, we haven’t done background checks on every single participant, but as far as we know, we are still looking for that special team that is going to take their projects to the next level and be courageous enough to develop that into a full product.
A lot of great ideas have been abandoned after the end of a hackathon and not developed further, which is kind of sad. So as organizers do you offer any additional support to some of the teams after the event?
Mira: As far as we can support them after the event is to leave them with the companies that our sponsors. The Hub is part of the American University, so we are not like an organization that can support some team to its full journey, let’s say. But if someone reach out to us we will definitely try to link them with professionals that can eventually help them with their product.
Christina: We’re very happy to have partnering organizations that help us provide everything needed to our participants to further develop their project and as an example, we’re very happy that UNICEF Bulgaria supported our event last year and organized a fundraising training for the winning teams at the end of the hackathon. This was to help them think more perspective about how to develop their business idea and project itself.
And how do the teams form?
Mira: So there’s one of two options. They can know each other from the hackathon and decide to register as a team – they go to the same university for example or they’ve been together on a previous hackathon. But if they decide to register as a single participant or two people or three, and they are looking for other team members, then we will assist them in finding more team members for the group. If they are looking for a developer, then we can try to scour for them. It’s the same if they’re looking for a designer or a marketing person. We’re happy to help. But as always – it’s not an exact science so it’s not easy. But the bigger part of the teams already knows each other.