Interview with Stephany Mazon
By Janne Lampilahti
A hackathon (hacking marathon) is usually a weekend-long event where the participants team up to create projects centered around a specific theme. The goal is to create working software or hardware by the end of the event and the best projects get awarded.
A hackathon event called Hack-the-Arctic was held online on March 12-14, 2021. The event had 130 participants from over 30 countries and 27 final projects were submitted. Dr. Stephany Mazon was a co-organizer of the event and I had the pleasure to ask her some questions.
Why do you want to hack the Arctic?
The Arctic is rapidly changing. Many people are living in the Arctic and various activities like shipping, mining and tourism are on the rise. Seven nations have territories in the Arctic, which brings an opportunity for people to work together.
How does one organize a hackathon?
Stephany posted on Instagram that she would like to do a hackathon. At this point it was just an idea. She was contacted by Magdalena Brus from ICOS (Integrated Carbon Observation System) who also wanted to organize a similar event, and that they would be interested in joining forces. Things started to move along. Junction, a Finnish company that organizes events like hackathons, was asked to take care of the technical aspects and setting up the online platform. In a positive surprise some days before the event the Arctic Data Center from the US and the Arctic Spatial Data Infrastructure, which operates in different Arctic nations, also wanted to join the event.
Stephany summarizes the key ingredients needed to organize the hackathon: (1) easy access to data, (2) somebody who is able to take care of the technical side, and (3) a list of challenges that can be tackled.
Did the participants need to prepare somehow for the event?
Anybody could join and at the hackathon there were beginners and experts. There was no need to prepare anything before the event.
Does a hackathon work online also?
Nowadays there are many great online platforms available. An online event allows people to participate from all over the world. These are people that may not otherwise be able to join. In a virtual setting the barrier to interact with others can be higher, which is a disadvantage compared to traditional hackathons where people gather and spend the time in one place.
Pizza and energy drinks are the hackathon staples. What is your favorite hackathon food and drink?
Stephany prefers coffee. During the hackathon people could send a picture of their work area and according to the pictures received coffee and chips were the favorites.
What were the winning projects? Did something surprise or impress you?
1st place: The winning project developed a platform for policy makers to manage fisheries.
2nd place: The second place went to a project that visualized some of the available data from the Arctic on a map.
3rd place: The third place went to a project that showed the location of oil rigs and could help manage oil spills.
Stephany also mentions that of the participants 46% were male and 35% female (the rest did not want to say). According to the people from Junction, this level of balance is quite rare in hackathons.
Do the participants keep working on their ideas after the event?
The winners continue to develop their idea and plan to apply for funding.
What would you like to hack next?
The hackathon showed that anyone can create a useful service or application out of the data. Stephany believes that it is important to find ways to make the existing data easily accessible and interesting to various users. The main target to hack would be to address a more balanced representation of data and science from all parts of the world. It is still too western-centric.