Hacking for a sustainable future


Hannah Maltkvist som studerar första året på programmet Software Engineering and Management vid Göteborgs universitet.

What is a hackathon? How can coding help create a more sustainable world? Hannah Maltkvist guides us through the experience of participating in Openhack 2018.

At a hackathon programmers, developers and designers come together to work in teams to build solutions to cases provided by the organizer. It’s an intensive event over usually two or three days.

“It was really fun and also exhausting cause you get almost no sleep. But it’s one of the most enjoyable things I ever had the pleasure participating in. I really love the environment, and I love the challenge that comes with trying to tackle these kinds of problems in such a short time.“ says Hannah Maltkvist who studies the first year of Software Engineering and Management programme at the University of Gothenburg.

She was one of thirty students from the Software Engineering and Management programme who participated in the two-day Openhack in Gothenburg in November.

”You’re presented with a problem and have 48 hours to come up with a really good idea how to solve that problem. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a software application. It’s practically impossible to build a fully functional application in two days, but you can certainly come up with an excellent idea, and how it could be implemented in the future.”

Coding for humanity

Openhack’s mission is to show people interested in programming how they can help to make a difference by coming up with solutions to humanitarian and social challenges.

”I have not thought about how there could be a humanitarian aspect to Software Engineering until we were presented with a lot of these cases. It’s what made me really interested in participating.”

Over 100 participants competed in trying to solve the cases provided by, among others, Unicef, the Swedish Public Employment Service, the Swedish Migration Agency and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC).

”The SSNC wanted a way to share items in a neighbourhood, to reduce consumption and help build community. That was the case our team focused on. We came up with an idea for an application where you could login with your BankID and view the items shared in your area. We focused on items you don’t use often but need every once in a while, like a power drill or lawn mower. You could also post items to be shared and either take a small fee, like maybe 50-200 SEK for a power drill, or donate the fee directly to the SSNC.”

The team then create a mock-up of what the application would look like and how it would work.

“If you’re thinking about the practical ways of solving the problem, programming absolutely helps. But the reality is like with any product, you need a lot of people from a lot of different disciplines. It can actually be beneficial to have people without any programming background.”

The price winning “bike jerk story”

The students from the Software Engineering and Management programme took home three out of the four prizes at the Openhack. Hannah’s team won the People’s Choice Award, which was decided by all participants voting for their favourite presentation. The winning recipe, a well-prepared presentation spiced with a somewhat unflattering personally story.

“In the beginning one of our group mates started out with a story about whenever he wanted to fix his bike. He didn’t have the tools to fix it so he had to go to a bike shop and ask if he could borrow the tools. It made him he felt like a real jerk, because he was taking their time and tools and not paying them. He told that story and then we went on with our presentation about the practical aspect of the solution. Like how the small fee would cover the overhead costs, and how the use of BankID would prevent fraud, and then I showcased the mock-up.”

Most of students participating had only studied software engineering a few months. The hackathon provides a way for them to practices and test the knowledge on real world cases. The university of Gothenburg have another hackathon planned in collaboration with Ericsson for 5-6 February.

“I really feel like it’s one of the best ways to improve your skills, not only in programming but also problem solving. It’s been wonderful and we’re really thankful to the university of Gothenburg for all the support. They also helped send us to the Openhack in Stockholm earlier this fall. We’re just really happy to have every opportunity to test our skills.”