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Young coders test data-driven app ideas at #BIDataHack

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A 36-hour ‘datathon’ saw 20 teams of software developers from across South Africa building data-driven solutions in Pretoria this weekend.

ITWeb’s first Business Intelligence Datathon was held in conjunction with youth ICT forum Geekulcha in a build-up to this week’s Business Intelligence Summit.

ITWeb Business Intelligence Summit 2020
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Hosted by Unisa’s Muckleneuk campus, the hackathon challenged young coders to develop data-centred solutions as they learn from industry leaders and build their data literacy and analytics skills.

Geekulcha COO Tiyani Nghonyama opened the event. “This is an open hackathon because we want you to learn to fish for data, to clean it. Do you know about data integrity and making your data compliant? We want you to learn to scrape data and be able to find patterns in it,” he said.

ITWeb’s CEO, Ivan Regasek, one of the datathon’s mentors, said: “The country’s gearing up for 4IR and we need young people like you to work on the dream we have for it. It won’t be an easy path, but it’s your chance to put local tech on the world stage.”

Regasek also highlighted the importance of organised data in building intelligent applications. “It’s important to keep your data organised, to gather that structured intelligence because 4IR is enabling us to solve new problems,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of Unisa’s computing faculty, senior lecturer Sam Mtsweni said the university partnered with the datathon to further its commitment to creating social entrepreneurs and to encourage responsible computing that addresses the country’s social ills.

Pierre Schoonraad, head of research and development at the Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI), told the room: “Public sector problems are complex, and there isn’t one app that will solve those problems. Tech is just a small part of that complexity. So bear in mind that if your solution doesn’t consider the way people interact with the technology, it won’t takeoff.

“Hone your skills here, so that when you’re working in the industry, you can change the way things are done.”

Meet the geeks

Geekulcha refers to its youth network as ‘geeks’.

Second-year Pretorian geeks Freislich van der Westhuizen and Daniël van Stryp formed the ‘Data Maniacs’ team. They attend Belgium Campus, an ‘ITversity’, and this was the first hackathon they entered, to gain more coding experience.

Van Stryp said the current voting system at universities is inefficient, so they want to digitise campus elections. The application will capture the information entered by students, including their vote, and output real-time voting statistics. They used a random name generator to simulate student names.

The teams were given access to datasets from opendataza.gitbook.io, datahub.io, and data.vulekamali.gov.za.

A geek who only identifies himself as Lindelani loves the idea of hackathons. He thinks they’re a good way to find future collaborators. “What we’re doing with AI and VR is really cool and I just want to find myself as close as possible to the centre of all that,” he said.

Team AgriCode stationed themselves at the IOT ‘makers table’, another Geekulcha term. The four-memberteam, which includes two sisters, plans on developing an AI application for small-scale rural farmers. It was inspired by their father, who works as an agricultural teacher, specialising in sustainable farming. The app’s freemium and subscription models would give farmers data on their region’s rainfall patterns, soil texture and humidity, among other data. Premium subscribers would be able to see information from beyond their village and province.

“We’re digitising what the teachers do to make it easier for them. Where they might only reach two farmers a day now, we can help them reach 200 a day,” said the team.

The top three solutions from the weekend’s datathon will be invited to the ITWeb Business Intelligence Summit, where the winner will be announced.

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