From 30 to 31 August 2019 the MUT’s Department of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) held a 24-hour hackathon where students had to solve IT-related problem. A hackathon, also known as a hack day, hack fest or codefest, is a design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development attempt to solve a particular problem or problems. The goal of this event was to create a usable software or hardware which could be used to design a functioning product by the end of the event. Students were given workshops on artificial intelligence and natural language processing, which involves training computer systems to understand human language and respond where necessary.
Dr Bethel Mutanga, a Lecturer in the ICT department said the event was meant to empower the students. “The knowledge and experiences gained from this hackathon are crucial as these are aligned to the Fourth Industrial Revolution that is unfolding. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is driven by autonomous machines which rely on artificial intelligence (AI),” said Dr Mutanga.
Mfundo Ntombela, an IT expert from AppMade Company, taught students a new programming language and encouraged them to start developing systems to solve problems that require IT solutions. “There is no precise level of education to start coding. I encourage you to start your own IT businesses. I started my IT Company during my second year of study,” said Ntombela.
At the end of the workshop, students were divided into competing groups to develop a chatbot that could attend to queries made by users and respond to them with the correct information. The task involved developing a software robot that could attend to prospective students by answering questions related to admission and the application process. The first position went to a group of female students who called themselves TMC. The group walked away with prize money of R6000 and a trophy. The second position went to ‘New Era’ who won R4000 and a trophy. The third position went to Game Changers, who got R3000 and a trophy.
Pinky Manqele from the winning TMC group was also voted the best student and got an additional R1500. Manqele said: “The programme helped us to learn from IT experts how to develop chatbots.”