Two Upper Canada College Year 12 students, who’ve been taking computer science courses at the school since Year 9, have extended what they’ve learned beyond the classroom to hackathons.
Hackathons can best be described as “invention marathons” where people with an interest in technology gather to learn, build and share their creations over the course of a weekend.
Kais Jessa and Ansh Kuckreja have become young veterans of such events, working on a variety of projects. They most recently competed in Hack the North
— one of the continent’s largest hackathons, with 1,000 students of varying education levels from around the world eligible to take part — at the University of Waterloo
from Sept. 14 to 16.
“I think the future of society lies in technology, and living in Toronto has exposed me to so many new and innovative technologies that I want to become a part of,” says Kuckreja. “This is what inspired me to start attending hackathons in the first place.”
UCC design chair and computer science teacher Paul Miskew has helped students discover their passion for programming, and many boys are also members of the College’s Computer Science Club.
“The computer science courses at UCC are also very project-oriented, so I was able to directly apply my coding skills to video games, interactive websites and even Minecraft, which really allowed me to visualize the power of code and all the applications that come with it,” says Kuckreja.
Jessa and Kuckreja both have a growing interest in machine learning, and Jessa says he wanted to apply what he’s learned about it to a fun and interesting project. After creating a simple browser game at Hack the North last year, he figured that his more recently acquired skills would enable him to work on a more ambitious project this year.
For Hack the North, the two students created PhotoPoet
— a website that takes a user's image as an input and writes a poem about it.
“Although we were able to finish the bare bones aspects of PhotoPoet during Hack the North's allotted 36 hours, we didn't have enough time to train the model, which resulted in imperfections in the poems, mostly related to spelling and phrase repetition,” says Jessa. “However, the model was able to pick up on both structure and punctuation, which are reflected in the model's poetry.”
Though Jessa and Kuckreja didn’t win any prizes at Hack the North, they’re proud of what they accomplished. They plan to continue to work on, and improve, PhotoPoet.
The two boys also plan to continue competing in hackathons.
“The hackathon culture is really amazing in that it allows you to share your ideas and projects with hundreds of like-minded people,” says Kuckreja.