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Hackathons have become the epitome of technologically inclined pastimes. They encompass learning across an array of competencies, instill healthy competition, motivate you to push your limits and transmit an innovative sense of purpose. A stigma rests around the ideal of needing strong skills in engineering and computer science to merely participate, let alone succeed in the competition. However, I can assure you that is not the case. UX/UI Designers are a vital asset to any team, no matter how many engineers you might have. I, who identifies as a UX/UI designer, specializing in Graphic design, came in 3rd place out of over 150 teams, including various from Ivey League institutions.  

My name is Victoria Vandenberg and I'm a second year Global Business and Digital Arts student (GBDA). Before starting GBDA, my strongest skills definitely fell within the realms of business. I have always defined myself as creative although I have never had the technological skills to create anything nicer than what you'd see in Windows Paint (era 2000).  Throughout my first year in the program I developed strong skills in the Adobe Creative Suite, along with the strong ideologies behind design processes that are vital as society converges to digital interfaces. 

This past weekend I went out on a limb and participated in my first Hackathon. It was a 36-hour competition called SpartaHack, hosted by Michigan State University through Major League Hacking. At first I wasn't completely sure of where I fit would fit into a team, although as the hours into the competition progressed I realized just how much of an asset my skills were to my team. We worked throughout an iterative ideation phase, in which we ideated, defined and refined. Then once it got to the technical phases, my teammates started to focus on backend development. At that point I went and participated in a front-end development workshop which allowed me to develop my front end programming skills (HTML, CSS and JavaScript).  

gestur logoThroughout the rest of the competition I learnt first hand how to work collaboratively and fluently with engineers to develop a well-rounded program. We created gestur, an interface that uses AI to automate Sign Language Interpretation. I developed a consistent, simplistic and cognitively intuitive user interface that fused seamlessly with the platform developed by my team members. I also created a name and brand identity for our company gestur along with independently made icons and graphics. 

Not only did I learn more about real world design application in 36 hours than I ever deemed possible, but I had an amazing time doing so. I became friends with some of the nicest and most intelligent individuals I have ever met, and I can assure you that I left feeling inspired, motivated and excited knowing that I in fact chose the right industry to devote my efforts to; all made possible by my studies within GBDA.  

From left to right: Kevin Yang, Victoria Vandenberg, Matthew Tse, MLH Coordinator and Simon Won.

gestur hackathon team

Victoria Vandenberg is a 2nd-year GBDA student at the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus. You can connect with her on LinkedIn at victoriavandenberg.

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