Events · The PhD voice

My experience at Pixels Camp

Image credits to Pixels Camp

Hi all! Oh, my PhD and event related posts have been coming a bit later than usual in the week. Next week this will change hopefully. I will tell you all about multiple things I’ve been doing later, but I really want to tell you about this event where I embraced my geek side and had a huge impact on me. If you’re on Instagram I posted some photos and stories and I tweeted some of the main punchlines for as long as the tight schedule allowed. Let’s go?

Pixels Camp was an event that happened in LX Factory (I love this place, please visit it when in Lisbon), Lisbon, from October 6th to 8th. The event was organized by Bright Pixel and Beta-i and had a considerable number of sponsors (that you Cigala for all the Banzai Noodles! =P). This event had its first edition now, being a reboot from a previous event that shall remain nameless (but starts with Code and ends with Bits =p). This event consists on a lot of talks and workshops, competitons and challenges, fun events and, most of all I would say, a 48h hackathon. For those of you outside the programming field, let’s know what is a hackathon:

Hackathon (noun): a 1-to-3 day gathering of sleepless developers, fueled by Red Bull and junk food, challenging each other’s code crafting skills to their limits in a true coding marathon.

This looks a lot like the programming projects I used to do during my degree. As you might know, I’m a Biomedical Engineering MSc and the course load in my epoch featured plenty of programming projects, most of them in Matlab. I remember some late nights trying to finish projects and all I know is that I get really messy as the hours go by and can’t do anything proper after 4AM. I never drank Red Bull for this though, mind your heart folks! So what motivated me to get into this Camp and also to participate in the hackathon (this was not required, plenty of Pixels Camp attendees did not enter the hackathon, while it was strongly advised to)? Let’s see if expectations met reality.

Expectation 1. I wanted to learn better what the tech world was up to

If I had to name this year, like the Chinese Zodiac would, that would be the year of the snake. That is actually my Chinese Zodiac sign too, but I don’t care much for astrology. Why snake? This year I am programming a lot in Python (see the snake analogy?) and I had attented multiple workshops to learn other languages. HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Ruby were the ones I got some headstart on through free workshops here in Lisbon. Why? Because even though I love biomedical applications and science, the tech world is something that has captivated me a lot too. Through my blog I also hope to learn web design and development when I advance this to a self-hosted domain (soon to come!). The Pixels Camp program featured tons of talks on multiple programming languages and frameworks I never heard, like Elixir, Lua, React, Redux, and many others. It also featured talks about cyber security, image processing, gaming, women in tech and teaching programming to kids, among other things. Before I went to Pixels Camp, I marked in my agenda 13 talks to watch! Expectation met?

Reality 1. You wanted all the talks? Haha! Better luck next time! 

Reality is, the hackathon truly takes A LOT of time. Lots of things can go wrong, like GitHub commits that go missing through bad merges. Ok, not to get too technical here, but everything is late. You have to describe the project, shoot a video, edit the aforementioned video, meet all together to decide things, prepare a pitch and, most of all, show something working for the live demo. So I watched live only 2 talks apart from the introductory talks I show here. I don’t regret it, since I can watch most of them now on Youtube and I really needed to be there to code. Let’s watch the talks I did live?

Of course, the opening remarks by Celso Martinho, the Pixels Camp main head:

Then, some remarks about the tech scene in Portugal by Cláudia Azevedo, CEO of Sonae IM:

The talk by José Castro about Magic and Programming is not yet available, but I was there =D Insighful similarities between magic and programming in two things: method and presentation.

On the first day there was almost no time to watch anything, but I was on a mission commissioned by someone to watch a talk about games and my choice was the talk by David Rousset, titled “Building a cross-platform tower defense game using WebGL and Babylon.js”. It was great to see all the possibilities it entails for multiple platforms, even with the possibility of playing with virtual reality! Also it is important to remind us of all the computational power required to make a game and the collaborations with visual artists. The talk is not available in video yet.

On day 2 only 1 talk live! This was my Banzai Noodles break and it was great listening to Marco Amado talk about how and why should we teach children how to code. The talk is still not available on video but you can check out the slides here. If you want to read his post in Portuguese about Pixels Camp, go here.

On the 3rd and final day, yeah, still on the hackathon, no talks watched. Maybe next time if I don’t enter any project I might be able to watch a lot of talks.

Expectation 2. I wanted to collaborate with someone on my project…or any other!

My main goal to participate in the hackathon was to do something related with my PhD project, that is, a simulation of a stem cell factory. However, will anyone want to get into this topic? If don’t, will some other team want this non-formally trained Pythonista to join?

Reality 2. Biotech appeals to some!

Well, before the event we got the chance to meet people on the Slack channel. I talked about my idea and two people wanted to join. One of the guys didn’t have much time but in the event we found two other team members. We had me, the simulation developer and biotech/bioengineering person, a back-end developer, a web designer and a front-end developer. Pretty rad, no? Our project was called StemFactory and we made some sort of a demo/game on a web server of the factory setup and costs of production. I was really amazed with all we managed to put together in only 48h, thank you! It messed with my sleeping patterns, I found out myself waking up naturally at 2/3 AM to code and check new work by a colleague to only go to back to bed after testing all the things. But it was really worth it, you know who you are. However, in the final pitch of 1:30 minutes, the idea didn’t come across (something that taught me how to sell an idea to different audiences) and it was not very well received in the public votes, but that’s ok! A real learning experience. The final pitch is still not available on video but I’ll update the post when it is so you can see the winning projects! Lots of creativity going on =)

Expectation 3. Enroll into fun activities!

Apart from the talks, plenty of fun challenges happened. Hell in a bun (to eat spicy “bifanas”), sumo fights, arcade games, quiz night (I would love to be a part of this but too techy so I didn’t register), movie night, but my eyes were set on two: the Board Games challenge, to play Pandemic Contagion (the evil version of Pandemic, at home I have the cool and “let’s save the world” version) and the Presentation Karaoke, where you had to present slides you never saw before. Both of them ocurred at the same time, hell yeah!

Reality 3. Seems I won something…

The board game thing didn’t go so well, my brain was really fried after so much programming to understand the rules. I didn’t make it to the final round. However I loved the game! But at the same time I was being called on stage to go to the karaoke and my competitors were getting mad :p My first set of slides was about cloud computing (something I don’t know much about and really had to improvise) and for the final round I had some kind of a rap battle with another contestant about Pokemon Go (something I don’t play, but that I know more about =D). Some slides were, let’s say, tricky, but I tried my best and it was good to improve confidence during presentations. In the end I won the Presentation Karaoke and received an Amazon gift card! 🙂

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The winner! Photo by Carlos Carreiras

I want to say the Pixels Camp was this and much more. I met incredibly talented people and embraced my geek side. I have longed to find where my Mega Game II is and play Sonic the Hedgehog since. I will talk about my geek side as a girl in a post next week. I can’t wait to further develop the ideas we worked on after some deadlines of my work allow it. I might not be able to join next year but I totally recommend it. A huge thank you to the organization, volunteers and all the sponsors and I hope to have more time in another edition to explore everything the event has to offer (and also arrive early enough to the lunch and dinner queue so that I don’t have to eat more Banzai Noodles. In the end I got addicted, I’m still experiencing noodle withdrawal symptoms haha!).

Were you at Pixels Camp? Or did you already join a hackathon? Tell me about your experience!

Cátia

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Image credits of Pixels Camp

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