This year's summer holidays will probably be much different than anticipated for most people. For many, it is still unclear if they can travel abroad or even in their own country. Despite continued easing, corona restrictions are still in place. The participants of the first WHU AI Summer Hackathon have shown how this time can be used productively. Bachelor students Sandro Bednorz and Timo Debono even prevailed as a team winning the first challenge of this kind at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management with their creative approach.
Gaining additional qualification
The WHU AI Summer Hackathon is a joint project of Professors Dries Faems, Stefan Spinler, and Christian Schlereth and is unique at the business school to date. In three different challenges, students from all programs can compete with each other in groups of up to four people. "I think the challenge suited us very well because it wasn't just an arbitrary application of algorithms. We had to put ourselves in Siemens' shoes and develop a structured approach for problem solving," says Sandro Bednorz, explaining the successful concept. After all, fictional Challenge no. 1 required participants to use code to figure out an ecosystem of startups that could help Siemens implement its AI health strategy. This was not an easy task as it had to be completed in just one week. Nevertheless, surprisingly, more than 90 students took part in its first run on June 15. "Not only did it give us the opportunity to familiarize with a previously unknown subject, it also put our Python knowledge [code, editor's note] to the test and further improved it," says Timo. "Coding and IT skills are rarely taught during our studies, which is why the Hackathons are the perfect occasion to deal with these topics more intensively". Sandro adds, "With this, WHU has launched a pilot project which may well make a very important contribution to preparing students for their further studies, academic work and professional life".
No prior coding experience is required
"Before the AI Hackathon, I honestly never used Python," admits Sandro Bednorz. "Yet, I would say that prior programming knowledge is by no means a prerequisite for successful participation in the Hackathon." That this holds true is shown by the top ranking of his team, even though partner Timo had previously attended online courses in programming. In general, all participants had the same starting conditions: There was an introductory video by the professor, and the participants were provided with the tasks, a tutorial, and further data via a moodle page. Q&A sessions in between helped in case of a problem. Sandro and Timo are happy to have participated in the first challenge. For them, the prize money of 200 Euros was much less important than the acquirement of new skills. "We can get high-quality insights into a very interesting field from three different professors, try out techniques, and ask questions. All this happens in an environment where you do not get graded as usual. Comparable courses on the internet are very expensive. I think it's great that WHU offers something like this free of charge for its students," Sandro sums up.
Will you take on the next challenges? Definitely!
Two more challenges will follow. They will as well be very demanding but also rewarding. For Sandro and Timo it is clear that they will be back in for the next rounds. "Although this was our first challenge as a team, we are also taking part in the other two," says Timo Debono. "The tasks have a great appeal because they require a structured and organized approach and have to be implemented in really short time".