Lessons learnt: First Hackathon

  • Be prepared. In my case the material was sent out a week beforehand. Use the time to setup your machine(s) and code base so you can start directly.
  • Do research on the topic. I’ve not looked into state of the art algorithms for the problem beforehand. This cost me a lot of time in the Hackathon, to understand the algorithm we used.
  • Have compute resources ready. I could have used 2 further machines, but forgot to setup ssh, Teamviewer or any other remote control on them.
  • Do whatever you know best. Some of my team members had far more experience on the topic than me. I’ve tried to follow there example, which wasn’t successful. I think I would have been more successful using more basic approaches (which I have enough knowledge about) than trying to follow the “state of the art” approach. At the end I’ve tried to support them as best as I could (mostly doing evaluations).
  • Push for more organization. We quickly came to the conclusion that only 1 or 2 approaches (transfer learning on common models) would be feasible in the short time of a hackathon. This led to us being rather unorganized. Everybody tried to get the models running as fast as possible and tweaking them the rest of the time. I think we could have produced more insight on the topic with regular “stand ups”.

Loss of Attribution

The digitalisation of the world and the Internet changed the rules in many, if not all, fields. One major change I just realised is the loss of attribution. I often made these errors when in contact with opinions that I didn’t share. When it came to my personal views and groups I feel associated to, I felt mistreated or misunderstood if people made general claims about such group.

Before the internet it was relatively easy to attribute an action or statement to an organisation, such as a political party or a state. Actions were attributable because evidence was impossible, or at least very hard, to forge (without leaving a trace). Statements made by an individual could be traced back as opinion were exchanged by direct contact.

This changed in the digital world. Data can be manipulated without leaving traces and left traces are hard to find and could also be created on purpose.

For this reason actions in the internet, such as hacking an organisation, can’t be attributed to someone only based on the traces left in the process. Hard, physical proof is needed to do such an attribution.

Hacks are generally attributed to the Russian government at the moment. This attribution explains (some) features of found malware and traces. However a skilled hacker could have avoided such traces or planted them on purpose.

Statements made by an individual are often labeled as being left, right or liberal believes, but are just the interpretations and thoughts of a single person. Even if this person associates itself with a specific group doesn’t make his statements general believes of such group. The association of an individual with a group got more fluid in the internet. One only has to claim being associated to be seen as voice of such group.

This error, where association is confused with attribution, can often be seen in today’s debates. For example, feminists are viewed as crazy women who want to see men suffer because a few individuals with extreme viewpoints identify themselves as feminists. The political right is often set on one level with Nazis because, again, few individuals who call themselves “right” spread hatred against foreigners. The political left is confused with people that despise all authority or want to recreate the communism of the cold war.

In conclusion, our old techniques of attribution don’t work any longer in the digital world. Actions can’t be attributed and statements made by individuals only show their views, not general views of a group. This makes policital and social debates more complex, as organisations (movements/parties) can’t be described by pointing on individual events or statements. Other techniques are required to pinpoint the general believes of a group.