Finally another hackathon! A new challenge for the adventurous coder and great opportunity to boost one’s skills while meeting a bunch of friendly people who all share our passion for the life sciences and computational biology!
Oxford Nanopore Technologies proudly supports the VIB-BI Joint Hackathon, organised by the VIB-UAntwerp Center for Molecular Neurology (Antwerp, Belgium) and the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, UK. As a joint event, the hackathon took part simultaneously in both locations (Sept. 11th–13th, 2023), gathering an international crowd of bioinformatics specialists and computer scientists from all over Belgium and the UK.
The hackathon allowed participants to bring their own projects so that other scientists could help add new features or optimise performance. It also represented an excellent opportunity to escape the daily routine and finally spend some quality coding time on developing that new tool one might have been thinking about (or simply to dabble with a fancy new programming language to see what all the buzz is about). Such a chance we could of course not let slip by and sent several members of our team to Cambridge as well as Antwerp.
The breadth and diversity of topics at the hackathon were truly inspiring. Let us briefly mention just a few examples of the projects undertaken: one implemented a Nextflow workflow to perform the merging of SVs within- and across-samples while another used current deep learning methods to trace influencer–influencee interactions across art history and a third attempted to overcome performance limitations in a popular package used for handling genomic ranges. Only the sky was the limit of the participants’ ambitions.
So what does a hackathon look like? You might have the stereotypical idea of a room of nerds, sitting in front of their computers and quietly typing away, and, well, sometimes it is like that, but there is also a great deal of laughter, chatting, friendly competition (in coding challenges and quizzes), sharing ideas, forging collaborations, and simply an amazing amount of enthusiasm for the common goal of advancing science and creating tools to probe difficult biological questions.
We also very much enjoyed that this was an in person event. Aristotle is supposed to have said ‘Man is by nature a social animal’ and, when it comes to discussing novel ideas or arguing over the best approaches to tackle a problem, nothing beats sitting next to each other; either during the day or in the evenings with a drink in hand. Inspiration usually strikes in the most unexpected moments and having a pleasant dinner with collaborators is as delightful an opportunity to brainstorm and network as is sitting in the computer room programming!
This was a very pleasant experience all-round and we would like to use these lines to encourage everyone to, when next time you hear about such an event, leave any reservations aside and join the fun!
Andrea Talenti, Julian Libiseller-Egger, Natalia Garcia, Neil Horner, Sarah Griffiths