Eccentrade Hackathon: IT meets sustainability

If you are reading this blog, chances are you don’t live under a rock and are a relatively savvy internet user. Then maybe it’s safe to assume that you, just like me, have been feeling the necessity to learn some sort of “IT stuff” to adapt to the present and future digital economy. But I, for one have been long waiting for this urge of taking up a new learning challenge to reach its full power.

Well, the moment finally came for me…

…at a Hackathon last weekend in Den Haag, hosted by Eccentrade.

Despite some budding interest in IT, my coding skills are far from qualified for a hardcore hackathon. Luckily I was able to join this one as an “eco-expert”, along with “data nerds” and “developer dudes/divas”, among whom the difference between “can-do” and “cannot-do” became so stark to me during the two day event. Not knowing much coding or how the web is structured made me feel like an illiterate at a Shakespeare play. However to experience such an uncomfortable shock for the sake of motivation is probably why I joined the event in the first place…

The theme of the Hackathon was to create practical tools to facilitate the communication between industries who may want to trade their secondary materials, which you could say is quite “the core of industrial ecology”. As an “eco-expert”, knowing the problem perfectly but not knowing how to use the tools or even what tools are available to change the current condition has always been my struggle. And I imagine, it’s also the struggle of many other fellow “change-maker wannabes”. From my experiences in the sustainability academia/research field as well as the NGO circle, I couldn’t help but noticing that we always have the most stone-aged technology interface compared to the commercial tech/design companies. If the skilled IT gurus are all recruited to facilitate the more profitable activities, I guess we’d have to become IT gurus ourselves to realize our own world-changing ideas…

After two whole days and nights (I crashed on a couch next to an aquaponic system), despite the fact that we didn’t build a miracle app that solves all environmental problems, each team explored ICT in their own ways. And I felt quite empowered just by witnessing what a computer and internet connection can do. I saw first-handed how we can create tools to better present information, to make great connections between relevant users and databases, then share them with the whole world. Frankly I am impressed by how easy it is to have such wide influence. Not saying that becoming good at coding is a piece of cake, but that all it takes is the will to learn and the time to practice, instead of an angel investor or a high power job at a big corporate. I really cannot find excuses to not to at least try.

It is quite something for me to feel that we finally have the chance to go beyond criticizing the current system and fantasizing about how things are supposed to be. It’s not that impossible for you and me to create something like Uber and Airbnb to boost sharing economy. We can learn to build websites and apps that make it easy for people to find eco-friendly products, share their extra resource, do an easy LCA comparison or who knows what other great ideas you may have.

So I guess that was the motivational moment for me to really take up this new learning project. I will start with R myself and maybe write more about my progress on this learning journey soon.

My lovely teammates (who won us the second prize) at the Hackathon pointed me to some free online resources to start with, so I will also just share them here with you:

Get started with web design and etc

Introduction to R

Shiny (make visualization with R)

Try some coding

A few words of thanks to this event’s organizers and facilitators:

  • This is the first time Eccentrade hosted such an event and I have to say it really opened my eyes to the digital world and changed how I see my career trajectory. I heard the second hackathon is coming in a few month and I’d highly recommend people who have ideas to better the world to join.
  • A shout out to Dio’s, a catering startup based in den haag who provided great service for us during the whole weekend.
  • Thumbs up to the Iforsee lab hosts,  for providing such an amazing co-creating space for student startups to realize their ideas.
  • And last but not least, round of applauds for the “Center for Sustainability” for helping out!

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