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Photograph by Henry Roberts

NYUAD Hosts its 8th Annual Hackathon for Social Good in the Arab World

Students walked away with real world experience and new skills as they worked to solve challenges present in the Arab World.

May 4, 2019

University life, no matter the field, is filled with philosophical discussions about how to overcome global challenges. However, there are limited instances in which university students actually have the chance to work towards solving these problems. At the 8th annual NYU Abu Dhabi Hackathon for Social Good in the Arab World, which took place from Friday, April 26 to Sunday, April 28, 11 teams of five to eight students designed, created and defended applications made to solve a prevalent problem in the Arab world. These projects included an app that creates a rewards system for picking up trash, a program for teachers in wartorn countries that would allow them to network and find teaching locations and an app meant to engage the elderly on social media.
Photograph by Henry Roberts
Compared to worldwide hackathons, which may host thousands of participants, the Hackathon for Social Good in the Arab World was relatively small, with only 130 in attendance. Still, accounting for the size of the NYUAD community, it was proportionally a big event. Aside from this, there were several other factors that differentiated it from a traditional hackathon.
“It encourages you to learn,” Said Nurpeiis Baimukan Class of 2021, who worked as a programmer for the second place team. “But at other hackathons it’s just apply what you learned in the past.”
Photograph by Henry Roberts
To build an environment for learning, industry professionals from companies such as IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, Tumblr and Google served as mentors, joining students from universities from all around the world. The entire first day of the event participants worked in pre-selected teams in a process of “ideation” or carefully analyzing and choosing which ideas and issues to tackle.
“The unique thing about this hackathon is that they don’t concentrate on technological solutions,” Baimukan said. “They first want to find a legitimate problem: something that is not being solved or is being solved in a very bad way.”
After ideation, participants were free to choose groups to work with for the second part of the process: product development. While some team members coded, others would be busy creating a presentation and justifying the group’s work. This was all in preparation for the final presentation, where each group presented and were judged for the work they had done.
Photograph by Henry Roberts
Despite the programming-centric nature of the hackathon, it was not only computer science students who participated. Sion Hau, Class of 2021, worked with the winning team, who designed a web application meant to combat food waste in the UAE by allowing grocery stores to publicize food that will soon expire. Hau is a biology major, and worked to design the team’s product pitch.
“If you are gonna work with only NYUAD students, most of us, I'm not saying all of us, but most of us have similar experiences, similar backgrounds, similar technology skills per say. We can work in one environment.” Baimukan said.
“But when other students come from a technological perspective, they also have other experiences.”
Photograph by Henry Roberts
For example, some students from outside the university brought skills in machine learning and back end web development in different areas than are not commonly taught here at NYUAD.
For many, the hackathon was a rare opportunity to not only get useful real world programming experience, but also to learn about critical issues in the region.
“No one came in knowing exactly what they were going to do,” said Hau.
“Being able to create something in such a short amount of time with people who are complete strangers, and having that experience together is just crazy.”
Kyle Adams is News Editor. Email him at
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