Manasa saw her arrival in Belgium as the perfect opportunity to sharpen her knowledge of AI, machine and deep learning and registered for our AI bootcamp. Three months later, she has already gained a lot of knowledge about the field and started looking for a new challenge. She decided to sign up for her very first hackathon, and not just any hackathon. Together with her teammate, she decided to investigate possible solutions to bring the Belgian police force closer to the citizens.

Curious about her BeCode journey and how she experienced her first hackathon? Read all about it in the interview below.

What were you doing before joining BeCode?
“I was looking for a job as I moved to Belgium two years ago. Back in India, I was working as an assistant professor at an engineering college. I have ten years of experience in teaching Java, web technologies and software engineering.”

Why did you want to follow BeCode’s AI training?
“Back in my Masters’, I was working on a project that was focusing on image processing and computer vision. Because of this project, I was really eager to continue working with cutting-edge technologies like AI and machine learning to serve societal problems. When I was searching for interesting training programs, I stumbled upon BeCode and I decided to register. Currently, I’m also doing a PhD in deep learning, so I thought following the BeCode training would be an opportunity to not only boost my PhD but also to sharpen my knowledge of AI to serve the industry.” 

How far along are you in the training? 
“It’s been three months since the start of the training.” 

What have you learned so far? 
“BeCode is a very hands-on experience. I first get some theory and then have to develop programs and applications. For example, I have worked with pandas and have also focused on data cleaning. I’ve learned everything that is expected from a data scientist and I’m now focusing on machine learning.”

“Currently, I am working on a project that is using real-life data from the real estate market. I have built a model that predicts the price of the houses on the Belgian market. Now, I have to integrate my model into a web application to make it available for the user. Therefore, I am closely working together with the Brussels web development students to create an interface  using programming languages as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.”

“Apart from the technical knowledge, BeCode also trains me to work in a team, which is essential in the IT industry. Every two weeks our coaches provide us with a group project. These projects really help me to work collaboratively by sharing the knowledge and distributing the tasks, according to the pipeline, to complete the project efficiently and effectively.” 

What will you learn in the upcoming months? 
“I’ll first focus on classification techniques, followed by deep learning techniques. At the end of the training, I’ll have learned the necessary technical and soft skills to kick off my new career.”

Last week you participated in the Police hackathon, was this the first hackathon that you’ve taken part in? 
“Yes, it’s the first Belgian hackathon that I’ve taken part.”

How did it go? 
“It was a wonderful experience. It was really nice to get a chance to participate in this hackathon and to be able to communicate with the Belgian police forces. They were very willing to provide us with input and advice regarding the application that we were developing.”

“During this hackathon, I’ve learned more than just building an application. It also gave me a chance to meet diverse people from varied backgrounds. It helps us to develop a network and to improve ourselves by gaining insights from different people. There are many other things to consider when building a prototype. We also need to think about how to present what we’ve created and how to convince people of the added value of our solution.” 

There were several challenges proposed as part of the hackathon. On which challenge did you focus? 
“I focused on smart interaction. The other challenges were smart operation, smart investigation, smart selection, and training. An important task of the police is to make sure that all citizens, including women, are feeling safe and protected. When walking alone on the streets or when traveling, it’s important for women to feel safe. That’s why we decided to develop an AI bot that will provide them with solutions when being in a dangerous or unsafe situation. Via deep learning techniques, the bot will connect to the location API and will provide them with information about safe locations or the departure times of public transport. If there is no safe place to go or if there is no public transportation, the woman will be able to alert the police. The objective of this proposal is to decrease the number of unsafe situations and incidents.”

“The jury really liked our idea and gave us constructive feedback and advice. They have advised us to develop a wearable device to easily detect the location of the woman. As such, a device needs to be charged on a regular basis. We will be thereby developing a system that is using body heat as fuel.”

“We’ve developed a prototype of the AI bot and have shown what happens when entering search queries. For example, when

you type a keyword “help”, you’ll receive a response with “Hello, how may I help you?”. We didn’t have to provide them with a finished application, only a prototype and an overview of the next steps of the development process.” 

Did you win a prize? 
“Unfortunately not. They told us that our application is more useful to the demographic studies than the police force unless women would only be reporting very serious incidents. The solutions that won a price were focusing on virtual and augmented reality, Drones and pop-up 3D scanning.”

Can you describe your team skill-wise?
“My teammate was from outside of BeCode and is a domain expert. Therefore she had a lot of knowledge about the problem that we were trying to tackle and the importance of solving this issue. For example, she provided me with information on the different situations that women might face. I was focusing more on the technical implementation.”

How did you divide the work?
“She was focusing on the wearable device and I was focusing on the AI bot. The idea is to intertwine these two.”

What skills that you’ve learned at BeCode were useful during the hackathon?
“Natural language processing was very useful. Two days before the start of the hackathon, I started to explore this domain and asked my coach for more information about it. And in the end, this allowed me to show people what a chatbot can do.”

“Also, as part of the BeCode training I am sharpening my presentation skills through the daily watches. Thanks to these watches, I was able to sharpen my communication skills and I learned how to create a proper PowerPoint presentation. The hackathon presentation was slightly different as we received some guidelines in advance. We had to focus on the problem, solution, added value, and business model. We prepared a pitch-deck, in video format, to give a short summary of our solution, business plan and startup vision.”

Are there skills that you’ve acquired during this hackathon that might help you in your future career?
“I was introduced to drone functionality, augmented reality, and 3D scanning by the other teams. During the BeCode training, I am focusing more on data science, machine learning, and deep learning, but mostly from an analytical point of view. I hope that we will also focus on these items during the training to improve myself as these concepts are new to me and I find them really interesting.”

Are there any plans to further develop the idea that you have enrolled as part of this hackathon?
“I really want to continue to develop our solution, because even I, as a woman, feel unsafe when being alone in a deserted public space. I hope to enhance my prototype with the topics that will be covered during the rest of the BeCode training, such as deep learning techniques. I’ll also need to focus more on the intertwining of the bot and the wearable device. This could really help a woman or teen to handle an unexpected situation with smart assistance. ”

As part of the BeCode training, you’ll have to do an internship. Do you already have an internship place in mind?
“Thanks to my training at BeCode, I got to know Accenture. Accenture is really focusing on lots of projects in AI and machine learning. I’m really impressed with their initiatives and I would love to contribute with my skills to make their dreams come true.”

What are your plans for after the training?
“After BeCode, I would love to work on the road safety management system as I’m really concerned about road accidents. I would like a future with enhanced security to avoid life-threatening situations. I really wish to utilize AI techniques to make our society smarter and to avoid such circumstances.”

Is there anything you would like to add?
“Thanks to this hackathon, I’ve learned so many new things. I’ve really improved my presentational skills. There are many other aspects that I have to focus on, apart from the problem and the proposed solution, when giving a presentation. I also have to consider the business model, in other words, how my solution could be useful and what the added value of my solution can be for different parties.”

“I really want to thank BeCode for encouraging me to take part in this hackathon. Without the technical knowledge gained through BeCode, it would have been impossible for me to contribute to this hackathon. BeCode has given me the confidence to discover new things and to learn how to use them independently.”

That’s a nice note to end this interview with, thank you so much!

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