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deCODE is co-directed by Rohan Kanjani (right), a student at the U of O. Photo: Amitesh Malhotra.

deCODE sees success through expansion, more competitive application process

From Oct. 14 to 15, the semi-annual deCODE: Hackathon will be returning to the University of Ottawa, this time with a few changes—namely, a smaller group of participants to boost competition.

deCODE, a group funded by the non-profit organization Enactus, pairs software and computer science engineering students with startup companies, creating opportunities for them to work first-hand on the problems that these companies are facing.

The group was founded by Andre Bouzout, a fourth-year marketing student at the U of O, who is now the co-director of the organization alongside Rohan Kanjani, a third-year U of O software engineering student.

Kanjani spoke to the Fulcrum about the hackathon, saying that due to the success of the deCODE event in Ottawa this past April, the team decided to expand out of Ottawa to target more students and companies.

“This is actually the first time we have expanded out of Ottawa. In April we only had it in Ottawa, with 5 companies … since then we just decided to launch it in Ottawa, and Montreal and Toronto as well,” said Kanjani.

Current sponsors for the October hackathon include Amazon, Klipfolio, you.i, and Coventure. deCODE also hopes to partner with Shopify for a hackathon taking place in Montreal.

According to Kanjani, participants in the hackathon are chosen by deCODE based on the requirements of the companies in attendance, to find the best fit for each company.

“The deCODE team anonymously looks through to find applicable candidates for the requirements the companies prescribed, to find potential matches to then forward that to the company.”

deCODE’s April 2016 event saw 300 applications, but only 50 students were chosen to participate, with each company being given 10 students to work with. For their upcoming hackathon at the U of O, deCODE will be downsizing even further to enhance the quality of the workshops. Only 35 students will be selected, with seven assigned to each company.

“Our platform is a good median to introduce the companies to the students,” said Kanjani, who notes that the sponsors also have a say in the applicant selection process.

As part of the event students are placed in a workshop, where they must solve a potential problem faced by the assigned company. This allows the company to learn about the students’ skillsets, as well as how well they work in a team.

“They can kind of see different skillsets of the students more than you can probably get out of in three interviews or four. It’s something you can’t get unless you throw them in a situation and you start a fire and you say put it out,” said Kanjani.

The hackathon also proves to be beneficial for students, who gain exposure to the participating companies.

“It’s a good way to get a step in the door and check the air,” Kanjani said. “We enjoy the fact that we can help students meet these companies and get that face-to-face contact.”

Participants in previous hackathons have also been hired by the companies, as Kanjani notes.

“We try to get as many students hired as possible, but companies can’t hire all seven students at the same time. So it’s super competitive in the sense where, honestly, if you’re a good student you’re going to shine regardless (of) what light you put in.”