Connect with us

Interviews

DO Interviews 1: Mustapha Hamdi

Data Overflow

Published

on

[simplicity-save-for-later]
« Data OverFlow Interviews » is a new rubric where we talk about a famous hackathon with one of the organizers, and some other topics related to hackathons. Our first interview was with Mr. Mustapha Hamdi, associate professor at INSAT, a researcher in the field of IoT ( Internet of Things), artificial intelligence, and Edge computing, and the founder of Innovchallenge. In this interview, we’ll be talking about AI Hack Tunisia 2019, a hackathon that took place in Rades Omnisport Hall and had a huge success.

 

Q:
Welcome, Mr. Mustapha Hamdi. We thank you for accepting the invitation.

A:
It is my pleasure.

Q:
Would you please start by introducing yourself to the ones who don’t know who Mustapha Hamdi is?

A:
I am a research fellow at INSAT (National Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology). I teach IoT (Internet of Things) and Artificial Intelligence. I’m adopting an innovative concept, co-training, which consists of integrating industrialists into the training, via projects.

Q:
You were organizer and coordinator in multiple events and hackathons, among which we cite the AI Hack, which took place in Rades. So, what is AI Hack?

A:
AI Hack is an international event. There are organizers like  Zindi among others, each edition taking place in a different African country. The objective is to find solutions to a problem that an enterprise (private or public) proposes using data science and artificial intelligence. The participants aren’t exclusively students. They can be young entrepreneurs, young engineers, etc. Evidently, the enterprises must provide the required data so the participants can use them. At the end of the hackathon, the participants, who come from different countries like Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, present their solutions. And of course, there are the coaches and the jury. I am a coach and a jury. They come from the academic world, as well as enterprises like Google and IBM… Especially Google, actually, helped a lot and brought their seniors from the Middle East, North America, and Europe.

Q:
As you know, many events and hackathons in this domain took place in Tunisia. So what makes this AI Hack special?

A:
First, there is the scale of the event, an international event. It’s not limited only to Tunisia. The participants come from all over the world. The coaches and the jury too. And second, there is the strong participation of public and private enterprises.

Q:
As for every event, are there any obstacles that you faced in the organization or the competitions, or with the participants?

A:
Well, there aren’t any particular ones. Maybe the only real problem that can present in such an event is, actually, the large quantity of data that should always be available. But in the event in itself, we didn’t face any real problems.

Q:
As we know it, despite the limited number of places, there was an important rate of participation. On what basis is the selection process carried out?

A:
In fact, during the workshops and the competitions, there are many sessions where winners are selected to continue their projects. As a result, the number of participants is continuously reduced until, in the end, we get the desired number.

Q:
As a jury in the hackathon, what are the criteria of evaluation of the projects presented? What parameters are taken into account?

A:
As you said, I participated as a coach and also as a jury. Concerning the evaluation of the projects, there is a list of criteria that should be considered: feasibility, innovation, etc. The feasibility of the solution and the data quality are important because when we talk about data science and artificial intelligence we talk about the quality of data. Innovation, teamwork, collaboration, etc, are also other important parameters to reach the finals. That’s what makes the difference between the projects evaluated.

Q:
As for the winners of the hackathons, is there monitoring and incubation for their work and project?

A:
Actually, the object of hackathons is to find solutions for enterprises, therefore they are supposed to continue working with the candidates to implement these solutions.

Q:
As a hackathon organizer and a professor in INSAT, an institute of engineering, do you think participating in hackathons improves the career of engineers and strengthens their resume?

A:
Apart from the AI Hack, we hosted the InnovChallenge at INSAT. The idea was to make a student work on projects and subjects that are not included in his academic curriculum. The challenges were real ones that the companies face. So when they graduate, they won’t find a barrier, that is new fields that they don’t know. On the contrary, as they are engineering students, they have an idea of the industrial and entrepreneurial world and they are working on actual problematics. As a result, there is a gain of experience for the student; what kind of challenges they may find and tools they may need. There is also technical gain, and a boost in soft skills as well.

Q:
How would you describe the current state of the artificial intelligence and data science field in Tunisia?

A:
We speak a lot about artificial intelligence in Tunisia in events and media. Many companies and startups started investing in the field. They also sell products based on AI. On the other hand, Governmental institutions are not using AI a lot, but they are working on this concept and there is a will to use AI in all sectors such as transportation, agriculture, health care, medicine, etc. Actually, there are already some projects in slow progress. I dare say there are two paces at which AI is progressing in Tunisia. The private sector is taking the upper hand, while the public one is still behind. We can already find products from private companies in the market. But in the public sector, we find proofs of concept that require the initiative from the government to start working on them. So I think in a few years, we can find finished services and products powered by the state.

Q:
What do you say to those who assume that Tunisia is still far from using data science and artificial intelligence to solve current issues?

A:
That’s not true. In fact, the need is there. And then there are proposed solutions, notably, with the Ministry of Health. Engineers are working on such projects. I think that they will be released in their finished state soon, and that will be the best answer for doubters.

Q:
Will there be any changes in organizing hackathons in the time of Covid?

A:
I think that the biggest change is the migration to virtual hackathons. That will show new challenges because this type of hackathons needs more work, better organization, and innovation.

Q:
Are there any upcoming projects?

A:
Well, there is another hackathon called ActInSpace. INSAT will take part in the project. It will be held on November,13th. The first three local teams will be awarded in the finals, in Sfax. The winning team will be qualified for the international competition in Toulouse. And then if they win they will be part of a crew in a space ship.

Q:
As you have heard, many people, companies, organizations, are organizing hackathons, what advice would you want to share with them as a hackathon organizer?

A:
Actually, the tip is to focus on concrete needs, to optimize hackathons. In other words, don’t work on an amateur idea without guaranteeing its finality. To rephrase it, don’t arrange an event, put all your efforts and money into it, waste students’ time just to give awards and nothing more. That’s not profitable. What’s profitable and lucrative is to have the real problems, which are given by public institutions or private companies, to work on them, then comes the next step, continuity, in the form of projects adopted by those structures (public institutions or private companies) or a startup made by the student. So, you should always keep in mind that you have to enhance hackathons and challenges. The finality is not taking a few photos but making your projects and startups. In other words, the output of a university or an institute is not simply the diplomas students get. The main goal is to make projects. To illustrate, INSAT would annually provide 300 projects, 10% of which become startups. The rest of the students become very good executives in companies and excellent engineers. INSAT should not provide 300 diplomas that are just ink on papers, we should provide projects. How so? It’s through these hackathons and challenges. We should encourage them; a student should have a project idea from the third grade and work on it step by step. It’s not the institute that should give him a project to work on. No. He should be creative, find his needs, and work on his own idea. By the end of the two final years of his studies, his project will be for sure incubated.

Q:
Just before finishing, if you have a quote, a motto that inspires and motivates you, would you like to share it with us?

A:
If you ever had a dream, even though you think that it’s crazy and can’t happen, you should believe in yourself, work on your idea, try hard and it will definitely see the light.

This interview was held on November, 11th.

Share your thoughts

Continue Reading

Interviews

Do Interviews 4: Hamza Abdelhedi

Data Overflow

Published

on

[simplicity-save-for-later]

By

Our fourth interview was with Hamza Abdelhedi, an engineering student at Sup’Com and a former IEEE Sup’Com SB Chairman. In this interview, we’ll be talking about the Smart Green Tunisia Makeathon. 

Q:
Tell us about yourself and your associative background.

A:
I am Hamza Abdelhedi, a senior engineering student at Sup’Com. I specialize in smart image applications. Regarding my associative background, I’ve been an IEEE member since September 2018, as well as an IEEE brand ambassador as of April of the same year. I was the IEEE Sup’Com SB Chairman from  June 2019 to May 2020, and recently, I was an IEEE entrepreneur ambassador, from June 2020 to November 2020. This experience had a great impact on me, both on personal and professional aspects. I organized many events during these years with IEEE. The time I spent as the IEEE Sup’Com SB chairman was very special for me. We won two international awards even though almost half of the term was during the lockdown. We managed to organize many events both on national and international scales. One of our most successful events is the Smart Green Tunisia Makeathon.

 

Q:
What is the difference between a Makeathon and a normal hackathon?

A:
Well, a Makeathon is not the usual hackathon. For example, in a hackathon, all participants solve the same problem. The organizers only set one problem to be solved by all the participants and mainly this problem is related to software engineering. In a Makeathon, the organizing committee proposes different subjects. The teams are free to choose one to work on. Also, participants are expected to develop a combined solution based on both hardware and software. The final product has to be presented at the end of the Makeathon, and it has to have a social impact.

 

Q:
Tell us about Smart Green Tunisia.

A:
Smart Green Tunisia is a Tunisian version of Smart Green Island, an event organized every year by ITQ GmbH, a German company in the Canary Islands, Spain. We worked with this company to prepare the first edition of this event in Tunisia.

It was a collaboration between many IEEE SB’s, sponsors, and start-ups. The event took place simultaneously with Afric’Up that included 3000 participants.

So, from the first day, we presented the concept and ideas to the groups and each one of them chose the project that they will work on. We gave them the necessary equipment; the hardware they will need for their projects. The participants worked for 24 hours for 4 days to finish their work. Finally, each group had to pitch his project in front of the jury. Then, there was a showroom where investors and startup owners were present. So the participants presented their work in front of those investors and company owners as well.

 

Q:
Did you get many participants in the Smart Green Makeathon? And how was it successful compared to other usual kinds of hackathons?  

A:
Actually, we had a small problem related to the equipment. In fact, each group of participants asked for many tools for their projects. That’s why we weren’t able to accept a big number of participants. It was our first edition in Tunisia, and we had doubts about its success. Fortunately, it was a successful event and made a big impact.

That’s why, despite the big rate of participation, we decided to make a selection of 80 participants for the first edition of the event. Around 500 participants were indeed present in Smart Green Island in Spain. But they had already organized 5 or 6 editions but for us, it was the first one. So we decided to start step by step.

 

Q:
It’s normal these days to find startup owners and investors taking interest in hackathons and sponsoring such events, but how did you manage to get the government involved in Smart Green Tunisia 2019? 

A:
We made a partnership with Afric’Up which is a Tunisian congress that had more than 3000 participants and thanks to Afric’Up we were capable of reaching the government. They were impressed by the idea, and they encouraged us to continue on this track.

 

Q:
Are there some required qualifications to enhance the chance of winning a hackathon?

A:
Well, my advice to the people who are afraid of participating in hackathons is to get out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves into doing something new, choose a good and compatible team that can handle problems together and have different backgrounds (AI, embedded system, developing…) and most important time management and task management.

 

Q:
As for the winners of the Makeathon, was there any monitoring and incubation for their work and project?

A:
Our participants had the opportunity to present their work in front of many CTOs and many startups’ founders. As a result, some of them had the chance to find end-of-study projects and others were part of the Smart Green Makeathon that took place in Spain.

 

Q:
As we know our planet is suffering nowadays, do you believe that using AI is a solution for climatic and environmental problems?

A:
It’s not really a solution but a tool for environmental problems. I saw many ideas and projects that use AI to find solutions for many environmental issues such as climate change. So it depends on the person who uses AI to find good and innovative ideas that save or help our environment. Therefore, we can say that it depends on the way we use AI not AI itself.

 

Q:
How did you get the idea of organizing a hackathon that includes both IoT and AI?

A:
We organized the hackathon “IoT meets AI” just before the March 2020 lockdown. We had a brainstorming with some professors who told us that the combination of IoT and AI is very important. One of the professors suggested that the subject of the hackathon should be IoT and AI since these topics are becoming popular among the students. So, we decided to choose IoT and AI as the main topic of the hackathon to develop project ideas for the students to work on. Then, we started preparing the hackathon.

 

Q:
How did you get the sea turtle dataset for the Hack4Earth hackathon? How did you extract the problems related to this dataset? Did the solution get implemented in real life?

A:
As you know IEEE’s objective is to promote technology to improve the quality of life. So the hackathon events organized worldwide usually have impacts on society. There was a research lab in Belgium that contacted us to propose to use the dataset of the sea turtles. The lab would like to predict when each sea turtle comes ashore. So, it can be saved. We found the idea very interesting and challenging. The winning solution continued working with the lab to finalize the project. The project is developed as a non-profit activity. Its objective is to save the environment.

 

Q:
What is the difference between the organization of the first and last hackathon, what problems did you encounter, and how did you manage to overcome them?

A:
Well, we learned a lot.  I will speak on a personal level and say that I have learned lots of things:

I now know how to motivate the team with which I work, how to manage time. Given that there are many teams like the sponsorship, media, and logistics I had to distribute time and tasks. I also had to know how to give the perfect task to the perfect person. You have to choose according to the skills of a person to grant them the task in which they will excel and also ensure their motivation so that they do their best.

Regarding the differences between the first and the last hackathon I have gained confidence;  you gain experience and confidence in yourself and the team that accompanies you because, with time, you get closer to your teammates, you get to learn the strengths of each person and so the process becomes smoother and even the results will be better.

 

Q:
As an engineering student, what is the importance of participating in hackathons?

A:
For my part, I organized three, and I attended another. I have participated in more than four hackathons. So the sum is around eight or nine.

Truth be told, I learned a lot. I gained soft skills and knowledge on how to behave with people, how to manage a team, how to manage my stress and these things are much needed even for future projects.

When you work on a new project, you have to know how to distribute the tasks, how you manage your stress, and how you respect the deadlines.

You will indeed develop your technical skills, but even your network is very important because it can help you afterward to get an internship. Of course, you will have a lot of friendships, wherever I go I have a lot of friends, and we meet, and we converse.

Another thing during an interview, there will be a part where the HR will interview you. In this part, you have to talk about your own experience either with clubs or your participation in similar events: you will explain that you participated, and you were second or third in the ranking. Even if you did not get a good ranking you can just mention that you participated and gained experience, and it is, therefore, a plus in your CV compared to a person that only cares about their studies but have no interest in academic development.

 

Q: A quote that motivates you.

A:
« The engineer has been, and is, a maker of history »

— James Kip Finch

Share your thoughts

Continue Reading

Made with ❤ at INSAT - Copyrights © 2019, Insat Press