One of the best things about Europe is how there are so many interesting tech conferences, hackathons and random events that offer so much (in both exposure and FREE FOOD).

No idea what kinda budget these guys have. I’m definitely not holding back.  

This week, I’m in Helsinki for Junction, one of Europe’s biggest hackathons. As part of the pre-hackathon events, I also joined a networking thing called Terminal where the organisers bring us to their partner companies to listen to the job opportunities they have to offer, witness the cool tech they are dabbling with these days and see how ideal their workplaces are (they have freaking saunas!).

I personally find some of the talks really good. Insightful and interesting stuff, but not the kind of thing worthy of delving too much in a blog post. What I really enjoyed was the company (the people, not company company) – all the participants were really smart, fun and interesting people, mostly students, working on their own side projects. Made a bunch of friends there whom I’ll definitely visit if I’m travelling to their countries!

As someone who is bad with names, the fact that I can remember more than half of them says a lot!

After all that messing around, networking and free food, it’s finally time for the hackathon. I teamed with Yustynn, who is doing his exchange at Aalto, and we made a pretty impressive prototype of a point of sale terminal that automatically charges to your account when you grab a product and go. Think of it as Amazon Go without the use of Computer Vision and Deep Learning, which has not proven to be reliable. Our prototype (which Yustynn cheekily names “Project Pickpocket” because of how it “takes your money sneakily”) uses simple sensors like ultrasonic sensor to sense how many of a product have been taken from a particular shelf, facial recognition to identify the customer and WiFi MAC address as a second factor for authentication. Again, won’t delve into the deets. It was really cool because it actually worked pretty well. Would have been cooler if we won though. (Damn we’re still salty about it)

If any junior is reading this and doing their GEXP in Europe, this is one of the few events you should go for! I’ve never been to a hackathon that gives this much free food (they have free Ben & Jerry’s too!) or has free outdoor saunas for participants to use. When I was in the sauna and commented “What kind of hackathon has free saunas for their participants?”, a Finn replied “Every hackathon in Helsinki.” These guys really know how to live!

The utility of using an outdoor sauna when it is -6°C outside does remain questionable.

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