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Software student hacking his way to the top

14 November 2017
Multiple hackathon victories under engineering student’s belt

Indian immigrant and software engineering student Karthik Balasubramanian has made his mark on Sydney’s hackathon scene after winning three high-profile competitions in less than a year.

Karthik Balasubramanian at the GovHack Awards. Image courtesy: GovHack.

Karthik Balasubramanian at the GovHack Awards. Image courtesy: GovHack.

Hailing from Bangalore (Bengaluru) in southern India, Karthik studied computer science at Michigan State University in the United States and worked for three years as a software engineer, before deciding to relocate to Sydney to continue his studies.

Since commencing his Master of Professional Engineering (Software) degree at the University of Sydney in Semester 2 2016, Karthik has sought out opportunities to compete in local hackathons.

“Hackathons are events where people from different fields – from programmers to data analysts to tech enthusiasts – come together to build a prototype over a short period of time,” Karthik explains.

“Typically, you’ll have between 24 and 48 hours to solve a challenge, either individually or in small groups.”

This year alone, Karthik came out on top at a hackathon hosted by global crowdsourcing marketplace website Freelancer.com and also took out first place in UNI VR HACK, the first ever university virtual reality hackathon in Australia.

Most recently, Karthik led a team to victory during Australia's largest open government and open data hackathon, GovHack.

The team – comprising students from the University of Sydney and Australian Catholic University and professional software engineers – won the national ‘Plausible Futures’ award, which called for entries to create plausible futures for Australia in 2030.

Over 48 hours, the team looked specifically at the future of workers in Australia, analysing open data from Australian Bureau of Statistics and various government agencies to measure the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on various occupations and industries.

“A lot of the time people think that automation is only going to impact certain kinds of jobs or markets, but our analysis showed there is automation in every market and everyone needs to be prepared. Computerisation will impact not just low skill manufacturing jobs but also high-skill jobs such as accounting, legal and even technical jobs,” Karthik said.

As well as crunching the data, the team developed an easy-to-use interactive website to display their findings.

“Our goal was to provide adequate early warning about the potential job losses due to automation that the entire labour force will face. We were targeting three main groups – individuals who are making decisions about their future employment, government departments and NGOs who need to prepare for the future, and education and training institutions which need to be ready to re-train people to work in different fields,” Karthik said.

With just six months left of his degree, Karthik’s focus now is on finishing his studies – but he’s not ruling out more hackathons in the future.

“I would encourage anyone interested in hackathons to just take the leap and get involved. Even if you don’t win, it’s a really fun experience and good opportunity to network,” he said.

Jennifer Peterson-Ward

Media and PR Adviser (Engineering and IT)