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Students expose gym dodgers

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It is still possible to stroll into a gym, do no exercise at all and stroll out, while gaining “points” for exercising from your health insurer’s wellness programme – however, a bunch of students may just have busted this option.
Recently five young men demonstrated how exercise machines can “tell” a gym goer’s mobile phone just how much exercise really happened in-between gym entry and exit. The mobile phone then “tells” the wellness programme’s computers what is really going on.
The occasion was the Discovery Gradhack Hackathon, where Team “Red Hot Techie Peppers”, all third-year software engineering students from the University of Johannesburg, walked away the overall winners. They demonstrated a working fully-integrated industry-level project centred on a cloud database with a back-end API within the cut-off time.
“We think the tech we used was a big reason why we won. We could show everyone how swiping an Android phone on a machine’s NFC tag fed the exercise stats into our live website feed. They could see a live dashboard of exercise stats on the mobile Android app as well as the browser front-end,” says Michael Brooke, co-leader of the student team.
“It was intimidating walking into the GradHack,” admits Michael Brooke, co-team lead for Red Hot Techie Peppers. “A lot of the other teams had their Honours [degrees] already and we didn’t know what technologies they had up their sleeve.”
The five had walked into the challenge self-taught on mobile development and the languages they used, since their UJ course emphasizes the principles of software engineering and design techniques, says Frans Blauw, lecturer at the UJ Academy for Computer Science and Software Engineering.
“Using these principles and techniques for desktop development, they can then go out, learn any language and build a system. The software world changes so quickly, we can’t teach them everything. They learn to go and find out instead.”
Competing in a hackathon is a good proxy for working in industry, says Blauw.
“You need to be able to adapt to your environment. Let’s face it, when you go work for a new company or on a new system, you have to adapt to their processes. And you need to be able to work under pressure in a team and not get too grumpy towards each other: a hackathon is about being thrown in the deep end.”