Caffeine, adrenaline and ambition fueled the three-day annual Softcom at the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute in Topi, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The event took off on November 16, Friday and ran until November 18, Sunday afternoon, hosting students from several universities across Pakistan.
Cushioned in the mountains of Tarbela and Gadoon-Amazai, near the town of Topi, the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute is one of the top engineering universities of Pakistan. Students from NUST, UET, FAST, University of Gujrat, University of Peshawar, Superior, and many more were part of the challenge.
The event takes place each year, but the 13th Softcom event had added categories in the line-up of competitions and exhibitions. Along with speed programming, poster design competitions and interactive quizzes, this Softcom included a web app development competition, a hackathon, and a concentrated focus on technology start-ups.
At the Tech Talk, founders of top technological companies in Pakistan spoke to students about what it takes to start a company. The founder and CTO of Pring, a mobile-based social network, Muhammad Nasrullah, and Adnan Butt, CEO of Mvergence and Walnut Media, both GIKI alumni, guided students on what abilities employers looked for when recruiting. Other guest speakers were Amer Sarfraz, co-founder of Bramerz, a digital media agency, Ather Nawaz, MD at Numetrics, and Anwar Khan, founding partner of IT & Telecom Services firms. They talked frankly to the students about the inevitable hurdles in entrepreneurship and the need for more innovation in Pakistan.
The hackathon was a first for GIKI, sponsored by Pring, and it ran for 36 hours straight. Students pulled all-nighters, coding mobile applications for Pring’s Raven API. A hackathon is a programming marathon in which developers code useable software in a non-stop intense period of time, which can run for days.
“This is the first time a platform has been provided that gives young programmers the freedom to imagine a solution to a problem and then actually create it and put it to use,” said Muhammad Nasrullah.
Ali Yousuf, a second year student at GIKI and one of the winners of the hackathon, worked on making an application that enabled a mobile user to get information from the web, when they are not connected to the internet. Naming the application simply “Ask”, Ali’s idea is that his mobile phone would connect to Pring’s server, which would transfer the data required from the internet and send it to him via SMS.
“Electricity is a big problem in Pakistan that affects every one of us. But work cannot stop. I’m creating this application so that people can access information at any time.”
The start-up competition saw students presenting before a panel of judges’, innovative ideas in technology that would solve a problem. One of the winning teams had two final year students from NUST School of Electrical Engineering, Hassaam Ali and Umair Aftab. Calling their project ‘Low Cost Extensible Computing’, they developed an electric board, the size of a wallet, which could connect to any kind of screen, be it a small television, a bulky monitor or any LCD screen and have a fully functioning computer that also allows internet access. Using this board, a person was able to use a computer for as low as Rs. 6,000.
‘The idea struck when I went to my village, just outside of Jhang, to visit my cousins. When we went to check out laptops at the market, I saw that each one had a huge mark-up, of about 50 to 60 per cent. And the hardware was not impressive either. In fact, I would call it obsolete,” said Aftab.
“There are so many people in Pakistan’s rural areas and small cities who need to own a computer and get the internet, but cheaply. We’re aiming to take this project forward and solve this problem,” added Ali.
It wasn’t all work at the Softcom. A movie night and a four-hour hiking trip in the morning at Tarbela were also part of the plan to make sure students had a great time. To keep them informed of the different activities taking place around the campus, GIKI used Pring for coordination. Alerts about the schedule and updates on interesting happenings around the campus were sent out through SMS to all students almost every half hour, keeping the whole affair organised.
The campus was brimming with students, while ideas and imagination flowed throughout the event. The Softcom had pulled together the sharpest young minds from around the country, proving that there is no dearth of brilliance and originality in Pakistan.
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