Let’s talk with young hackers Ekaterina, Miquel and Alexia about YH4F
The first edition of the Youth Hacking 4 Freedom contest has ended.
After 5 months of coding, over 35 young people came up with
outstanding projects. Three of them will be introduced to you in this
interview. Ekaterina, the mind behind Music Companion, Miquel who
developed Smart Table Assistant and Alexia, the creator of a basic
The Youth Hacking 4 Freedom contest,
is a competition organised by the FSFE that encourages young Europeans
to start working on their personal technical project. As there are no
limits to the possibilities of projects that could be submitted and
every technical idea is welcome, the first edition ended up with a
great number of diverse and inspiring projects, making it really hard
for the jury members to choose the six
winners.With all those well done projects we thought about a way
how to best highlight the effort and work that was put into them.
Hence, we are happy to present three of the contestants.
Ekaterina is 16 years old and currently living in the Republic of
Cyprus. She has written her first program for the Youth Hacking 4
Freedom competition, Music Companion. Next, we have Miquel, who is from
Spain and 17 years old. Miquel has worked on his Smart Table Assistant
and had some experience with programming and tinkering before joining
the competition. He is studying Industrial Engineering and is
passionate about new technologies, entrepreneurship and discovering new
things. His goal is to help our society by developing projects in the
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field. Last
but not least, we are happy to introduce Alexia, who is living in
Bucharest, Romania. Alexia also had some contact with programming
before the competition and is enrolled in a technical school.
Ekaterina, Miquel and Alexia. Thank you for joining us for this
FSFE: Before we
start learning about your different projects, we would like to know a
bit more about your technical background and how you started learning
Alexia: The first
programming language I was ever introduced to was C++. It was taught to
me in my last year of primary school. I never enjoyed it as much as my
classmates, but it enabled me to learn other languages such as Python
and SQL which are more applicable in my everyday projects. I was lucky
enough to have very passionate and supportive teachers throughout my
school years. They taught me all the difficult principles of
programming and always referred me to the best materials. I was indeed
very fortunate in this regard.
Ekaterina: My first contact with programming was during my Computer Science GCSE which is when we started learning some basic programming concepts and coding in VisualBasic. Later in my Computer Science A-Level we started learning Python, which was when I started to learn programming by myself using SoloLearn and Stackoverflow.
Miquel: My first contact with programming was when I was about 12 years old with C++ and Arduino. I was already interested before, but I wasn't very good at the subject. I signed up for an introductory course for a few months and then started a self-learning process. I love being able to make what I imagine to come true, and through programming, 3d printing, 3d design and the desire to learn, some things are possible.
FSFE: Miquel, you
have worked with hardware and have also submitted a hardware project.
What was the first hardware project you worked on? How and why did you
start making new devices?
no one in my family is professionally engaged in any field of
technology or programming, but we have always been very interested in
it. Since I was little, I have accompanied my brother and my parents
on their little projects and our house construction. I like to work
and have challenges.
When I began to get more into the field of programming and robotics,
my brain clicked. Since then I have had ups and downs in motivation,
but I continue to undertake new projects.
FSFE: How and why
did you decide to join YH4F? And what did you like the most about the
Ekaterina: It felt
like a big challenge. When I heard about the competition from my
teacher I was very scared to even sign up. I did not have enough
knowledge at that time to write something more complex than "if this
condition is true, then output this" and so on. But five months seemed
enough for me to learn programming and to write a program. As I was
expecting, I would rush towards the end to finish the program, and
when 1 week before the program was due I received an email from
Alexander Sander saying "Don't worry, it's fine if you did not finish
it yet. Send it anyway". It calmed me down so much that I actually
finished it and submitted a few days earlier. The support was really
necessary and I enjoyed it.
Alexia: I remember
seeing a poster with details about the contest just outside the
Computer Lab. My teacher encouraged me to participate, so I decided to
join it and challenge myself. I decided to make something that would
include a GUI since I never get the chance to implement it to the code
I usually write.
I think the best thing about YH4F is that it promotes Free Software
alternatives to people who haven’t had the chance to realize the
benefits of such projects. I use Free Software software pretty
frequently, especially when it comes to operating systems.
Miquel: I remember
I was online with a friend, I think it was on Twitter, when I found an
announcement of a free software contest. I got interested, and I
looked at the information about how to participate.
After a long time, when there were relatively few days left to finish the registration
period for the contest, my friend reminded me to register. I told my parents and
finally signed up.
This contest for me is a real wonder. I think that giving young people
the opportunity to show others what they have thought, created and
suffered doing is very nice. I have been very comfortable throughout the
process, the mentors have been very kind and understood all the effort.
It is a pleasure to share this experience with others who are interested
FSFE: How did you
came up with your project idea? What motivated you to do your project?
Alexia: I have a
lot of close friends who think the Internet is like an endless
playground where you’re anonymous and untouchable. Many of them
suffered extremely painful consequences as a result of this. Even if
we’re talking about stealing passwords or other types of sensitive
data left unprotected, this type of negligence often brings the worst
I remember wanting to make a tool with the purpose of raising awareness
to the dangers of unprotected data. Or at least try taking an
initiative. I thought that I could make an impact in my inner circle
and inspire others to come up with similar ideas.
has been a part of my life for about 10 years, so the idea came up
kind of automatically. At first I thought about making it as a game,
however later on I realized that some people wouldn't have enough
knowledge about music to play it. This is how it became a small
"glossary" about music.
FSFE: And what motivated you to carry out your project?
participating in this competition gave me motivation to realize it. I
wanted to get to know programming more and try myself. The competition
not only gave me knowledge on how to code in python, but also the
experience of learning on the go and facing such challenges by myself.
Music Companion is not a very complex app but at the same time a very
educational one and I am happy that after conducting the knowledge I
had about programming it turned out this awesome.
FSFE: And Miquel,
how did you came up with your idea for the “Smart Table Assistant”?
Miquel: I have
always wanted to be able to invent a product that helps society. Just
before the registration period for the youth hacking contest my mother
suffered immobility. I saw that she had some difficulty doing some
tasks and I thought that a smart table would be a great idea to help
her. The Smart Table Assistant is intended for those people who are
affected by paraplegia. Paraplegia is a disease that immobilizes the
legs and trunk, but not the arms. With this smart table, you can get
to customize the furniture to help people with certain pathologies. I
saw that with the opportunity of the competition I could motivate
myself to develop a project of this scale and thus totally improve my
your project “Music Companion” has also won a prize at the
competition. Do you think it is important for people to understand the
basic of music?
Ekaterina: Yes, I
think it is. For today I haven't met people who haven't somehow
interacted with music or a musical instrument. But the number of
students in music schools is slowly decreasing and this worries me a
little bit. I believe music, especially classical, should be learnt
and understood by people nowadays rather than ignored or considered
FSFE: Did some of
you encounter any problems during the coding period or the building
Miquel: Of course,
in a project of this size, it is very easy to encounter obstacles
along the way. I think the hardest part was at the beginning. It was
difficult for me to start and organize all the ideas to be able to
create something unique, innovative and efficient. The whole first
period of analysing and acquiring knowledge was cumbersome but
motivating. From the moment I started practising, I began to feel that
excitement of the beginning of a very long journey. Also, in the
programming, I found some obstacles but I got away with it. I also
really enjoyed the design but I needed some help with the assembling
of the robot.
I had some inspiration for the aesthetics of the product by the Sagrada Familia
which is an emblematic basilica in Barcelona. With this, I was able to direct the
design and thus, know what functionalities to be able to adapt in that aesthetics
so that I could keep all the utilities of the robot thought in the beginning.
Ekaterina: Yes, I
faced many problems. I think at least 5 times I said to myself "No, I
am giving up, I don't know how to program". It was really stressful at
first as I was only surfing around Youtube tutorials for about 2
months and only then I started programming. Many times the code wasn't
running simply because one symbol or space was missing. And worth
mentioning is that I was learning on the go as before I have never
faced such complex tasks.
definitely encountered a lot of technical issues, and it really didn’t
help that it was my first “major” project. I’ve never worked with
interfaces before, so this was especially hard. I had no idea how to
properly make the design, so pretty much all the effort was put into
that. Thinking about it, I definitely over-prioritized it. Database
management was even more frustrating as I had almost no structure and
generally did things without fully thinking them through. In the end,
I ended up putting more hours into debugging than actually writing the
code. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the experience that came along
with all the hardship.
FSFE: Do you think
you will continue working on your project and what would be some next
steps you would like to carry out?
Miquel: I like
being asked that. Referring to the Smart Table Assistant, I have
improvements in mind and I'm sure there are still many more, but I
also have other projects in mind. Just recently I had an idea of a
device that would help rehabilitation or just massage people. These
massages will be complemented with aromatic treatments and the setting
of lights. This device would also be for domestic use and I would like
to be able to make its aesthetics even more beautiful than this
project (S.T.A). With more industrial and improved materials.
thinking of resuming the project at some point, along with my original
initiative. The next step will definitely be encrypting the database
itself, since without that the application isn’t really that
functional. I’m also thinking of improving the interface, and maybe
even switching to a better language (I’ve been using Python, but to be
honest I haven’t been that satisfied with the end result). Either way,
I’m happy that I went along with it, even if for now It’s left
I think I will try to implement a library for sounds and perhaps
increase the number of possible notes that could be heard, scales and
chords. However I really want to leave it as it is to remember it as my
first ever written program.