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Seven tips to win the CSA Space Apps Challenge

Adam McMullen. (Credit: Adam McMullen)

Dedicate your whole weekend to the Space Apps. After all, it could be the start of a career in space exploration!

Adam McMullen has always had a fascination with space, especially the Milky Way. During his childhood, he spent many evenings gazing at the stars with his grandfather, and that fuelled his interest. Adam recently graduated with a master's in physics and, in , he won the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Space Apps Challenge.

NASA's Space Apps Challenge is an annual 48-hour hackathon that puts participants' knowledge to the test while providing an opportunity to work as part of a team, receive mentoring and learn new skills. Using Canadian datasets, participants are invited to solve real space challenges and compete with teams across Canada. Challenges come in different levels of difficulty. Adam used to think it was necessary to be a coder to participate, but now he realizes that the Space Apps Challenge is for everyone!

Seven tips for success from Adam:

  1. Do not give up when you have a bug! Throughout the challenge, you will be faced with setbacks and bugs, and you might think your solution will never work. However, this is how the problem-solving process works; there is seldom a linear path to a solution. In the end, make the best of whatever challenges you encounter. Even if you cannot get your solution to work, you will still get points if you can explain your ideas.
  2. Do not reinvent the wheel. Don't be a hero: build upon tools that already exist (use tutorials, APIs, previous solutions, etc.). 
  3. Determine how you will be most productive. A typical hackathon involves a lot of coffee, pizza, and no sleep. For me, missing sleep would have hindered my creativeness and productivity, so I made sure that I did not stay up too late.
  4. Do not make other plans that weekend. Make space in your agenda and dedicate your whole weekend to the Space Apps Challenge. After all, it could be the start of a career in space exploration!
  5. Carefully plan your approach. Choose your teammates, your method of collaboration, and which challenge you want to tackle. You want a good fit for your skillset, but something hard enough that you'll need to push yourself.
  6. Use your time wisely. You might not be able to complete everything that you wanted to.
  7. Gather inspiration. Look at previous years' challenges and the solutions that were submitted.

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