Second-Year Students Reflect on MSR Hackathon

Students who are now in their final quarter share how their first week in MSR prepared them for the rest of their time in the program.

Liz Metzger is not afraid of a challenge.  

As an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis, she majored in biomedical engineering while also being a competitive boxer. Her senior year she placed third in the country and was named an All-American.   

Her boxing experience inspired her to confront difficult situations head on, and that was the mindset she brought to Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program. She entered MSR with a strong interest in robotics but not much experience with software development. 

The program's new student hackathon quickly helped her become comfortable programming computers. 

Metzger and her classmates worked on multiple projects during the hackathon, which is designed to introduce students to the program, to the Northwestern campus, and to each other. Last year, the students programmed a robot arm and used a D435i Realsense sensor to grab a pen.  

Not only did they accomplish their tasks, but they also developed foundational skills they'd lean on for the rest of their time in MSR — and beyond. 

Metzger and some of her classmates recently reflected on their hackathon experience, particularly how it influenced the rest of their time in MSR.  

What do you remember most about your hackathon experience? 

 "I learned a lot. It was great being thrown in at the deep end and working with the cohort to solve the problems." - Marthinus Nel 

"It was well-paced until the end, where I didn't have enough time to really finish some of the things how I wanted to. I would actually say that was NOT a bad thing though, as of course the first quarter is even more fast paced and it kind of ramped you up into the quarter." - Nick Morales 

"I remember learning a lot and all the projects being really fun and satisfying to make something work in such a short amount of time." - James Oubre 

How did your Hackathon experience impact your first year in MSR — particularly the first quarter? 

"It was extremely helpful to have a structured introduction to Linux, Git, and Python. Especially when being thrown into the fall ROS class, having this background was essential. It was also nice to get to know everyone in the cohort before the quarter started." - Ava Zahedi 

"It was great to get experience working with my classmates, since we ended up doing a ton of that in the first quarter of the program." - Katie Hughes 

"It was a good refresher on Python, and got me in the right mindset before the coming quarter. It was also a fantastic way to meet and greet the fellow MSR students." - Dilan Wijesinghe 

"Because I had already used Python extensively but hadn't used Linux in years, I found the Linux tutorials to be the most useful. Things I learned in the hackathon are still useful when using a Linux environment today." - Morales 

"It helped me build confidence in using Python, which was a programming language used extensively during first quarter." - Rintaroh Shima  

What advice would you give first-year students who are just beginning their MSR experience? 

"Absolutely do not get behind, and ask for help when you need it. MSR is a highly collaborative program, and that's perhaps its greatest asset. I really encourage working in the MSR room so you can be around your cohort and in a productive space. The directors and admin are all there to see you succeed." - Zahedi  

"You can do it! Take everything one step at a time, one problem at a time, and you'll be OK." - Metzger  

"Don't be afraid to ask other people for help! If you're confused, chances are other people are too, and you can all help each other out." - Hughes 

"Read documentation, ask older cohorts for help, and (know) that you’re not alone in sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of the program" - David Dorf  

"Having some written planner is a great way of organizing your time. Start homework the first day it's assigned and most important of all, your time in this program is short. So try and cherish the little moments that you have with the friends you make along the way." - Wijesinghe 

"Work, work, work, and then when you have time, enjoy it with your cohort. It flies by fast. Dare to fail. Fail often and fast, and then fix it!” - Nel 

"If you can improve your programming skills quickly, it will help a ton! The curriculum is heavily software based and having a lot of software experience coming in helped a ton." - Morales 

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