9-year old twins among experienced hackers attending HackNTU

Written by: Preksha Banerjee

The 23rd and 24th of March 2019 saw NTU’s first 24-hour student-led hackathon for students across all ages and educational qualifications, HackNTU. Organised by NTUSU in collaboration with information technology recruiter SearchElect, the event brought together brilliant minds hailing from widespread regions of Southeast Asia.

With the theme “SmartNation – Onwards and Upwards”, the hackathon comprised two components: the main Hackathon segment, and Capture The Flag (CTF). The latter refers to unique challenges designed for learning hacking techniques, developing problem-solving skills, and gaining hands-on experience. In CTF, participants role-played as hackers attempting to infiltrate the customer database of a hypothetical financial institution.

To further supplement the learning goals of the Hackathon, multiple workshops and talks were held throughout the event. These included an information session on the history and development of cyber security, as well as a statistics crash course on performing Exploratory Data Analysis (EDA) on data using the Python programming language.

This hackathon follows the recent cybersecurity incidents in Singapore, such as the data leaks involving 14,2000 HIV patients and 800,000 blood donors earlier this February and March respectively. These lapses have since prompted the government to strengthen Singapore’s cybersecurity ecosystem, with the goal of mitigating potential threats.

Joash and Danielle with their mother, Isabelle.

Amongst the 300 participants who were fixated on typing out codes on their laptops, determined to crack the system, in the Arc sat a peculiar pair among the crowd. They were 9-year-old twins, Joash and Danielle Soh – the youngest talents in the room. Even though the twins aren’t professional coders yet, their mother, Isabelle Lim, enjoys bringing them to hackathons to help them develop their confidence and skills.

“I just want them to have an idea of how to think in the right way, solve problems and help people,” she says.

Initially, she began with her eldest son, who now owns a start-up business. Realising the benefit of such opportunities, Isabelle decided to involve her twins in the process of ideation and conceptualisation.

I believe that selling a product and public speaking are important skills they should possess in addition to academics.

Isabelle Lim, mother of Joash and Danielle

Being a stay-at-home mom but with a passion for business, Isabelle wanted to inculcate in her children skills she herself possesses. So far, she’s been quite successful. Her twins emerged as the first runner-up at the Designerthon 2018 by Design Singapore, where they designed a book called “Journey”, a compilation of inspiring stories and sensory tactile activities for people with physical disabilities.

HackNTU is NTUSU’s way of encouraging student innovation and creativity in the field of information technology and cybersecurity. NTUSU is committed to the holistic development of its student-members, and regularly organises student activities and events around this purpose. Furthermore, as elucidated by industry leaders in The First Step, employers are increasingly oriented towards individuals who have unique competencies beyond academics.

Perhaps unlike other hackathons, HackNTU strove to highlight alternative skillsets on top of existing coding abilities or prior experience. Equally pivotal to performing well in the competition was the passion and persistence that participants showed – qualities that indicate a willingness to learn and improve.

Douglas Tan, Corporate Liaison Executive of NTUSU, tells us:

HackNTU, being the first to combine both the Capture-the-flag and a hackathon elements, has been a major success. Not only has HackNTU imparted useful skills to its participants, it has allowed them to showcase their best efforts in both categories. We hope that HackNTU will be able to continue next year, reaching out and imparting knowledge to those keen about coding and hacking.


Douglas Tan, Corporate Liaison Executive of NTUSU
Leading member of the organising team for HackNTU

Images: NTUSU Corporate Communications