Schools, Hackathons and Skills Development

IDIA has regularly been involved in big data research schools and hackathons organised as part of the DARA (Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy) Big Data programme. DARA Big Data is a Newton Fund project that provides students from the eight AVN (African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network) countries and South Africa with skills in the field of data science.

DARA Big Data Africa Research Schools have been organised by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) since 2017. Since 2018, the schools and hackathons have been run on the IDIA research cloud, which was launched in July 2018. The participants are students, mostly at master’s level in fields as diverse as mechanical engineering or physics.

See below for more on:

  • Research Schools support
  • Hackathon organisation and support
  • Industry Skills Development offerings
Some of the initial events supported with the IDIA Cloud computing facility.

Research Schools

At research schools, students receive lectures from world leaders in big data in science and industry. They then form teams to take on a big data research projects for the duration of the school. For some of the students, this means learning an entirely new skill set, or a new science.

The DARA Big Data Africa Research School 2018 took place in Cape Town 10-17 September 2018. 27 studens took part. For information about the school, see here and here.

The DARA Big Data Africa Research School 2019 took place on 6-16 October, in Cape Town. 25 science and engineering graduates were selected by SARAO to take part, from a pool of more than 100 applicants.

The research school projects are run on the IDIA Research Cloud with substantial computational and storage resources allocated. Each event is allocated large storage space for research project data, but this is not kept in the long term, as the schools are temporary in nature. The big data research projects are prepared by the organisers of each event.


In addition to research schools, IDIA has supported shorter events; data-intensive hackathons. These two-day events are designed to give participants an intense experience of exposure and upskilling in cloud computing, big data analysis, machine learning, data visualisation and more.

The first hackathon we supported took place at the International Data Week SciDataCon in Botswana in 2018. In 2019, IDIA supported a hackathon at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) Computer Science department and in 2020, we organised and ran a hackathon at Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley, Northern Cape (SA). At the time of writing, these are the events we have supported.

These activities are increasingly streamlined and they have been adopted as an official project on IDIA’s cloud computing facility and on ilifu for ilifu partners with as PI, Prof. Carolina Odman

Industry Skills Development

As part of our offering to research schools we run a full industry skills development workshop based on role playing and realistic situations.

This includes a start-up pitching competition, industry job interviews and a CV Lab where students are acquainted with best practices when applying for job in industry.