The Legacy of the Magnetic Pendulum
Some weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me the photo at the top of this article, telling me:
“Hey! I’m being a judge for this year’s McGill Physics Hackathon. We’re being shown your project from 2016, what a legend. The staff has been using your project as the ultimate example for the past 3 years!"
Obviously, that was very flattering to hear. It made me reflect on the unique experience I had with my team while working on this project. My brother Justin wrote a Medium article about the entire experience. Let’s celebrate the third year anniversary with a new blog post!
In 2016, while I was completing my masters degree in Physics at McGill University, the first edition of the McGill Physics Hackathon happened. My brother, Justin Léger, was studying Software Engineering at Concordia at that time. He often told me how excited he was about participating to hackathons. I figured: with my knowledge of physics, his knowledge of software, and our combined love of computers, this had the potential to be a fun experience. It was the first time we were able to use our respective field of study to collaborate on a common project. For 48 hours, we would become a dream team.
The last thing I expected ended up happening: we finished in first place!
I should rewind a little bit and mention the tremendous help we received from our third team member, Amir Bawab. The way he joined our team felt right out of a movie. As everyone in the competition was scrambling about to form their teams, my brother and I began coding right away. And then we hit a roadblock. We were unsure what language to use (Java? HTML?). I was not familiar with any of the languages. My brother was (understandably) afraid to take the wrong decision and doom the project.
As we were discussing, we noticed Amir in the background, by himself. Justin recognized Amir from his classes. I noticed Amir used a WASD Code mechanical keyboard. And he used Vim.
“This guy’s good.”, said Justin.
“I can tell.”, I replied.
We approached him and pitched him our idea of simulating a magnetic pendulum. Immediately, his eyes lit up. “Now this looks like a physics project. We might have a shot!”. His initial idea was to develop a speech recognition program to solve physics problems read out loud.
The rest is history. There were no sweat and tears. Everything went so, so smoothly. It was an amazing feeling to be part of what felt like an all-star team, where everyone gave useful input and where everyone went one-step beyond their comfort zone to create the most impactful project. From that moment on, I became addicted to this feeling of working in a team as a cohesive unit. It is what I will always strive to replicate in my current and future jobs.
My favorite memory? Hearing the sound of the service bell. Every time one of us had a good idea, or made some progress, we ringed a service bell we found laying around the competition grounds. With each ring, we could feel our team growing stronger, closer, and more excited to present our project to the judges. It was positive reinforcement at its absolute best.
Where are they now?
Three years later, Justin landed a job as a full-time software developer at Shopify. I’m trying my best to catch-up to his success.
Amir now works for Microsoft in Redmond WA, where he enjoys all the success he rightfully deserves.
I currently work at a startup called Contxtful Technologies. What will be my big break? I can’t say for sure. But I do know one thing: this hackathon was an absolute blast.
You can access the pendulum simulation at https://felixleger.com/pendulum
The original repository can be found at https://gitlab.com/felleg/ChaoticMagneticSuperPendulum/