Replacing hateful language with a nice-ified alternative — Interview with Bryce Cronin
Junction 2021 is long gone, and we are already getting ready for the 2022 edition, but we haven’t yet heard from the winner! We caught up with Bryce Cronin, a 22-year-old from Australia. He graduated from university with a software and network engineering degree last year and he was the main winner of Junction 2021 and got second place in “Uniting Empathy and Gaming”, the challenge by Vikes, Supercell, and the Refugee Council.
In his project, Nice-ify, he combined his interests in graphic design, UI/UX design, and his marketing background and managed to woo everyone. Hackathons are something he pursues in his free time, first attending Australia and New Zealand-based ones, then spreading out to European and American ones.
Was Junction 2021 your first Junction?
Yes, Junction 2021 was my first Junction. After participating in local hackathons I started looking into European ones. I found Junction online and the challenges captured my attention. Right now I’m interested in challenges revolving around gamification, and the Supercell challenge immediately captured my attention.
Why did you decide to join alone? Is that what you usually do?
I would say I join alone half the time, the other half I try to join with a team. This year I’m more interested in learning and trying out new things, so I use participating by myself as an opportunity to explore new tech. For example, I haven’t used python much, and hackathons give me the chance to dabble and improve my skills. When you join alone you have more freedom, with a team there’s more planning involved, which leads to more polished projects. My choice depends on the hackathon. Different time zones are also an issue. If I were to join a team other members would ideally have to be located in the same time zone as me.
You chose the Supercell challenge, against hate speech in the gaming world. Can you walk me through how you choose your challenge and why?
I prefer open-ended challenges, broad challenges that give you more room to explore. I find them more stimulating. Supercell’s challenge, in this case, was open-ended, plus it focused on a topic that matched my interests. It was a no-brainer.
What’s your working process like?
When I’m competing alone there isn’t a structured process. This time, after I picked the challenge, I started brainstorming possible solutions and researching what had already been done to solve the issue, what materials are available from other sources, and the material provided by the partners. Measures against hate speech and cyberbullying already exist, and many solutions have been implemented as well. I noticed that most of them focused on text-based interactions, without offering a voice-based alternative, so that’s what I decided to develop my solution around. Within the first two hours, I had my idea. The next step was hacking some code together, something not too complex but that gets the work done. From there on it’s only a matter of writing code, video editing, and writing about the project, so I switch between tasks when I get bored or notice I’m getting nowhere.
When you compete with a team you have to assign tasks, usually, video editing is one of the worst tasks you could be assigned!
How did you feel when you learned you won?
I was shocked! When I applied I didn’t realize I would have to pitch my project live to the European audience — so I had to log in at around 1 in the morning and quickly put a pitch together. But Australia is almost famous for our poor internet and this time wasn’t an exception so I couldn’t actually participate in the live stream pitch. When the winner was announced at 3 am I was so excited I don’t think I slept that night! The winner’s announcement live stream was very impressive, I loved the virtual set!
You are from Australia, so the “action” of Junction 2021 was during your night time, how did you do it?
I just watched everything the following morning about 5 hours later. For the closing ceremony, I stayed up until 3 am. Luckily Gather was there, I could speak to whoever was awake at that time. Unfortunately, that meant I didn’t have the chance to interact with mentors.
You’re not only our main prize winner, you won second place for the Supercell challenge as well. How does that feel?
I never expected to win two prizes! The announcement that I won second place in the Supercell challenge came first and I was shocked. I feel like I would have been lucky if I won third place in one of the challenges given the caliber of the other teams and projects — I didn’t expect two prizes at all!
After winning Junction 2021 do you have plans to keep joining European hackathons?
I’d love to, I have never been to Europe before so attending an in-person hackathon seems like a good excuse to visit! European hackathons seem to be quite different from local ones here in Australia, Junction is the most polished hackathon I have seen this far.