Computer science students go beyond the limits of their studies

The annual conference of computer science students at ETH Zurich, VIScon, is taking place this year despite the corona crisis. Top-class presentations and an exciting hackweek enable direct contact with research and practice.
At this year's VIScon there will be another hacker event, where participants will try to solve a given problem line by line of code. (Photo: Nicole Wenzinger)

"ETH Zurich was practically closed since the end of March," says computer engineer and VIScon co-founder Max Schrimpf. "That is why it is all the more gratifying that we can once again set a positive counterpoint with this year's VIScon." VIScon is the third conference of the Association of Computer Science Students at ETH Zurich (VIS), taking place from 5 to 10 October. The organising committee, which Schrimpf is advising this year, had to make certain concessions to the corona situation: The event is now called VIScon Digital and will also be accessible online. The presentations are given to a limited audience in the main building of ETH Zurich, but can also be followed live or with a time delay online. The Hackathon will be run as a thinned-out Hackweek.

VIScon is one of the largest conferences organised by students in Switzerland and has already established itself in the academic calendar. "At VIScon, we want to look behind the scenes of computer science, but on a practical level and not on a theoretical one, as is often the case during studies," says Adrian Seiterle, who is responsible for communication in the organising committee. Under the motto "Everything that is not taught in the lectures", high-profile experts from research and experienced practitioners from IT companies offer exciting presentations that go beyond the boundaries of the degree programme.

Interdisciplinary talks and direct practical relevance

Interdisciplinarity, diversity of speakers and topics, but also direct practical relevance are the goals that programme director David Kalchofner has set himself when selecting the talks and events. Here are a few examples: Ekaterina Kamenskaya, Tech Lead Manager at Google Zurich, talks in her keynote about social aspects of the Corona crisis. ETH Zurich lecturer Kenny Paterson, who is involved in the Swiss-Covid app, will explain how the creators have tackled the IT-related challenges of this demanding app. EPFL Professor Phil Janson outlines the role of artificial intelligence for our future. And ETH Zurich graduates Lukas Rahmann and Thomas Wolf use the example of their game "Unrailed!" to illustrate how a term paper at the ETH Game Lab became a start-up.

The second main pillar of VIScon is the Hack event. What has always been very popular in the first two years as a 42-hour hackathon in the feverish atmosphere, will be a hackweek in 2020, where participants log in from home and try to solve a given practical problem for one week, line by line of code. "The idea is to tackle such a problem from home in small groups, with the possibility of physical meetings, of course," says Seiterle.

One of the secrets of the success of previous editions has been the unique inspiring atmosphere created by the meetings and discussions between students and experts. "An important part, which unfortunately has been almost completely eliminated this year due to Corona, played the various networking lunches," says Seiterle. Nevertheless, the organisers, who in countless hours of voluntary work, have put this year's event together again, believe it will be a success. "Finally, after months of home schooling, something is happening", says Max Schrimpf, "and we are all looking forward to it."

VIScon Digital 2020 at ETH Zurich

VIScon will take place from 5 to 10 October in the main building at ETH Zurich and online. Hackweek starts on 5 October. Talks, workshops and more side events start on 7 October with a keynote speech and last until Saturday, 10 October. Participants wishing to attend the talks and events on site will have to get one of the limited places, but anyone can join in online. 

More information and full programme: