(Photo by Ethan O’Malley)
NJIT’s Campus Center is no place for students to stay overnight, besides the night of Hurricane Ida in Fall 2021. However, on the weekend of Nov. 6 and 7, one could find over 200 students camped out and typing away in the university’s official 24-hour hackathon, HackNJIT, which was hosted by NJIT’s chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery.
The hackathon was held on the second floor, mainly in Ballrooms A and B; one of the conference rooms was used for workshops including robotics and team building. Check-ins for the event started as early as 9 a.m., and students had from noon on Saturday to 12 p.m. on Sunday to work on their projects. After multiple rounds of judging, the finalists were announced, and the closing ceremony took place at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Continuing the theme of camping, each participant had a title based on their role; hackers were campers, volunteers were counselors, judges were gamekeepers, and organizers were park rangers. Along with incorporating a tent as decoration, fourth-year information technology major and president of the association David Garcia said, “We got some signs that you would likely see on a trail, like a picnic area, rest spot, and hiking trail, and put those up around the Ballrooms. We also bought an inflatable campfire — which I painstakingly inflated the night before.”
“While a majority of attendees were NJIT students, we wanted to reach a bigger audience this year with it being the first year back in-person since 2019, so we wanted to make sure to reach as many avenues as possible that were outside of NJIT,” he added. This challenged the marketing aspect of the event’s planning, but it turned out successful regardless.
“Externally, we were aided by the Ying Wu College of Computing for most of the planning for sponsors and anything internal. We were also assisted by Major League Hacking for setting up certain workshops and helping on-site during the event,” said second-year computer science major and special interest group master of the association Ethan Ho. “We were able to collaborate with some organizations like Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction, Kids Who Code for tabling, and Robotics Club for a workshop.”
The projects made by each student or team were judged on functionality, innovativeness, and creativity. The association’s executive board contacts alumni who may be available to attend and have previous experience with the event to critique the projects submitted by attendees. Garcia mentioned, “We also tend to look for faculty judges as well to have a connection with the college for credibility. It helps to have alumni who also are adjunct professors.”
The top prizes included $500 for third place, $1000 for second place, and $1500 for first place. Team Shima came in first place, third-year computer engineering NJIT student Raaid Kabir came in second place, and Team Fireside Chats came in third place.
George Carvellas, third-year cybersecurity student from Stevens Institute of Technology, described his team’s project, which received the top prize. “Shima is a tool designed for hikers, so they don’t get lost. The user can set a waypoint from their starting point, and the app will keep track of the path they walked from the starting point. The app will warn the user when there is no more signal, warning the user to be cautious. The app also has a compass to show the user’s direction,” he said.
Second-year Stevens computer science student Jackey Yang added, “These points are then, in real time, connected sequentially to form the shortest path to get back.” Furthermore, Kevin Ha, a fourth-year Stevens computer science student, reflected, “HackNJIT’s theme of camping was our main source of inspiration as well as our interest in learning mobile app development.”
Ha initially signed up for this hackathon after not being able to attend one in-person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Most of us were up for more than 30 hours [when the winners were announced], so we were struggling to process if the judging results were even a reality,” he said. “We had so much fun participating, and I even got to achieve one of my long-time goals of winning a hackathon before graduating!” He mentioned that it’s an experience he’ll never forget.
Carvellas said, “I like hackathons because they test different programming skills, like creativity, the ability to learn quickly, knowledge of high-level concepts/frameworks, teamwork.” Upon hearing the final competition results, Yang remarked, “We were both shocked and humbled, as we didn’t expect to place first among other strong competitors.”
The second-place winner, Kabir, used inspiration from his country, Bangladesh. “Mosquitoes carry diseases such as West Nile Virus, Malaria, Zika, and Dengue. Every year, 725,000 people die from mosquito-borne illnesses each year [according to World Health Organization estimates], and some of my family members are included in these statistics,” he explained. “The desire to help my country inspired me to create an application that would help minimize these mosquitoes in a safe way.”
His project focused on introducing dragonflies to campgrounds, as these creatures are in the middle of the food chain for many areas. Since mosquitoes form their primary food source, this action would decrease the mosquito population while keeping the dragonfly population in control, preventing any issue with potential invasive species.
This was his first time attending HackNJIT; while he enjoyed dedicating himself to a project, he also appreciated the breaks from hacking such as the technical talks and capture-the-flag mini-game. Kabir said, “In the realm of a hackathon, I find that a short time limit sparks great inspiration.”
Fireside Chats was developed as “a way for people to reach out to others they had met in public without sharing personal details like a phone number,” said first-year computer science student at the County College of Morris Connor McDermid. “It’s always nice to meet someone who leaves a good impression, but throwing around personal details can lead to unwanted situations if it turns out the person is less than trustworthy.”
“It also had an implemented feature for a registered user to be able to remove themselves and their interaction [online] if the case arose,” third-year biomedical engineering NJIT graduate student Sebastian Fine said. “Having a lightweight and secure method for communication with user control over their public facing aliases proved successful!”
Lily Gomes, first-year information technology NJIT student, has had a similar interest in participating in hackathons; she and McDermid found Fine and Scott Daniel, a data science NJIT graduate student, on the HackNJIT Discord server to create their team.
According to McDermid, hackathons let students “meet new people and network, especially at university hackathons where it’s far more likely that there are industry professionals and other important figures there.” Gomes commented that “Things like crunching together, winning the capture-the-flag event together, and presenting on stage together are the moments I took away from HackNJIT. The feeling of camaraderie that you only get from events like these is stellar.”
“One particular debugging adventure involved us solving an issue by completely ignoring it — can’t have any errors if the database doesn’t exist!” Fine mentioned. He thought it was great to see that each of the team members had talents that lined up with different aspects of Fireside Chats’ development.
Overall, students enjoyed the competition as well as breaks from hacking. “One of the most memorable segments was the karaoke night we hosted. It occurred late into the first day sometime around midnight,” Ho said. “During that time, the energy of the people who decided to stay late created a great vibe, making the small event even more fun.”
As for Garcia, “I think the most memorable segment for me this year was the opening ceremony. Being up on that stage and being the main speaker for the crowd was a surreal experience as someone who has witnessed HackNJIT from the lenses of a competitor, volunteer, and organizer.”