A room filled with laptops and tired programmers, one would expect this to be the work of the next successful start-up in technology.
And one would be partially correct.
On Saturday, September 20th, Stony Brook University kicked-off their first ‘Unhackathon’ at AlleyNYC, a start-up development coworking space in New York City. The lively event included Sponsorship by Ordr.in, Bloomberg, and Viacom, who were on-site pitching their APIs and handing out loads of swag. In addition, food services by Chipotle and Insomniac Cookie gave hungry programmers the energy to stay awake for the full twenty-four hours of coding. Of course, there were quiet rooms for those who needed sleep but most students choose to embody the hacker culture and work through the night.
There was even T-Shirt painting- what better way to take out your aggression at hours of coding than playing with paint?
But besides the awesome swag and great food, what is a ‘hackathon’? For those who are uninformed, at hackathons students compete (in teams or alone) to develop anything within twenty-four hours. For many, their development projects are web or mobile applications that hack the functionality of existing APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and create new and innovative uses for those APIs. Others work with hardware, like Oculus Rift and Pebble, to create new and interesting experiences with wearable technology. However, development is only a small component to the hackathon experience. Unhackathon, like other hackathons, offered great networking opportunities with other students (both from the United States and Canada), startups (Ordr.in) and profession companies (Viacom, Bloomberg).
This is where NJIT students come into the picture. Julio Torres (Class of ‘18), Patrick McGrath (Class of ‘17) and myself (Class of ‘16) represented NJIT with our creative ideas and eccentric personalities.
Torres, for example, worked on a card game in Java that made use of the ‘Montage Parody’ fad on YouTube (videos that poke fun at the Major League Gaming culture by using excessive airhorn samples, flashing lights and plenty of Mountain Dew). The game required the user to predict the when, in a hand of five cards (four common cards and a face card), the computer would play their ‘King’ card. Should the user play their ‘Joker’ card when the computer plays the King card, airhorns galore and the user wins that round. In any other event, the player would lose the round. Play then alternated, with the computer using the hand with the Joker card. Development on the project did not finish at Unhackathon, but Torres continues working on it in his spare time.
McGrath focused his attention on web development. He was introduced to Django, a Python web framework, and took on the daunting task of developing with a new language. He notes, when reflecting on arriving at the event, “ This being my first hackathon, I really didn’t know what to expect, but I don’t think I could have had a better experience”. McGrath made huge strides in learning the language, having a running website, powered by Django, built and ready to host a poll asking the user what their favorite programming language is. Following this, he began work on a web app that would display a random video, hosted on YouTube, using keywords and video popularity. McGrath continues working on this project, optimistic to show it off when finished.
I focused on web applications with Django and finished FindCon. Inspired by a previous hack at HackRU ‘13, the user would enter the type of convention they are interested in and a given time-frame. FindCon would then find the closest convention to that user’s current location and provide a map with directions on how to get there. The application makes use of Import.io, creating a custom API from a website containing convention dates and locations. In addition, the map is generated and routes are compared using MapQuest’s open data API. I have yet to publish it to the NJIT student web-pages, as I am currently in the process of finishing the interface (which looked ugly when the project was finished).
Having been to some other hackathons in the past, I consider Unhackathon to be one of the best I’ve ever been to. The small hacking space brought everyone together (literally) and reminded me why I chose Computer Science for my major- to meet awesome people, and code more awesomer [sic- intentional] applications. When reflecting on his experience, McGrath shared a similar sentiment: “The place felt like a startup company, like you could just walk around and ask people what they were making, and learn from them. I found out how developers use sensors to calculate gravity while waiting to get cookies.”
A delicious note to end a night of hacking on.
For those interested in more information about hackathons, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.