“Hack: Verb, building programs that solve everyday problems” was the tagline for last weekend’s HackColumbia event. But despite this modest billing, the first-ever Columbia-specific hackathon was far from everyday.
The hackathon, which was organized by the Application Development Initative, the Columbia College Student Council, and the Engineering Student Council, began at 7 p.m. on Friday in John Jay Lounge and continued into the night. Around 50 students came together, each tasked with building a novel program that remedies a minor problem in the Columbia community.
Although the concept of a hackathon has existed for around a decade, demand for a Columbia-wide event has been building up. “A lot of people wanted a Columbia hackathon for a really long time,” organizer Justin Hines, CC ’13, said.
Gil Chen-Zion, GS/JTS ’14, worked to meet the goal of the event through his product “WTF is Open.” Chen-Zion, who came to the event individually, was paired with two other students—Brian Bourn, SEAS ’15, and Melissa O’Sullivan, SEAS ’16—a mere hour before programming was scheduled to start. The team set to work at 9 p.m. and programmed through the night.
Their final product is a website that displays the facilities that are open at Columbia, even showing which dishes in the dining halls are the most popular based on the number of likes received.
Hines noted that registration-related webpages have been popular products. HackColumbia winner Sam Aarons, SEAS ’14, created a website to help students understand their housing options, given their personal preferences. Others, like Adam Obeng, GSAS; Kacper Ksieski, GS ’14; and Alexsander Akers, SEAS ’16, developed a website that presents all schedule options given the time constraints inputted.
Despite the ubiquity of programmers at HackColumbia, the hackathon was also open to students who lacked coding experience.
“I wanted to meet people,” Akers said. He was introduced to Obeng and Ksieski during a meet-and-greet prior to the start of the hackathon, where Ksieski pitched his idea for a schedule builder.
“I wanted to come here and check out who was here for the longer term. I wanted people who were interested in creating apps for ... the Apple Store ... and want to do bigger and better things than Hackathon,” Ksieski said.
Because of the amount of data access needed for the event, organizers paired up with the administration to ensure that students had enough data to work with for their projects. With the help of some departments—including Columbia Athletics, Housing, Dining, and Events Management—ADI wrote application-programming interface and presented this information to students, who could then access the data to turn students’ ideas into full-fledged applications.
After the hackathon ended at 12 p.m., a panel of judges, including Tumblr platform developer Moses Nakamura and Columbia computer science professor Sameer Maskey, appraised the 15 final products. The top prize was a Google Chromebook, although other prizes were also awarded for department-specific products.
But not only the prizewinners benefit from the hackathon—its products will be useful in Columbia students’ everyday lives. All the websites created are now open to the public via links on the HackColumbia website.
“It’s live, it’s on the World Wide Web,” Hines said about the final products of the event.