Student Code for Good Hackathons

How would you save the world in 32 Hours?

Imagine you are a Computer Science student; you are invited to spend 32 straight hours coding in order to come up with ideas to help address a major societal problem. Now imagine you are given unlimited pizza, plenty of coffee, top of the line Intel-inspired Ultrabooks™ and access to world class experts to get you going. What would you do?

The Intel® Code for Good Student Hackathons

The Contra Costa College Hackathon Team ready for coding at IDF 2012

The Intel Code for Good student hackathons challenge students in just such a scenario. We have held four such hackathons so far: one at Contra Costa College in California and the second at the recent IDF 2012 in San Francisco which both took as themes introducing Middle School student to algebra. The third was at St. Olaf’s College in Minnesota which took as its theme “Mapping for Good.” The writer of this article returned from our fourth such event held at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. At this hackathon the theme was, “Fighting childhood Obesity: Helping kids and their families make right life-style decisions.

How it works

Daniel L. Marks, M.D., Ph.D. Professor, Pediatric Endocrinology Director, Oregon Child Health Research Center, Oregon Health & Science University

The student hackathons are held in association with the Intel Code for Good project, based on connecting technologists with domain specialists to attack big problems. For the Georgia Tech event, our domain expert was Dr. Daniel Marks, PhD, of Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, a pediatric endocrinologist and world expert on children’s health. We Skyped Dr. Marks in to level-set the students as well as to brainstorm some approaches to the problem.

It is very difficult for someone like myself to offer advice about healthy lifestyle choices for young people without sounding like the dreaded "authority figure". Your approach really allows young people to develop tools to reach out to their peers in a way that will resonate with them in a much more meaningful way.

- Dr. Daniel Marks, PhD

Intel Engineer Brad Hill advising students at the Georgia Tech Hackathon

At the start of the hackathon, we encourage the student to explore HTML5 as the platform of choice to create mobile apps for the Ultrabooks and tablets.

The students soon begin brainstorming the problems, white-boarding application architecture and coding.

During the hackathons, the greatest source of information comes from the students’ helping each other. Of course there’s a bit of competitive rivalry as well, but the primary dynamic is an intense effort to realize their projects.

We typically stop every 3 to 4 hours to do a quick status check, let teams showcase their progress and also solicit help and cooperation towards breaking stubborn coding problems or filling knowledge gaps.

Around two or three in the morning, students can get a bit tired. Teams have been hard at it for twelve or thirteen hours and energy starts to flag. One warning sign is gentle snoring coming from an area just in front of the students’ keyboards. Should you hear this, you know is the time to get the coders awake and excited. We often deploy movies during this time, music or even a bit of colored hairspray or funny costumes.

Midnight and beyond.

Mustaches at the Georgia Tech Hackathon.

Apps in a day and a half

I asked earlier what you would do to save the world in 32 hours. Here are some of the things our students have done:Developed touch enabled games backed up with a national nutritional database, apps that convert android phones into pedometers, an open framework for lifestyle games including a touch-enabled game center dashboard and a currency API, first person algebra equation shooters and more.

Team Pony report out

TeamNemo report out

See all the videos here.

What’s ahead in 2013?

Hackathons exist to help students learn problem solving approaches to application developement. New ideas for 2013 include a student online learning center for HTML5 application development, as well as internships and student ambassador programs.

We are looking forward to expanding our hackathons worldwide in 2013. We would like to enable universities and colleges to request an Intel sponsored hackathon and help provide the resources to hold succesful events.

The Georgia Tech Intel Code for Good Student hackathon team

We want to hear from you!

Paul Otellini, Intel CEO, visiting the hackathon at IDF 2012.

Are you an instructor or student? Would you be interested in sponsoring a hackathon at your instistution? Would the online resources mentioned above be helpful?

Please feel free to contact me, Paul Steinberg, at the Student Developer Program I look forward to hearing from you!

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