Hailed as the largest ever hackathon on the west coast, hackTECH ran from Friday January 24th at 9:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. on Sunday. Approximately 1500 students (registered, more like 1200 in actual attendance) from over 50 schools created projects using the APIs and tools offered by the many sponsors, including the XDK from Intel.
This event was highly competitive, with over $20,000 in prizes. As part of the Major League Hackathon series orchestrated by HackerLeague, students also earn points for their school in a league-wide leaderboard posted on http://mlh.io.
Intel employees Brad Hill and Paul Steinberg represented the company, assisted by our first Student Representative Michial Green. Along with Mashery’s Cheston Contaoi, we gave a limited-admission half-hour tech talk to 25 of the attendees, running down the benefits and basic usage of Mashery APIs and the Intel XDK
We split the lowest-cost tier of sponsorship with Mashery, allowing us to award our own prizes to teams that used our technologies. There were 5 teams (total 11 people) who used the XDK, and 6 teams (16 people) who used Mashery’s APIs.
The XDK in Application(s)
Of the 5 teams that used the Intel XDK, the winning app was “Hauller me” by Jordan Banafsheha, Hemanga Krishna Borah, Rezaul Akram and Akshay Satish. This app would allow users to place a request for moving vehicles (trucks, vans, etc.) and receive offers from drivers whose credibility is verified by recorded experience. The members of this team were awarded a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 each. They were also judged to have the best implementation of Mitek’s mobile document capture technology for obtaining driver information from licenses.
A single-person team took the XDK 2nd place; Kristin Clemens worked tirelessly on a movie trailer discovery/consumption app using the RottenTomatoes API through Mashery. This innovative app would allow users to browse and enjoy high-rated trailers as well as those that are trending.
3rd place went to Aaron Harris and Joaquin Beltran, whose app “Pushpins” would use Pinterest’s abstract interest inference to glean information about what users actually care about, connecting with other social media and notifying users of events and updates related to their interests.
The System is Down
The biggest issue we faced was something to be expected in such a large, tech-heavy crowd: the internet was heavily bogged down, overloading available routers. Even when more connectivity was provided, the massive drain on the network made it nearly prohibitive for most applications, including those necessary for the event to function smoothly. With people watching videos, downloading samples, and using web services, likely connected on two devices for every one person, there was little that could be done to sufficiently supplement the bandwidth. The main obvious solution would be selecting a very well connected venue that could support such a huge task. Another approach would be supplying a number of mobile hotspots for use with our tools; it would be costly, but we would be the heroes of the day.
Being the first Major League Hackathon Intel has sponsored, we attended with the aim of learning how to be successful in this environment. Our previous experience has been with smaller events that use a collaborative approach to emphasize learning. With this being a large competition, the focus is on the students demonstrating development skill.
Rather than having the market cornered in regards to the technology used, this environment requires more aggressive marketing of our tools. Usually, we are there to guide them in learning and using our products, but here we need to sell them on it first. The participants need to know we are there and our products can help them win.
The first point, visibility, would have been greatly aided by corporate and topical signage. Having flyers and reference materials for our tools would also be beneficial. Regarding swag to give away, blankets would be a hit at any overnight event, doubly so for those over two nights like this was. If we provided USB flash drives that already had our tools’ install packages and a copy of the documentation, they would get into as many hands as we had units; everyone likes having another free flash drive, and this removes another barrier to entry- the pesky download (especially if network problems arise again).
As for convincing the participants to use our tools, Cheston from Mashery set a good example- beyond presenting at the opening and assisting anyone who comes to the table, he made rounds among the groups to create connections and identify places Mashery’s APIs could be used when the participants themselves might not have noticed or considered it. This proactive approach seems commonsense in retrospect, but we had not been prepared to do so at the time.
The official site of the hackathon is http://hacktech.io, but more information is available at Cheston’s Mashery blog post http://masherydev.tumblr.com/post/75012379237/1200-developers-hit-the-west-coasts-biggest-collegiate.