Today in Tech: Hack for All!

I spent all night in Lincoln-Edmunds competing in the
Third Semiannual 5C Hackathon on a Friday last spring. With a team of friends I frantically designed,
coded, and presented a completely original website, all within 12 hours. I
learned a ton, had a blast, and even won a Kindle Fire. Seeing as tonight is
the fourth 5C Hackathon, it seems like the perfect time to talk about the
importance of the event and how far it has come in just a few years. 

its inception, the 5C Hackathon has expanded at an incredible rate. Although
the basic structure of the hackathon hasn’t changed, the event has grown to nearly
10 times its original size; this semester’s hackathon boasts over $10,000
in sponsored swag, prizes, and food for more than 200 attendees.

the radical change in scale, the mission of the 5C Hackathon remains the same. 

“It’s all about
bringing people together, learning something new, and building something to be
proud of,” student organizer Kim Merrill PO ’14 said.

many hackathons are framed as a competition, the focus of the 5C Hackathon is on providing an
opportunity for students, especially novice programmers, to learn new skills and
apply them directly to a project of their own imagining.

emphasis on learning rather than winning is demonstrated during Hack Week, a
four-day crash course in web development taught by students like Merrill and
fellow 5C Hackathon organizer Andy Russell PO ’15. During Hack Week, students
with little to no programming experience gain all the skills they need to make
their very own web app.

Russell seconded Merrill’s drive to open up the
hackathon to anyone who wants to participate. 

“One very important aspect of the hackathon is that we strive to make it a
welcoming environment for everyone involved,” Russell said. “We really want it to be a place
where people can explore all aspects of building programs: both for beginners
to try their hands at coding and for more experienced programmers to experiment
with technologies not taught in class.”

hackathon is definitely a fun event for everyone involved, but I never imagined
how much I would learn or how valuable those lessons could be. Although I am a
computer science major, at the time that I participated I had no experience with web development, and
neither did any of my teammates. Nevertheless, after picking up skills in HTML,
CSS, APIs, and databases during Hack Week, we decided to try to build a website
for 5C students. 

turned out that our plan was a little ambitious for our time and skill
limitations. While we didn’t quite finish our website, we were immensely proud
of the work we had done. Bringing a
project to life under extreme time pressure creates a one-of-a-kind sense of accomplishment. My favorite part
of computer science has always been building something from scratch, and the hackathon is the perfect place to do just that.

are also very practical reasons for participating in the hackathon. As I recently learned in my search for a summer internship, interviewers love to ask
about projects you’ve completed outside of class. Telling them about the time
you stayed up all night coding, eating pizza, and learning how to handle user
account authentication is a great way to demonstrate your passion for

hackathon also serves a higher purpose beyond the good times and potential job
skills for individuals: It has an impact on the entire 5C community. Merrill
highlighted this dimension.

goal in founding the 5C Hackathon was to build a more engaged technical
community on campus—to get students excited about working on side projects
and learning skills outside the classroom,” Merrill said.  

In that regard, the 5C Hackathon has been a great success. As someone who
advocates for the expansion of computer science education, I see the hackathon
as an exciting way to introduce students to the world of programming. Good luck
to all of tonight’s hackers!
Stay tuned to for details about the next 5C Hackathon, coming in

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