Students Take a Byte Out of Coding at 5C Hackathon

The sound of a hundred clicking keyboards filled Pomona College’s Edmunds
Ballroom Nov. 14 as students rushed to put the final touches on their work. 

The 6th Semiannual 5C Hackathon
challenge took place from 7
p.m. to 10 a.m., with various teams of student computer programmers collaborating to
design internet applications, fueled by all-night snacks and a competitive drive. Approximately 220 students from all five colleges and with varying levels of experience participated in the team hacks. 

At the
end of the night, the groups’ apps were judged in each category: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. The winning teams received prizes
sponsored by the Silicon Valley program, Microsoft, Google and Intuit.
 

“It’s great seeing people come who don’t have
as much experience in coding,” said Ryan Luo PO ’16, an organizer and two-year
participant of the event. “It’s really awesome when they tackle hard problems
that they’ve been working on all night.”

Since
not everyone had the same background in coding, the Hackathon planning team
provided a week-long course called Hack Week to teach new programmers the
basics of building web applications. These tools included basic HTML/CSS,
databases involving Mongo DB and JavaScript. Even the experienced participants
had questions during the challenge, so Luo and other leaders were on call throughout the night.

The apps
varied in subject and complexity, but they all provided useful services, from a
slang dictionary to Lego mosaics to a potato-song themed game. An app called “How
Many Dranks?” created by a group of four female programmers, snagged the
first-place title in the Beginner section.

“We
wanted to find a better method of counting drinks than the tally-on-your-hand kind,”
said Ornella Altunyan PO ’18, who is enrolled in her first computer science
class this semester. “We had to use a lot of trial and error, since there was
some stuff we didn’t know. Still, it was really fun to figure it out.”

Essentially,
the user puts in basic information, such as name, weight and biological sex, and
presses a button every time they take a drink. The app marks all the variables
necessary to calculate the proper BAC and sends the user notifications when his
or her BAC exceeds an unsafe threshold. It also includes an emergency feature,
substance abuse hotlines and a GPS map. Altunyan believes the map will help people
trying to piece together their night the next morning.

Overall,
the team was glad they got a chance to work together and think about a
realistic solution to a prevalent campus problem.

“Hackathon is a great opportunity for anyone
interested in coding,” team member Krista Rutz PO ’17 said. “I’m so glad
I did it.”

Chris
Kotcherha HM ’18 and Richard Ni HM ’18 took a slightly different approach with their submission, creating an extension to Google Chrome that enables a web page to load but
not to be immediately displayed on the screen. They showed their work on the Top 50
“Subreddits” of the popular info-sharing website, Reddit. If the user moves the
cursor past a certain threshold, they can close their current window and bring
up the page.

Similarly keeping busy college students in mind, Shreyas Kadaba PO ’18 and Antonio de la Barra PO ’18 designed a 5C carpooling service. The designers hope to save their fellow college students both money and energy with their service. 

“We want
to encourage people to leave the Claremont bubble,” de la Barra said. “However,
it’s been a bit difficult to design the app because we don’t have a lot of
experience with coding.”

Other
groups faced similar challenges. Oftentimes, participants had a clear idea of what to
design but were not sure exactly how to execute it. Devin Powell
PO ’17 and her three other teammates, for example, wanted to design a visual game novel in
which the user’s decisions affect the outcome of the story.

“It’s an
input-output method that branches off like a tree,” Powell said. “You put one
thing in, and you’ll get so many different branches, which is hard to design on
an app.”

Though
it took a while, the group eventually decided on a usable method and were able
to produce an app by the end of the event when prizes were awarded.

Daniel Johnson HM ’18 and Hamzah Khan
HM ’18 won first place in the Advanced section. Their app, “Augmented Reality Snake,” lets a user play the popular game
“Snake” on paper instead of a screen.

Zhenghan Zhang HM ’18 won first place in the Intermediate section with his app “SimulTube,”
which enables video playback technology on multiple devices. 

Although not everyone returned with a prize,
many were happy to be able to collaborate with fellow tech-savvy talents and to share
their work with aspiring professionals. The next Hackathon will take place in
the spring semester.

Update: This article was edited Nov. 23 to accurately reflect the number of participants in the event.

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