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Coders converge at Binghamton University’s first-ever hackathon

HackBU draws 250 students, features virtual reality and Pebble smartwatches

After countless sodas were guzzled and thousands of lines of code were written, a team from The University of Maryland took home the top prize at Binghamton University’s first-ever hackathon.

Kendall Loh/Photo Editor Students gather in Academic A to competitively code a variety of programs as part of HackBU. The competition attracted teams from universities across the northeast, and took place over a 24-hour period beginning Friday night.

HackBU hosted the hackathon over a 24-hour period from Friday evening to Saturday evening, drawing more than 250 participants.

Both seasoned and green programmers gathered in the basement of Academic Building A with the goal of creating the best original program. Each team began work on their idea Friday evening, and worked over the next 24 hours to bring it to life.

The teams of up to four members were competing for the grand prize of a Kindle Fire HD for each member as well as a $100 gift certificate to the restaurant of their choice. Projects were judged by organizers and mentors from companies who sponsored the event.

Top prize was claimed by the The University of Maryland team that used the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset in conjunction with a Microsoft Kinect motion sensor to create a virtual garage where users could take apart a bicycle piece by piece to see how it was put together.

Other projects included an interactive OCCT bus schedule for the Pebble smartwatch, a revamped version of Schedulizer and a social network for music producers to share their work online and get exposed.

According to Daniel O’Connor, founder of HackBU and a senior majoring in computer science, the hackathon was a long time in the making. Last semester, he and a group of BU students went to MHacks, a hackathon hosted by the University of Michigan.

“When we got back, many students said that they wanted to start a hackathon at Binghamton,” he explained. “That ended up becoming HackBU the club, which turned into more trips to hackathons, which eventually turned into our own hackathon.”

Bill McCarthy, associate director of the Center for Career and Professional Development at Binghamton University, said that O’Connor approached him with the idea for the event and sold him on it right away.

“He came in, we started talking, and I knew he wanted to do something really good,” McCarthy said. “Hackathons are everywhere. They’re a great way to connect employers to students.”

After meeting with O’Connor, he began emailing companies to help HackBU find sponsors.

According to O’Connor, the group raised over $10,000 in funds from sponsors. HackBU encouraged sponsors to send mentors to the event, with representatives from TD Ameritrade, Automattic, Gust, Bloomberg, Pebble and SendGrid in attendance.

Bill Shea, director of mobile applications development for TD Ameritrade — the hackathon’s biggest sponsor — said that coming to BU was an easy decision.

“[They] didn’t have to sell us at all; we just jumped in,” he said.

O’Connor said that hackathons are more important than job fairs for computer science majors.

“Very few students realize how important side-projects are until they apply for jobs and internships,” he said. “The hottest tech companies don’t care about GPAs and transcripts. They want to see the projects you’ve built outside of class.”

David Liu, who helped organize the event, said that it was important to get people involved in computer science.

“It’s really getting the word out of why computer science is such a fundamental skill for this generation, and that people should learn programming and get into technology,” said Liu, a senior double-majoring in computer science and math.

Shariq Hashme, member of the first-place team and a junior majoring in computer science and electrical engineering at Maryland, said that he was impressed with the amount of “newbies” who attended HackBU.

“Normally it’s the same crowd going from hackathon to hackathon,” he said, “but here there were a ton of Binghamton students doing something they had never done before and that was really awesome.”

Eileen Head, undergraduate director of the computer science department, said that she was impressed with the work that O’Connor and the HackBU team did.

“I was blown away,” she said. “What these students did was to expose to everybody the grand excitement of computer science and what you can do with it — it’s not about classes; it’s about the passion.”