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Seven hundred developers and designers from colleges and universities across the continent attended HackPrinceton from Nov. 10 to 12. The hackathon involved a 36-hour period in which teams of up to four students worked on both software and hardware projects.

“The goal for the weekend is to just to meet other people in the tech industry who are passionate about tech, learn new things, and take the initiative to do something you might not have done before,” explained David Fan ’19, co-director of HackPrinceton. But competing for the various prizes up for grabs isn’t the event’s only allure. The event also has plenty of food options and extra activities like therapy dogs and soccer darts. 

The hackathon, a marathon event for software and hardware project creation, was sponsored by well-known tech firms including Microsoft and Facebook, which offered workshops and prizes for projects.

The winners in each of the categories hailed from several schools besides the University. GoWithTheFlow, a project by Anna Verkhovskaya, Corbin McElhanney, and Morris Chen, students at the University of Waterloo, that applies deep learning to calculate traffic flow won the Best Overall award as well as the Best Machine Learning Hack and the Amazon Web Services — Best Use of AWS category. According to its project description, GoWithTheFlow is an open source app that allows users to input a video and analyze the flow of objects within it. The software calculates the number of objects in motion between entry points in the frame. The group claims that this could have useful applications in event hosting, as organizers may benefit from extra information regarding crowd flow.

The Audience Choice and Best Hack for Social Good awards went to TranslatAR, an AR app by Jon Zhang ’18, Nicholas Jiang ’18, and Aravind Yeduvaka ’18 that translates speech in real time and displays subtitles using augmented reality technology. DeepSquat, a project by Arjun Subramaniam ’21 and Seyoon Ragavan ’21, won the Best Health/Environment Hack category for creating a program that provides feedback on the user’s squatting technique. The award for the Best First-Time Hack went to DeVote, a project by Michael Man ’21 and Bevin Benson ’21 that facilitates decentralized, anonymous voting. All of these projects were by University students.

This semester’s HackPrinceton was similar to past editions, though it attracted more participants than recent ones. As in previous years, the event was entirely organized by around 30 undergraduate students.

Mentors from companies or other graduate students from all over the country are also a major part of the hackathon.

“If participants have any issue with a technicality in their program, want to discuss ideas, or just have questions about the tech industry, we have mentors who can help with that,” said Jason Qu ’21, a member of the operations team in charge of finding mentors.

According to co-director Elizabeth Tian ’19, the format involves 10 finalists that are evaluated by a panel of five judges who will pick the best overall project. But there’s an abundance of other categories, such as Biggest Failure to Launch, Best Hardware Hack, and Social Good Hack, the latter of which is awarded to the team that has a project that benefits society the most.

The organizing team’s impressions have been positive. Organizers said they think that the presentation this year has been more polished than in previous iterations, and information on prizes and other details was better communicated to potential participants.

The hackathon accommodates newcomers with less experience, and even those who have been afraid of venturing into the competitive world of tech. There are starter kits available, which include relatively simple programming languages, as well as suggestions for projects.

“HackPrinceton gives people a chance to get practical experience, so those who are scared of getting into the tech industry can go to a Hackathon and feel as though they’ve achieved something meaningful,” Tian said.

A number of visiting students from other universities have positively commented on the event. “I don’t know if it’s the space, or the way the buildings are set up … but I think [Princeton’s hackathon] out of all the ones we’ve gone to, including Harvard’s, definitely has a much nicer feeling,” says Tyler Goulski, a graduate of Bridgewater State University.

“I like the size, it feels about just right,” added Eric Wang, a senior at Swarthmore College.

Other firms involved in the hackathon include Stdlib, Ark.io, D.E. Shaw & Co., Facebook, Microsoft, Two Sigma, Capital One, Hudson River Trading, Wolfram, Mixmax, Qualtrics, and Soylent.

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