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HackPrinceton attracts over 600 developers, designers

Over six hundred developers and designers from across the nation attended HackPrinceton from Nov. 11 to 13.

HackPrinceton, which centers around a 36-hour period to create software and hardware projects, brought together students and seasoned mentors to engage the University’s on and off-campus communities with both new and familiar technologies.

A hackathon is a marathon software and hardware product creation event for individuals with an interest in coding.

“The idea of a hackathon is to put you in an environment where you’re surrounded by like-minded students or equally passionate and equally motivated students that kind of give you the right mindset to think about building projects, learning from others, and picking up some new skills,” Zachary Liu ’18, Co-Director for HackPrinceton, explained.

Sponsor prizes were awarded in 22 different categories for the Best First-Time Hackathon Hack, Most Out-of-the-Box Hack, Best Wearable Hack, Biggest Failure to Launch, and Best Princeton TigerApp, among a wide variety of others.

One winning project completed by University students was “Tapioca” by Emily Tang ’18, third-year graduate student Danny Gitelman GS, third-year graduate student Byron Vickers GS, and Ph.D. candidate in computer science Sergiy Popovych GS, which allows the user to transfer style from one picture to another. Another project, titled “Princeton Clubs” by Stephen Cornwell ’20, Olivia Johnston ’20, and Austin Wang ’20, collects information for the different student groups on campus into one central location.  “SketchIt” by Jon Zhang ’18, Nicholas Jiang '18, and Aravind Yeduvaka '18, allows users to draw an image and search for pictures that match.

Tapioca was awarded the Best Use of Amazon Web Services prize sponsored by Amazon; Princeton Clubs was awarded the Best of Princeton TigerApp prize sponsored by Princeton USG; and SketchIt was awarded both the Most Technically Challenging prize and Best Use of Microsoft Technology prize.

“We had a great time developing SketchIt and learned a great deal about scalability and computer vision in the process,” Zhang said of his time at HackPrinceton.

Other winners declined to comment.

Several HackPrinceton projects also reached beyond the University community, such as “FiB: Stop Living a Lie,” which is a chrome-extension that goes through individual Facebook feeds in real time to verify the authenticity of posts.

In addition to the “Content-consumption” part of the two-fold algorithm, FiB: Stop Living a Life also includes a “Content-creation” feature which verifies the legitimacy of content posted and shared by users.

The project, created by Anant Goel, a freshman at Purdue University, Nabanita De, a second-year master’s student in computer science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Qinglin Chen, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Mark Craft, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has gained national recognition in light of discussion surrounding the influence of Facebook on the 2016 presidential race.

Judging was split into two rounds. First round judges included anyone with technical experience, while final round judges were more selectively chosen. Company and sponsor employees, as well as local citizens in tech, comprised the pool of final round judges.

Beyond the main event, a variety of tech and innovation geared workshops were available at HackPrinceton.

After registration and opening ceremonies on the first night, Keller Center Professor Derek Lidow ’73 led an ideation and design thinking workshop.

Other workshops such as “Cognitive Services: Building Smart Apps with Speech, NLP & Vision,” “Android App Development,” and “React Native: The Sexiest New Way to Build iOS Apps” were offered and led by sponsors and experts in technology.

"The HackPrinceton workshops were a great introduction to hackathons for me. There were a lot of cool companies that seemed eager to support you even if you weren't very experienced with building something from the ground-up," said Samer Kadmani ’20.

In addition to accessing experts in the field, students participating in HackPrinceton were able to turn their ideas into reality free of charge. Meals, merchandise, and gear were provided.

Traveling costs were covered as well. A number of buses were sent to schools and from HackPrinceton, and reimbursements were provided to help subsidize travel expenditures for students without access to buses.

Planning for HackPrinceton 2016 began the week after the spring hackathon.

“We immediately started looking at dates, venues, and companies to bring,” said Liu.

Beyond logistics, hackathon-planning takes into account preparation for people of all experience levels. Only about half the participants are computer science majors. Others are from other engineering disciplines and non-engineering disciplines such as in physics, mathematics, and molecular biology.

"Our experience team put in a lot of effort this year in facilitating first-timer hackers' builds," said developer lead for HackPrinceton, Casey Chow '19.

The team not only created "starter packs" which provided first-timers with tutorials of projects they could try with various difficulties, but also held ideation workshops, which help students develop ideas.

"One of the hardest parts of hackathons is coming up with an idea to build, so we made sure that everyone who needed an idea could find one," said Chow.

Because HackPrinceton brings a wide range of participants, from those who have never coded to those who regularly attend hackathons, the HackPrinceton team had to consider questions from a new perspective.

“Many people are computer science majors and the problem with that is that you really need to think about what a hackathon is like for people who are new to hackathons or new to coding entirely,” Liu said, “things that I might take for granted such as building and check-in locations are easy to overlook especially if someone has never been to a hackathon before.”

HackPrinceton’s ultimate goal is to increase awareness and interest in coding and project-building as a hobby and not just a career path, in addition to building the University’s reputation as an engineering and technology school.

“We partner with student organizations to reach out to people who might just need that extra push to work on a side project,” Liu said.

Partnerships were made with the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, the Department of Electrical Engineering, the Department of Computer Science, the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, the Keller Center, and Major League Hacking.

This year’s event was also made possible through sponsorship from companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Jane Street, Capital One, and Twitter.