Hackathon: Intense computer programming creation, competition

Team of senior Shen-En Lin, left, junior Sarah Rausch and junior Joshua Eargood.

PULLMAN, Wash. – Programming-savvy students and their computers took over two floors of the CUE on Saturday for Washington State University’s second annual hackathon.

“Last year we had 30 students; this year we had 96,” said Andrew Bates, a computer science senior and organizer of the event.

Hackathons are programming contests increasingly popular on college campuses. Student teams spend an intense day of programming, complete a viable project and compete for prizes.

Sophomores Eric Guinn, left, and Gabe Jensen.

“Companies often sponsor these events to find students they would hire,” said Aaron Crandall, an assistant research professor at WSU who helped plan and judge the event. “A student’s performance in a hackathon is a better indicator of potential success in the workplace than how well he or she did in classes.”

Sponsors included Act-On, EMC Isilon, GitHub, Microsoft and SEL. Employees from SEL and Isilon joined Crandall and Chris Antes, a developer at WSU, to judge the 35 projects. One of the Isilon employees, Cameron Hawkins, was on the winning team at last year’s hackathon.

Students ranged from freshmen to Ph.D. candidates and came from a variety of majors. Organizers wanted students to build projects they were interested in and developed on their own, so there weren’t any specific project requirements.

“We encouraged students to be innovative, to move out of their comfort zones and to produce a stable, well-built, purposeful program,” Bates said. After each team presented to the judges, the top three teams received awards.

The first-place team used a Microsoft Kinect to enable gesture-driven replacement of mouse and voice control for common operations. For example, the project allows you to adjust computer volume by putting a hand to your ear and then moving your hand up or down for louder and softer.

While the three top winners had their choice of awards that included Microsoft Kinects, external hard drives and solid state drives, every student received a shirt, stickers and three free meals throughout the day.

“It’s not about winning; it’s about being passionate about what you are doing,” Bates said.