Glad you asked! Hackathons are two to three-day long events that are held over the course of a weekend at universities across the nation (and the world)! They usually feature several hundred college students, a handful of corporate sponsors, and thousands of dollars in prizes, awards, and other fun incentives. Overall, the goal of a hackathon is to encourage students to get excited about building their ideas in reality. You spend the weekend building an idea from brainstorming to code, and that journey is informative and fun. You usually hack straight through, from Friday night until Sunday morning. Most kids will only sleep for a couple hours.
So why am I talking so much about hackathons?
Because I just went to one!
I spent this past weekend at Stanford University, participating in TreeHacks at Stanford! The TreeHacks team sent a bus down from Stanford, and we all bussed up together Friday morning. We got in around 4pm or so Friday, and spent the next 36 hours hacking away at a project. I met some really cool people students from MIT, Brown, UIUC, and (obviously) Stanford, among others. It was an awesome opportunity to meet other people who cared about building cool projects. And while most of them were CS-related, there were plenty of hacks that focused on using computer science as a tool to convey a larger message, like Sensory, a VR experience that let people simulate visual, auditory, and cognitive disorders using an Oculus Rift.
Meet PawBank! The problem we tried to solve was the high barrier to entry for pet adoption. We realized that adopting pets often times has a lot of unexpected costs, and these costs (like spaying and neutering, vet trips, etc) prevented people from adopting pets. On the other side, there were plenty of people who wanted to contribute to pet adoption but, for some reason (be it building codes, their family’s situation, etc) they couldn’t do so. So we built PawBank, an app where people can donate small amount of money to shelter pets so that when those pets are ready to be adopted, they’ve managed to crowdsource funding and reduce the barrier to entry to their adoption. We used a combination of Flask (Python), SQL Alchemy, JSON interfaces, and Swift to build the app. And everything I used to help build the app with my team? I learned it during the weekend.
Overall, I had an incredible weekend filled with friends, food, fun, and fantastic amounts of learning. Wherever you go to college, I highly recommend you participate in hackathons. They’re an amazing experience and teach you a ton.
Oh, and guess what? I met another Ankur. And of course, he’s from UCLA.
P.S. You can explore my project, along with all the other cool hacks built at Stanford, at this link!