Swarthmore students represent college at hacking competition

A contingent of students traveled last weekend to the inaugural “Unhackathon” competition in New York City. The group included Dakota Pekerti ’16, Yenny Cheung ’16, Alpha Chau ’16, Uriel Mandujano ’16, and Jihoon Sun ’16. Although these students organized the trip together, they all joined different teams once they arrived at the event.

The traditional format of a hackathon is a speed-and-endurance based creativity contest in which teams of programmers and engineers design a product, be it hardware or software. At the end of the event, all the final products are judged by a panel, and awards are distributed in different categories.

Some hackathons, such as the Music Hack Day, focus on a specific theme, while others, including one organized by Congress for the cause of open government, focus on a particular cause or purpose. Additionally, some companies, such as Google and Facebook, host internal or external hackathons for innovation within their specific field.

The Unhackathon was slightly different from a typical hackathon. Organized by a group of SUNY Stony Brook students, the Unhackathon placed less of an emphasis on competition, corporate viability, and previous experience than other hackathons. Where most hackathons are themed or tied to a specific company’s interests, the Unhackathon allowed competitors freedom to design whatever project they desired.

“Imagine 300 sweaty nerds packed into the size of maybe two apartment suites, just like all on their computers trying to code furiously or do something or another. And then imagine none of them bathing or showering or really doing much of anything hygienic for at least those 36 hours, ” said trip organizer Dakota Pekerti. “It’s very crazy and it’s exhausting, but it’s also an experience. I recommend that everyone try it once.”

Cheung found success at the competition. Her team’s project, “Dorms DB,” won the competition’s prize for best user interface design.

“It’s basically a Yelp for college dorms,” said Cheung. “You can log in as a student, and then you can give reviews based on your experience for housing. So you can rate a dorm you’ve lived in before, and you can also look at other people’s reviews.”

The program allows users to search for dorm rooms using a set of specifications, like proximity to a water fountain, crowdedness of the nearest bathroom or air conditioning accessibility. The website ties dorm data provided by administrations with a user-friendly interface for finding and reviewing dorm rooms.

Cheung’s team used data from Grinnell College at the Unhackathon, but students on the team plan to rework the software so that other schools can use their own data and search variables with the interface. Cheung hopes that a more generalized version of the software might form the basis of a startup company.

“I think it’s a very good way for computer science students or maybe art students to experience how it is to build a product in such a short time,” said Cheung. “You know how much you can build in [around] 30 hours, not sleeping.”

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