At Hackathon, programmers develop ideas, products

Hackathon gave seven teams of local programmers the chance to gain coding experience and potential job opportunities.
Hackathon gave seven teams of local programmers the chance to gain coding experience and potential job opportunities. Photo by Kerri Lu.

Armed with energy drinks, 10 pizzas and assorted bags of chips, members of the Yale and New Haven communities buckled down for 17 hours this weekend to write computer programs at a “Hackathon” on campus.

The Hackathon, an event organized by Sebastian Park ’13 that ran from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon, drew 31 programmers to the Dunham Student Engineering Center. Seven teams of programmers completed original websites and applications at the event, which Park said was designed to help local programmers gain coding experience and to encourage them to turn ideas into finished products.

“Pitching is great and ideas are great, but when it comes down to it, the things you see and use are things that people [have] built” Park said. “You have to put the time and energy into it.”

The Hackathon kicked off at 8 p.m. Saturday with a brief talk from David Tisch, who directs the New York City branch of TechStars, which ranks among the nation’s top accelerators for startup companies. Tisch reminded the programmers that one night of coding was unlikely to produce the world’s next technological innovation, but instead was an opportunity to learn and meet other programmers.

Though the focus of the event was on programming, the Hackathon was also a recruiting opportunity. Event sponsor and New Haven financial services company Higher One sent Sebastian Rossi ’00, its vice president of enterprise architecture, to the event to stress the company’s interest in meeting and recruiting new talent. Kam Lasater, the chief strategy officer for New Haven-based community problem reporting website SeeClickFix, offered to help programmers find jobs at local startups.

“You’re some of the brightest minds in the world,” Lasater said. “We want you to stay in New Haven.”

Of the seven projects that were completed during the 17-hour programming stretch, none was perfect but all were functional. Each programmer who completed a functional program received a one-year subscription to GitHub, a website that helps users collaborate on coding projects, and a six-month subscription to gaug.es, a system that analyzes web traffic in real-time for users.

The projects students presented included ScrewYale, a website that simplifies matching suitemates with screw dates, along with a program that allows users to control iTunes through arm gestures and another that found differences between quarterly reports in SEC filings.

Jared Shenson ’12 and Bay Gross ’13, a co-director of HackYale, won first prize at the Hackathon for building the website KeepMeLooped.in, which allows users to send mass texts and telephone calls. Shenson is a former production and design editor for the News.

Rafi Khan ’13, who created a program that scans Twitter feeds to gather information about friends’ sports teams, was awarded the “Last Hacker Standing” prize for spending the entire night programming. He received a free T-shirt that read “Happy Hacking.”

A Cognitive Science major, Park interned with Yale Information Technology Services the summer after his freshman year and programmed on the side for two to three startups while working at a venture capital firm in San Francisco last summer. Though Park organized the Hackathon himself, Higher One, the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute and venture capital firm Elm Street Ventures provided funding for the event.

Park said the next Hackathon is scheduled to take place during the spring semester.

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