On Friday and Saturday, the rooms of West Campus 410 were so crowded that Yale Hackathon organizer and founder Kevin Tan ’16 could not find a place to hold a meeting.
Attended by over 1,000 participants from across the country and globe, YHack, in its second year, was a 37-hour coding marathon with over $15,000 worth of prizes. Although there were some minor glitches with air conditioning and Wi-Fi systems — the Yale network crashed in the middle of the hackathon — organizers, hackers and sponsors all said the event was a success. Tan said he wants to provide a community and identity for hackers on campus and build support for the event from the administration.
“YHack deserves more recognition and support from Yale because there is a lot of student and faculty interest,” Tan said. “These innovative tech companies are smart and recognize the value in [these conferences], but Yale is a little slow and that’s why they need a wake-up call.”
The vast majority of the funds for the hackathons are provided by sponsors — including Viacom, Staples and Microsoft — who appreciate the creative energy and networking hackathons provide, Tan said. He added that the organizers were thankful to Yale’s West Campus for providing the venue to house the event. But Tan said Yale should be more supportive of the hacker community.
On the first night, the air conditioning malfunctioned, and participants like Andre Yiu, a student from the University of Waterloo in Canada, said it was too cold. Saturday night, the Yale servers crashed, making it impossible to code and program. However, Tan said this malfunction happened “at the perfect moment” — right before the rap battle. The organizers used the crash to their advantage and told everyone to go to the rap battle, which featured famous rapper judge Mega Ran.
Tan cited the rap battle as an example of how he is trying to build community and tradition within the hacker community at Yale. At last year’s hackathon, the rap battle began at 2 a.m. when, according to Tan, he wanted to incite energy in attendees. He said he tweeted out to the hackers that there would be an impromptu rap battle. Instead of the 10 hackers Tan expected, hundreds of hackers filled the hall and stairwells of the main lobby.
The organizers said they wanted to include other community building events like a costume contest and scary movies. Tan said another goal of his was to rebrand the hacker identity by including “swag” with free T-shirts, pillowcases and stickers.
“My mission was to raise the taste level of the hacker community,” Tan said. “The idea of that was to [foster] an amazing spirit in terms of all the sensory experiences.”
Participants ranged from expert to novice coders. For the latter, the event included workshops and mentoring opportunities so even those with no coding experience had a chance to learn. According to Tan, the event had to turn almost 3,000 people away because there was not enough space, but the organizers still tried to maintain the diversity of skill levels and geographical regions.
By the end of the weekend, all attendees had worked on projects that incorporated coding — which included building new apps.
Yiu created a “Yalloween” app which connects to a user’s location and provides ratings on nearby houses in order to help the user choose the best Halloween trick or treat route.
Dang Yeshiwas, a junior computer science major from Virginia Tech, created an app to help students find lost room keys. He said that, since last year, YHack has become more organized and better planned, and he would like to return in future years because the event provides an opportunity to develop skills for his desired career in mobile app planning. Yeshiwas added that he enjoy getting to meet the CEOs of important companies, and being allowed to use their technologies was a crucial part of the overall experience.
YHack organizer Aleksandra Zakrzewska ’16 said the hackathon is a nice addition for computer science students at Yale because the classes in the major are mainly theoretical. Application-based events like the hackathon are important for developing skills that Yale students cannot acquire in the classroom, she added.
The first place prize was awarded on Sunday to a Carnegie Mellon team, which created an app that translates music into sheet music.