While some readers’ biggest all-nighter accomplishment was watching every Harry Potter film back-to-back, tech-savvy California college students had a different idea this weekend.
In Corwin Pavilion, over 50 teams of student hackers stayed awake through 36 intense hours of planning, programming, and play-testing various original applications and other ‘hacks’ as a part of the third annual SB Hacks Event. One weekend to create brand new functioning software, websites, and hardware — sounds as easy as Python.
In an incredible test of endurance and ingenuity, groups of participants from campuses ranging from home at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to UCLA, UC Irvine, USC, and even Arizona schools came together to create both software and hardware content to “hack” some sort of technological need or real world problem. These included websites designed to detect fake news sources and an app that lets your friends know which dining hall you’re eating in, so you don’t have to eat alone. Talk about your “life hacks.”
“Students could come in with an idea or general plan, but they couldn’t begin any actual work until they got here,” explained James Ebentier, a mentor and judge representing the sponsor company Invoca. “That means no gems.”
A gem is a part of the coding structure for the programming language Ruby. This year, Invoca offered a cash prize as well as a guaranteed interview with the company for the best use of Ruby in an original application.
Additional sponsors for the event included Lockheed Martin and Major League Hacking, as well as overall prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd from SB Hacks itself, worth about $5,000 in cash and hardware between the three tiers. Team HackTube took home the “Hack Harassment” prize for combating hateful internet comments with their filtering Google Chrome extension.
“More and more teaching materials are on Youtube these days, and we want to make it safe for teachers and students to browse without seeing hateful internet comments,” representatives from the group explained when demonstrating their prize-winning program.
Students worked to meet challenges set by the sponsors as well as execute their idea to the best of their coding capacity. This resulted in 36 hours of coding, graphic designing, and repeated debugging until hacker teams had a presentable product at 9 a.m. on Sunday. Food and drinks were provided by sponsors, and by the end, Corwin Pavilion was a maze of tables, cables, empty waters and Red Bulls, and the occasional sleeping coder.
It wasn’t all endless programming, though. Out-of-town students were greeted by the beautiful views of the campus and its beaches, although the unusually rainy weekend did make things a little extra gray. There were also smaller gaming interludes in the middle of Friday night and Saturday morning to break up intense coding sessions, as well as a visit from some therapy dogs for the stressed students.
During the final presentations, students showcased the fruits of their labor for SB Hacks judges, sponsor judges, and one another as an exciting conclusion to the last 36 hours of work. The closing ceremony recognized several teams and their applications before the very final round of judging.
These applications included a game made in Unity called Rhythm Hell, which scrubbed audio files for beats per minute of any song uploaded, and then allowed players to shoot at techno-targets in time to the music. Penalties would be incurred if the player failed to keep the beat such as loss of shooting ability or damage taken. All the assets were made in house, the team explained, as the player avatar blasted enemies along the beat of OK Go’s “I Won’t Let You Down.”
Another group called The Obama Boys created a website called Globama, a portmanteau of globe and Obama, which allowed site visitors to view the globe to track and research the various diplomatic trips President Obama took while he held office. An application called Sherlock.ai hoped to help students searching for job interviews scour company websites and learn what words and terms appear most in the company language, in an effort to make preparing for interviews a little less anxiety-inducing.
Seeing the final hours of this incredible event when all coding had finished, it was hard to imagine how hackers had to divide their time and team efforts for maximum efficiency in such a short period, but the applications they presented and tested more than spoke for themselves. Fueled with free food and energy drinks, these talented hackers proved if you’ve got any sort of need or problem, there’s a hack for that.