Coders Get Down to Business at Fourth Annual SBHacks

Photo by America Lopez Martin

Yane An

Despite transportation difficulties with Highway 101, the fourth annual SBHacks provided an educational, innovative space for students interested in STEM while also experiencing the nature of UCSB’s campus. The 36-hour event took place in the Corwin Pavilion and Digital Arts & Humanities Common from Jan. 19 to 22.

Highway 101 was closed during the event, restricting transportation from schools such as the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Southern California. Multiple accidents along the highway also delayed food, prizes, and other deliveries to the event, causing the schedule to be pushed back, according to SBHacks marketing team lead Diane Phann, a third year statistical science major.

Phann said it was “constant calling” with the buses by SBHacks logistics team and co-director Anna Lee.

Lee, a fourth year communications and global studies major, said one of the buses even got stuck due to accidents on both sides of the highway.

“It’s just so unfortunate,” Phann said. “We lost some participants who couldn’t make the drive, which is understandable.”

The event still hosted over 400 students, who packed Corwin Pavilion, prepared with their computer setups and overnight gear. Students presented their demos at the end of the hackathon in a science-fair style expo for hackers and judges, competing for prizes.

SBHacks also featured sunrise beach walks, an excursion to the labyrinth, dog therapy, and a walk to the reef.

“We do want to still be competitive in terms of other hackathons, but we also want to share a more laid-back experience in terms of having fun while learning how to code,” Lee said. Lee said the team brainstormed what hackers who are new to the Santa Barbara area would want to do.

Phann said the hackathon provided a safe environment for everyone to learn more about tech and work with fellow students, as well as interact directly with mentors and sponsors. “That’s something you can’t really get in school,” she said.

“It’s not what you’re thinking of  —  oh, scary people behind a computer hacking into other people’s computers  —  it’s more like the spirit of innovation,” Lee said. “It’s really great just seeing students interact with each other, and helping each other.”

Lee said she even saw two teams competing for the same prize help each other figure out the virtual reality tool provided by their sponsors.

Phann said the team wanted to combat the stigma that coders have to pull all-nighters to finish projects, and instead promoted healthy habits. Students were able to nap in the Harbor Room.

She said as a coder herself, she knows it gets tiring to look at code for hours. “You really have to take a break to refresh your mind,” she said. “We want people to sleep. We want people to be comfortable.”

Cameron Yang, a fourth year mathematical science major, said he enjoyed the short, 30-minute workshops provided by the sponsors. “They were really good [for] dipping your toes in the software that they’re offering,” he said.

Phann credited this year’s group of over twenty organizers, and their interest and support, for the quality of the hackathon. “That makes a huge difference in hosting such a huge event,” she said.

Phann said the funding this year allowed for better quality and healthier food. She added that the sponsorship team “really stepped up their game.”

Phann stated that the marketing team spread the word of the event to every school throughout California, as well as other states. According to Phann, students from as far away as New York and Texas flew in to the event. “That’s dedication right there,” she said.

She also expressed appreciation for the volunteers this year, who supervised rooms, passed out food, and made sure the event was under control. “They actually wanted to be here, they’re not doing it for community service hours,” Phann said. “They just wanted to experience it.”

Lee said the team went through the application process a little more rigorously to raise the quality of their hackathon.

Lee said she’s glad the team overcame last year’s difficulties with funding to be better than ever before. “We had to go through a lot of growing pains,” she said, noting that sponsors included Associated Students and local start-ups like Invoca and Appfolio. “I’m super proud of our team.”

Phann encouraged anyone interested in tech or coding to come out to hackathons. “If you want to try it, don’t be scared,” she said. “Go to your first hackathon, meet the people, meet mentors, you’re gonna grow and learn by doing and that’s what we really want our hackers to do.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled the author’s name.