A wonderful journey to 10 hackathons in 2016

Me at GreatUniHack Fall 2016

It all started from my first week at The University of Nottingham, in September 2015. It was a welcome week. HackSoc, A club for students who are interested in coding and programming of The University of Nottingham (UoN), had organised their first session of the semester to welcome all members to the new semester and introducing what the HackSoc is and what they do.

As an international student from Thailand, I heard a lot of new things that I have never heard before, Slack (The group chats application), swags (free give away stuff in hackathon), hackathons, etc…. One thing I was particularly interested was hackathon. A very interesting event for all coders, where all participated coders were called ‘hackers,’ where they ‘hack’ for 24-hours continuously. Back then, I did not understand what hackathon really is. Though, all the pictures and videos about the hackathon event attracts me a lot. It shows people coding, laughing, sleeping on the floor next to their working desks, and pizzas! I felt like I must participate and find out.

I was nervous to join the hackathon. I was not a genius kid who started coding since the age of 10. I was just an Electrical Engineering student who learned to code just because it was a part of the course (C language). I found it is fascinating to be able to tell the computer what to do. Therefore, I continued learning how to code on my own. I used C language to program my hobby project on an Arduinos. Next, I found the project which connects the Arduino with an Android phone. So, I started to learn Android and Java.

10th October 2015, Local Hack Day 2015 — The University of Nottingham.

A 12-hours hackathon. It was organised by more than a hundred universities across the World, including my universities. Although it was still uncertain for what the Local Hack Day or hackathon was, I decided to attend. There were swags, stickers, snacks, foods provided for us at the site and also hardwares such as the Arduino boards. I met another three participants at the table which I randomly chose to sit. We discussed our interests, exchanged Facebook contacts and built a web-based message box from Arduino kits which we could type messages into a website we created, and those messages would appear on the LED screen module. I just did a bit of wire connecting, and Arduino coding. And the other guy from Computer Science school created the website. To be able to accomplished all these in less than 4 hours was my great start with hackathon.

(Left) They were giving out a selfie-stick. So I took a selfie. (Right) What we did in Local Hack Day.

27–28 February 2016, HackLondon — University College London

It was my very first time in a 24-hours hackathon. The atmosphere at the open ceremony impressed me a lot. I felt the energy and enthusiasm from all the hackers. I felt certain that they were going to create some crazy hacking projects. Some of them were giving one another a hug like they have not met for a while. It was such a massive and cozy inter-university community.

HackLondon 2016 opening ceremony

Teamed up with four, with one hacker I met back at the Local Hack Day and another two hackers from UoN. MLH provided a collection of hardwares to hack such as Oculus Rift, Myo Armband, Leap Motion, Arduino, Pebble watch, etc. We were so excited to get our hands on those expensive devices. After we had spent our first 6 hours with those fancy hardwares, we came up with nothing. We were still got no idea for which direction our project should lead, using these borrowed stuffs. To be realistic, we decided to use none of the hardwares and just go with what we were most familiar with; websites and Android apps. Finally, we created a game called SpaceShip. A multiplayer game where players connected to a server via an Android app. The game was shown on the websites. Players needed to move their ships which appeared on the websites using their phones to avoid the asteroids.

Excited with the Myo armband

I spent only 2 hours of sleep. It was not that hard actually, but it turned out to be difficult for me because the lack of experiences at the time. Some bugs took me an hour or more to deal with, and I just could not sleep unless those bugs were fixed! I literally felt the sense of the true hacker! We did not win any prize. Other groups also came up with interesting projects. Though, the closing ceremony, once again, impressed me. Although it had been 24 hours after the opening ceremony, many hackers had not gotten enough sleep, some even fell asleep during the ceremony. Still, the overall atmosphere was uninterruptedly memorable, filled with applauses and cheering voices. It was such a very productive weekend. And it could never be done without the HackLondon crews who kept serving us foods, snacks or even gave us hand in coding.

4–6 March 2016, StudentHackIV — Manchester Metropolitan University

This was the longest hackathon I had ever been to. 38 hours of invention marathon. Together with the same crew members from the HackLondon event. This time, our minds were set with a solid idea. The Phone Magnet, an Android phone tracking application which required no internet connection, using the Twilio API. It sends an SMS to the lost phone via the website, and the phone will send back the geolocation data which the site will then convert them into a beautiful-looking map with a pin indicated a current location of the phone.

Finally, we ended up with 2 prizes, “Best Use of Twilio API” and “Best Use of AWS.” By the way, the opening and closing ceremony atmosphere were great too.

12–13 March 2016, BrumHack4.0 — University of Birmingham

One of my favorite hackathon in terms of the choice of venue. Ceremonies, hacking area, slideshow karaoke, and catering area were all taking place in the same room. This time I went alone and teamed up with two Computer Science students from the University of Birmingham. We all got zero experience in using Unity3D with an Oculus Rift, but we decided to create a project from those things. It felt great to sometimes jump out of the comfort zone. I had created two Android projects in the past two weeks. I thought I need to try something else. Something I thought I could hardly get a chance to play around if it was not an opportunity I get to participate in the hackathon, the Virtual Reality Headset!

My first time with Oculus Rift

What special about the Brumhack4.0 venue was that you could be part of every funny activities occurred unprepared. Also, they were all happening in the same room. I neglected those funny events in the past two weeks. But this week, I was a part of almost every single one! For instance, The Werewolf, funny drawing challenge, and my favorite one, slideshow karaoke.

The project we created using the Unity3D with the Oculus Rift was called the Star Killer. It looked simple actually, but we all so proud of the result.

19–20 March 2016, Hack24 — Tech Nottingham

No early morning train to catch for this week. The event held at the iconic Nottingham Council House. Also, this was not a student hackathon like the part three events I had participated.

Nottingham Council House

This one was a hackathon for everyone; Tech Startup entrepreneurs, full-time programmers, students, and so forth. Once again, a free event with tickets sold out just one minute after releases. Teamed up with three PHP guys I met in the Slack team-up channel. They were full-time PHP programmers. We created a calendaring application that allows users to discover ideal time for their meetings and events. I was up and conscious for 24-hours straight. Our calendaring needed an Android app on a side for a super easy authentication system. I was the one responsible for this part. However, my six months experience in Android development was inadequate. There were a lot of things to learn along the way before the app can meet our expectation. It was so stressful, but that was what made me felt so proud of myself in the end. We managed to get the job done. We entered to the “Cronofy Call Back to The Future” Challenge, and we won a runner up prize!


And my Spring 2016 season was ended here. I spent the last two months of the Spring semester with my study and managed to finish my 2nd year in engineering degree very well. In September, before I started my final year, I asked myself whether I should attend to more hackathon like I did. Then, I found no reason not to! Every single week after I came back from the hackathon, I always felt proud and surprise of my accomplishment. Also, I felt energetic, find new friends, learned something beneficial, and sometimes, got some prizes back home. How could I stop going to these fantastic events?

15–16 October 2016, HackSheffield2.0 — University of Sheffield

It was my first event for the MLH Hackathon Fall 2017 season and my fifth one. I traveled alone from Nottingham. When I arrived there, it was crowded in the hacking room. So I searched for an empty seat and found a seat with two guys sitting in the opposite side. We had a little chat before we unexpectedly formed a team of three. One of us came up with the idea of a tap-to-send cross-platform file transfer application between a Windows Phone and an Android Phone, which utilizes the NFC chip in those phones. However, After we listened to the sponsor’s presentation at the open ceremony, we twisted our idea a little. Still, we wanted to create a tap-to-send cross-platform app, but rather than focusing on an ability to send a file, we made it to be able to transfer money by using Nessie-API from Capital One. Capital One crew visited us regularly during the hacking time to support us with using the Nessie-API. I did not get to sleep again. There was an astonishing thing happen to my hack which I would never forget.

Around 8 am on Sunday, after almost 20 hours straight of coding, my app was almost finished. After the first time of real money transfer testing, my app crashed with no reason. The test went well, then after that, it crashed. I was so nervous. I had no idea why that happened. I rechecked my code again and again and found no bugs. I thought I was about to lost what I had been working on in the past 20 hours! Our last hope was the Capital One crew. I tweeted them, then they came and saved my life. The problem was with the Nessie Android SDK. (Geek alert) It meant to accept float variable to stored bank account balance data, and this was what causes the problem. We had to change that to an Integer type, and it solved the bug. What a relief!

(Left) Took a picture with AAG Systems’ staff (Right) My set up was just too outstanding!

In the end, we did not officially win the Capital One challenge. But we won the “AAG Systems’ Most Innovative Mobile App with emphasis on B2B” challenge. In addition, the Capital One team had enough prizes left for all of us as the winner team had only two people. Thus, they gave us those prizes too. I could say that I won a runner-up prize from Capital One!

29–30 October 2016, BrumHack5.0 — University of Birmingham

It was my second time at the University of Birmingham within less than a year. This was the first event I joined the team forming session. We formed a group of five. None of us knew each other before. Moreover, they were all new to hackathon. Last time I came to Birmingham, I did my hackathon differently than I usually do. I typically created an Android App. And this time, our idea was a web-app that allows every phones in the room to simultaneously played the same tunes making an array of stereo speakers. We called it Amplifyr.org (The only name that was still available and had something to do with the project). My role was to create a simple front-end using HTML. My teammate also taught me a bit of back-end stuff as well. They were just amazing. We all worked together until the last minute and managed to finish it on time.

There was a funny thing happened here. We won a prize from BlackRock not because our hack met their criteria or applied their technology, but because of they just liked our hack!

5–6 November 2016, AstonHack 2016 — Aston University

Not too far from where I was last week. It was the third time I came to Birmingham to hack through the weekend. Teamed up with two guys, one was my old friend whom I met at Local Hack Day last year and he also went to HackLondon and StudentHackIV together with me. Another guy was his friend whom he met from the previous week hackathon. We had a little conflicted when we brainstorming the ideas to hack. There was a challenge from Majestic which offers 200£ prizes. One of the criteria was to use their API. Two hours after the hacking began, we could not think of any eureka idea that brilliant enough to lead us to that prizes. We split into two sides, one still searching for an ideas with Majestic API, another came up with an idea to enter the “best Goose Related Hack” challenge. Until around the dinner time on Saturday, the Majestic side gave up. We then focused on creating the “Bomber Goose” game.

It was an Amazon credit prizes, which they sent to us after the event

We did not win the “best Goose Related Hack” prize but as we used .Tech Domain for our game’s domain name, we won the “Best .Tech Domain” prize instead.

12–13 November 2016, GreatUniHack Fall 2016 — Manchester Metropolitan University

My old friend from Local Hack Day and I again reached the venue together since before the staffs arrived. Two of us met another guy who flew all the way from Germany, and we eventually teamed up. Unlike last week, this time we spent less than 10 minutes discussed the idea for the project. A Location-Based instant Meet up app with a quick an easy feature to exchange all contacts information using NFC. Got a chance to work on the Android platform again. We used “Domain.com” for the domain, AWS to host the server and Estimote Beacon to leveraged the meeting location system.

We won two prizes, “best use of Domain.com” and “Estimote Beacon prize.” However, as you can see from a picture, we did not hold anything in our hands. Unfortunately for us, both sponsors forgot to bring prizes to the ceremony.

Just thumbs up!

19–20 November 2016, OxfordHack 2016 — University of Oxford

This was the one I was most excited about. The registration system was different from the others. We had to wait for the confirmation email that said: “you are invited.” I was nervous. Afraid that I might not get the invitation, which made me felt even more excited when I got one. The night before this hackathon, I did not know whether because I was too excited or I was afraid of missing a 4 AM coach to Oxford, I only had two hours of sleep.

Joined the team-building channel in Slack, I met three Deutsches, originally from Germany (teamed up with guys who flew from Germany for 2 weeks in a row!). They had passion for hitchhiking. Their idea was to create an application for the hitchhiker. And of course, Android developer was a perfect fit here. We named it “Hitchhacking” project, (internally called it “Uber for Hipsters”).

You would definitely not be fully conscious when you had only two hours of sleep. My secret to staying awake through the whole night in any hackathon was sweets. I usually did not eat much desserts. Therefore, when I ate them, the sugar level in my blood increases and thus gave me extra-awake hours.

With another one hour of a nap during the 24-hour hacking time, we eventually got the app done. Even we did not win any prizes, my friends from Germany were so proud with their first hackathon. I very much felt them. It was like what I felt when I finished my first hackathon. We managed to get it done within just 24 hours, which was just amazing.

(Left) The only group-picture we had (Right) Green badge, it’s Slytherin!

By the way, the wizard theme of this hackathon was so creative and also my favorite one. It reminded me the quote “programming is just witchcraft with technology!”

And last but not least. After attending to five hackathons within six weeks and a necessity to skipped few classes(for obvious reasons), get to stay overnight in the weekends. My 2016 journey can not be ended perfectly if I did not go to this one, HackNotts.

27–28 November 2016, HackNotts 2016 — The University of Nottingham

It took place at the same venue as the Local Hack Day last year. Organised by the HackSoc, which I was also a member of. So, there was my team, the organiser team! I changed my role from participant to be a staff in this hackathon. It was also great to see so many familiar faces. Many people I met in other events, some I used to teamed up with, some organised the event I went to, it was my turn to help them have a great hacking time.

Throughout the weekend, everything went smoothly. The German cold drinks and the wooden Nottingham Castle provided the best networking area. All meals served on time, and loads of awesome projects came out at the end. Of course, I did not came up with any hack to enter to any challenge. Apart from carrying foods/snacks, cleaning up the areas, assisting participants, and doing all the staff’s tasks, I spent time chatting with many people than I normally do in other Hackathon. Some were my old teammates, some were hackers whom I met in the past 12 months hackathon but never got a chance to talk to, or the photographer who took a lot of pictures of me in the past few events but I have never had a chance to say a word to him. Even with no hacking, no prizes, it was also another fantastic weekend.

:D

Thanks to anyone who has read up to this point. It is my first blog. Last year, I attended to my first hackathon on 27–28th of February and it became a great starting point of my year. So, this year, I wanted to start off my year with something amazing like making a blog sharing all the exciting experiences I have had throughout 2016. Hackathon is awesome.

It is not all about coding, or competition. You go there, experiment your creativity by creating something, learn and try something new, share and exchange your knowledge with others, and just have fun and enjoy the time you got to spent there.

Hope anyone who is still hesitating to join the hackathon find this blog helpful. The experience you get may vary. Who knows, the next big name in coding community can be you. Just give it a try!