My deCODE Experience

The beautiful faces of deCODE Google Waterloo
Hi, my name is Raja. Over the past two days, I got the amazing opportunity to work with some smart students, and two really cool engineers from Google.

Those were the exact words I used to introduce my team’s project, deSNAP.

This past Friday and Saturday, I attended the deCODE Waterloo hackathon where I was paired with Google, along with five other students. We were given less than two days to complete a fully functional project, but we were mentored by two Google engineers along the way.

The two engineers we were paired with suggested we make an Android application to share photos. We came up with the name of deSNAP (I wanted to call it D-pic). deSNAP is an Android app that allows users to send and receive pictures confidentially, and it includes the ability to scan your friends’ QR codes to add them. We created our app in Android Studio and used Google Firebase for our backend.

deCODE wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. I was under the impression it was like any other hackathon: A couple hundred students come together for up to 48 hours of continuous hacking, free food and hair-pulling-in-frustration-because-my-program-won’t-compile-and-I-just-slept-for-three-hours-on-the-floor, and you typically end off the weekend sweaty, smelly, tired and full of coffee and soylent — but with a cool side project you can add to your portfolio! While deCODE had amazing food and I did walk away with another side project under my belt, it was super different from traditional hackathons.

The primary difference of deCODE is the size. With less than thirty attendees, all of whom went through a rigorous screening process, the event has a very exclusive feel. Applications are first screened by the deCODE organizers, who attempt to minimize bias by ignoring applicant names when reviewing applications. Applications are then reviewed by recruiters and developers from the sponsor companies, who decide which students they want to work with. The result is a few small teams of handpicked, quality applicants who get the amazing chance to work with high profile, innovative companies — which is itself an amazing reward.

Personally, being able to work with real engineers from Google was a great opportunity, and one I didn’t think I would be lucky enough to ever experience. Besides being able to learn from the top engineers in the industry, it made me realise that Googlers aren’t super genius cyborgs who can recite sorting algorithms backwards — they’re regular people. They look at memes, they play video games and they use stack overflow, too.

deCODE also isn’t an overnight hackathon. The engineers probably aren’t down to spend their night sleeping on a table in an old lecture hall, so I got to spend my Friday night sleeping in a normal bed. For hackers who came from other universities, deCODE provided accommodations for them.

Overall, I was very impressed with how our project turned out, and I’m so glad I applied to this event. I got to work with people who were much smarter than I am and we churned out a functioning app in under 36 hours — and those hours were filled with learning, caffeine, great food, a bit of frustration and a lot of fun (and a couple of dad jokes, too).

Huge thank you to the deCODE team for organizing this event, and shout out to all the wonderful engineers from Google, Top Hat, Microsoft and Shopify who gave up the majority of their weekend to mentor us. ❤

P.S. If you want to learn more about deSNAP, check out the git repo here.