HackRU Fall 2016

by Ben Yang, Rutgers freshman

HackRU was my very first hackathon. It’s also something that I definitely won’t forget for the rest of my life.

I remember slogging through the bitter morning cold of New Brunswick to meet my friends at the Rutgers University’s College Ave Student Center. I remember the long registration lines when we all got there, and I remember how littered our work-spaces were with snack wrappers and soda cans only three hours into the event. I remember losing hours of sleep trying to fix two bugs in our project code, and crashing right before demos started.

By the experiences I’ve described above, I should have absolutely hated HackRU. I’m not a morning person, I usually hate having my desk messy, and I don’t even like going to the gym.

But, I ended up loving HackRU. I had an absolutely amazing time coding on something new and exciting, trying to bring it into reality, even if it was kinda buggy and broken when submissions were due. Honestly, creating a working product in two days isn’t even the real motivation behind attending a hackathon. It’s all about the desire to learn something new.

Even when my friends and I had some trouble with our project, we decided to cool down by attending the numerous games, contests, and Capture the Flag competitions that were present. We personally attended Cup Stacking event (which we won!) and one of the CTF competitions, but there were many more events, from Google Feud to Super Smash Bros tournaments to Slideshow Karaoke, and even a dance floor.

And even after all those fun events, there were mentors and representatives from company sponsors to help out with the coding (shoutout to Capital One, Bloomberg, iCIMS, and Viacom). Plus, they also gave out “swag” at their stands, such as shirts and stickers, and gave tech talks about various subjects in the industry such as Java, media, big data, cybersecurity, and hardware.

To bring a more complete perspective about what HackRU was like, a couple of other people and I interviewed another first-time hacker, a long-time hacker, and a HackRU director. We also interviewed someone who has never been to a hackathon to get an outsider perspective of hackathons:

Hemanth Chiluka — First-Time Hacker, Rutgers Freshman, Computer Science Major

Q. What was your biggest challenge?

A. Working with Restful APIs like the RUBus system API. With Restful APIs, you make an HTTP request, and you use that information to do whatever your API does. I had some trouble and spent some time getting the requests to work properly.

Q. What did you have the most fun learning?

A. I used a third party music library for my project and worked with audio processing. There are libraries out there that let you analyze music, tell you beats per minute, frequencies, and stuff like that. What I was trying to do was load songs from a phone’s internal storage, sort them by highest “intensity” or workout worthiness, and generate playlists based on how intense someone’s workout was.

Q. What was your favorite event?

A. I found the logic and puzzle side competitions to be really interesting. It was fun to try and solve the various problems that the sponsors had out. I don’t really remember the exact events, but I think there was a competition related to Watch Dogs 2 and a Bloomberg one as well.

Q. Did you like the food?

A. I liked the food. The food was good. [Thumbs Up]

Aditya Geria — Long-Time Hacker, Rutgers Junior, Computer Science Major

Q. What do you think is the biggest challenge for hackers?

A. Learning the actual technologies can be pretty hard. Figuring out the ideas is usually easy to grasp, but learning the tools we need to build things is probably the hardest thing to do. For my first hackathon, which was also at HackRU, we wanted to build something with PHP and the Context.io API. Because I was a senior in high school and didn’t know anything besides Java, I had a hard time learning PHP and the API on the spot.

Q. What were your favorite projects in the past?

A. At HackRU Spring 2016, we built something like 3D Tetris, and we used this acrylic pyramid to project a hologram of the game to allow the user to play Tetris through the hologram in real life. I definitely had a lot of fun working on that project.

Q. What was your favorite event at Fall HackRU 2016?

A. I really liked Slideshow Karaoke because I thought it was a really fun and random event. It was fun seeing people do improv on the spot. With Slideshow Karaoke, you present a random Powerpoint that you don’t know about ahead of time, which results in either really good on the spot presentations, or some awkward ones.

Q. Did you like the food?

A. The food could definitely improve, but given the circumstances of the administration and our resources, we did well with what we had.

Heman Gandhi — HackRU Director, Rutgers Sophomore, Computer Science Major

Q. What made you want to be a director?

A. Originally, I wanted to get involved in HackRU because I wanted to see the other side of hackathons. I’ve only been to 2–3 before I was an organizer, and I really hated it because I would just hang out and build something that would just break, but I managed to work as an organizer and found out about the framework of hackathons. I loved the crazy planning, meeting sponsors, and all that other stuff. Whether you get involved hacker wise or organizer wise, it’s good to get involved in hackathons.

Q. What were your responsibilities during the event?

A. I helped out a bit with mentoring, but my main job as a director was to make sure nobody had issues with internet. Different directors do different things. For example, there’s a director related with sponsorship, hacker experience, logistics, day off, food, marketing, among others.

Q. What event did you like the best?

A. OMG, Slideshow Karaoke was the best. Basically, you get a random slideshow, and present it as your own slideshow as something that you’ve worked on for years. And as a result, a lot of chaos ensues. Sometimes you start with sunflower, end up with a spoon and you have to make smooth transition without being awkward. HackRU should run it forever.

Q. Did you like the food?

A. The food was really nice. Dealing with restaurants went really well, and King Peta came through with a really nice princess combo voucher. Breakfast Sunday morning was great too. I wasn’t awake for midnight surprise though.

Nick Harras — Never Hacked, Rutgers Junior, Computer Science Major

Q. Why did you decide to not go to HackRU?

A. Because I wasn’t sure if it was a team-based thing or if I could go by myself. Also generally, I didn’t know how it was structured and didn’t really know what it was, which was my fault in the end. I would definitely go if I had known about it then. The entire thing in general sounds fun, now that I know more about it.

Q. Why do you like computer science? What’s your favorite comp sci course?

A. I like Comp Sci because programming is fun and I like the problem solving aspect of it. It’s really versatile, too; you can code games, apps, and there is always more to learn. My favorite class would probably be Data Structures. Even though some people hated it, I really liked the interactions between the different classes and libraries that we worked with in Java.

Teams definitely grew closer as the night continued and as the challenges kept coming. Even if you attended HackRU by yourself, there were team building and idea workshops, because HackRU isn’t just about hacking. It’s also a great place to meet people with whom you have something in common. Between coding and finding new ways to innovate the world, a big part of the Rutgers University hackathons is connecting with the people that share the common interests that brought you all together.

If you want to learn anything about Computer Science, go to a hackathon. Hopefully, we’ll see you at HackRU Spring 2017 next semester!

Want to know more about the winners of HackRU? Check out the HackRU Fall 2016 Devpost here!

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