With the end of the semester nearing, we wanted to recap HackMIT 2018. From September 15th to 16th, an amazing community of hackers came to MIT’s campus and developed innovative projects. It was quite the weekend.
HackMIT 2018 was particularly centered around the hacker experience, from the week leading up to the hackathon to beyond the two days of hacking we shared together.
HackMIT applications opened midsummer, and decisions were sent out in August. We wanted to ensure that once accepted, individuals could make it to the event. There were buses from several nearby larger cities, like Providence and New York City, and we were able to offer travel reimbursements up to $200 for continental participants and $500 for international participants. It means so much to our team that HackMIT is an event that goes beyond our school campus to inspire individuals across the world, whether it be our neighbors up north or our friends on the other side of the globe. People from more than ten different countries (from Spain to Australia to India) and thirty different institutions were represented at HackMIT 2018.
The HackMIT festivities started before the weekend; we had HackWeek open to the entire MIT community, with a diverse array of speakers and panels. It was also our first time having a demo day hosted by a16z, who brought a very cool startup aspect to the HackWeek atmosphere.
Tools to Succeed
HackWeek was also significant in that we wanted to establish a solid set of tools for hackers to succeed. In fact, one of our most important goals for HackMIT 2018 was to create this supportive hacking environment.
Hardware for HackMIT functioned off of our own interface, Cog, to handle requests. Basic hardware like sensors and lights were available for hackers to grab, but our more advanced materials could be requested through Cog. It was important that we had Cog up and running in order to track the hardware and recollect it if it’s not being used, thus maximizing the efficiency and availability of high-demand hardware for all hackers.
Besides the hardware checkout, we also had a mentor system operating via our HelpQ system. Hackers could immediately request a mentor at their hacking space without leaving or ever breaking their flow of hacking. Such requests were represented by tickets; mentors who were familiar with the question at hand could claim the ticket. This ensured that the mentor paired with the team would possess the best area of expertise to address the team’s questions. The hackers could also rate the mentors after their encounter — these ratings go directly to our mentor leaderboard, our form of incentivizing better mentorship and more genuine connections throughout HackMIT. (Learn more @ https://code.hackmit.org/ !)
Outside of the hacking arena of Johnson Ice Rink, we wanted to ensure that there was a plethora of knowledge that hackers could tap into. There was something for every hacker to enjoy, with over twenty workshops, tech talks, and fireside chats. Since hackathons can be an intimidating event to jump into, we held office hours targeted towards our beginner hackers. We also hosted a huge variety of workshops, ranging from distributed databases to an introduction to TypeScript. Finally, we held a set of inspiring fireside chats by incredible individuals to share their stories of successes and failures and hold intimate Q&A’s. We were incredibly honored to host Michael Seibel (CEO of Y Combinator), Heather Luipold and Alexander Chen (Creative Leads at Google), Adam D’Angelo (CEO of Quora), and Marten Mickos (CEO of HackerOne); such a lineup emphasized how much hacking extends beyond the hacking space.
The User Experience
We believe a hackathon is so much more than just the hacking experience and wanted our hackers to leave with a memorable experience. Upon check-in, hackers received a swag bag full of goodies, including a water bottle and sweatshirt that our team designed, along with a bunch of stickers for the hackers to take home. This year we made efforts to be more sustainable by using tote bags and giving reusable water bottles for participants to use throughout the hackathon. The swag bags also included a passport with a set of challenges, ranging from taking photos with a giant plushie beaver to attending one of our many workshops. Upon completing a challenge, hackers could come to Help Desk to receive a special stamp pertaining to the task. Those who completed eight distinct challenges could trade their passport in for a limited-edition HackMIT stuffed beaver.
Another initiative we took was to create the Hacker Lounge — if hackers were tired, they would be able to rest and talk to others right outside the hacking arena. We didn’t want anyone going hungry, so SnackMIT was available 24/7 and fully-stocked with the best snacks. A special shoutout to Soylent and Yerba Mate for keeping our hackers caffeinated all throughout our event! We also had midnight munchies to fuel the late night hunger — pizza and boba were definitely good pick-me-ups.
For students who wanted to take a break from hacking, we also had various activities set up. Some highlights included ‘Abs with Jenny,’ where hackers went out for some fun exercises, and Tim the Beaver, who made a surprise appearance to cheer hackers on and pose for photos at midnight. We also invited therapy dogs to relieve late night hacking stress with some cute fluff!
Although we held team formation in the beginning of the event for hackers to meet others and share their ideas, we wanted to provide all hackers with the opportunity to meet each other and the hacker community. This year, we piloted a peer expo, during which students could walk around and learn more about the fantastic projects that other hackers created. Our team loved being able to interact with hackers throughout the event and were enthused to see hackers with so many different backgrounds come together to work, create, and share their wonderful projects.
Beyond the Hackathon
HackMIT strove to create an experience that goes beyond the special 24 hours we shared together, from workshops led by innovative companies to interactions shared among diverse teams to a generation of brilliant ideas and solutions to, quite honestly, make the world a better place. There’s something so inspiring and galvanizing about a thousand brilliant undergraduates coming together to apply their skills towards something bigger, and we’re grateful for all that came out to make the magic of HackMIT 2018 happen.
Thanks for coming out this year. We’re already getting started on organizing a phenomenal event for 2019, and we’re excited to see you next year!