Looking Back at HackMIT 2015

This year for HackMIT, our organizing team sought to create a unique, memorable experience for hackers. We’ve been improving our event year after year. In case you missed it, here are some highlights from this year’s HackMIT!

Hack Week

Our team made an effort to focus on the MIT community this year, holding a series of workshops and talks before the weekend. Too often, a barrier to entry for beginner hackers is lack of experience, so our team held a series of educational events preparing students (especially freshmen) for what was for many their first hackathon experience.

intro to hardware workshop

HackMIT team members and alums taught classes on Git, microcontrollers, Bitcoin, iOS development, and HTML/CSS. Newcomers attended and learned fundamentals they could later apply to their weekend projects. Mentors walked around, individually answering questions and helping students better grasp the material.

We also hosted a Q&A session with Max Levchin, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of PayPal, Yelp, and Affirm. Max spoke about his experiences tinkering in college, starting new projects, and scaling businesses. He was an insightful speaker, and he definitely inspired hackers to work on their crazy ideas over the weekend!

To generate hype for our event on campus, we built 4-foot tall HACK letters and placed them in the middle of MIT’s campus! The letters were strung with colored LEDs and lit up beautifully at night (see the photo above).

The Weekend

The hackathon started at 8 am on Saturday. After check-in, we had our opening ceremony in Kresge Auditorium.

Our keynote speakers this year were Jack Conte, Patreon CEO and founder of Pomplamoose, and Liz Fosslien, freelancer and artist behind the webcomic Out of the Office. Jack shared the story behind starting his musical group and his company, and Liz encouraged hackers to be brave and embrace creativity in unconventional situations.

At 11 am, we were off to the races! Hackers convened in Johnson Ice Rink, claimed tables, and got right to it. Sponsors lined up at their booths and helped students using our online mentor queue, while team members staffed the help desk and SnackMIT bar to keep hackers happy. We continued through the afternoon with tech talks and workshops hosted by our sponsors on topics from developing for virtual reality to principles of product design.

flashy sponsor table demos

By evening, hackers got a well deserved break. Volunteers from Dog B.O.N.E.S. brought in therapy dogs for attendees (and staff) to play with, and the puppies were absolutely adorable!

Long bouts of coding tend to give hackers the munchies, so we brought in yummy dessert waffles, artisanal ice cream, and bubble tea for people to snack on. To offset those calories, we also invited hackers on a midnight excursion along the Charles River for a chance at some fresh air and a stunning skyline view.

boba, doggies, and the beautiful boston skyline

Students hacked away as the night went on, while others took advantage of our host matching and headed to MIT dorms to get some rest. By early morning, projects were nearing completion, and HackMIT organizers made a point to walk around, meet hackers, and hand-deliver nibbles from the snack bar.

Hacking stopped at 11 am, and we plunged straight into our judging process. We implemented a novel pairwise comparison judging system this year, ensuring that every team got judged more fairly. As expo judging progressed, judges surfaced our top ten projects. Those teams proceeded to panel judging, where they pitched their hacks to engineers, researchers, co-founders, and MIT professors.

showcasing hacks

When it came time for closing ceremony, we invited our finalists to demo their projects on stage. After demos, our top three winners — Air Guitar, Kinarity, and Sensei — received giant checks and LeanOnMe got an honorable mention.

the sensei team with their giant check

We thanked hackers for coming, and they slowly filed out of the closing ceremony. People had flown in from all over the world and convened here, and now it was time for them to return home — hopefully with new memories and friends.

there’s something alive here

At HackMIT, our goal was to bring hacking back to its roots. Our team hoped to provide a special environment in which hackers could play around with fresh technologies with minimum stress, experimenting and learning things they don’t have a chance to in typical college classrooms.

Beyond that, we hoped to emphasize hacking as a social experience. By bringing together all our attendees in one huge room, we gave hackers a chance to collaborate with old friends and connect with new ones. Sure, we’ve all stayed up late and coded alone at our desks, but hackathons offer something different — an opportunity to discuss challenges, exchange ideas, and get inspired.

In the end, it comes down to the hacker experience. We hope all our attendees got something valuable out of HackMIT this year. Be on the lookout for HackMIT 2016!

shoutout to the devoted, crazy team who put this all together!