Memories of HackMIT 2016

On September 17th and 18th, 1000 college hackers traveled to MIT’s campus for an eagerly anticipated HackMIT 2016 from around the world — from Boston to Jamaica to Guwahati, India.

As our team ramps up for our next event, Blueprint, we wanted to reflect on what makes a hackathon special for its attendees. 2015’s theme was experimentation. That year, we debuted a new mentor queue system (HELPq), revamped our judging model (through Gavel), and held a series of educational talks and workshops leading up to the hackathon for the local community.

This time, we focused on engagement: helping hackers get the most possible out of the event alongside building awesome hacks. We’re excited about the results!

Read more below, or check out the photoblog at the bottom of this post.

Social experience

Hackers meet over breakfast and stream into Johnson Ice Rink for the start of HackMIT 2016.

On Saturday morning, hackers checked in on Kresge lawn, grabbed some food, and had a chance to meet other students. During check in, we handed each one a spiffy t-shirt, name badge, and swag bag. The free essentials? Socks, VR goggles, neck pillows, and a small mysterious booklet with eight empty circles.

Hacker essentials — and the mysterious, blank booklet
Finished! A hacker holds up their completed sticker booklet and well-earned prize.

The hackers’ mission (should they choose to accept it): race to collect eight Pokemon gym badge stickers for fame, glory, bragging rights, and maybe even lovely, squishy prizes. Hackers earned gym badges for talking with attendees and volunteers, going on outings, checking out talks, and exploring the venue — for having fun! Still, students needed to work hard to make it to the finish line. These were the challenges:

  • Boulder — Sticking through the tough times! Awarded for asking mentors good questions and trying difficult or new things.
  • Cascade and Thunder — Taking advantage of the super helpful and often inspiring workshops, tech talks, and fireside chats.
  • Soul and Volcano — Meeting and talking with staff.
  • Earth — Taking a midnight walk along the Charles River, or meeting the therapy dogs. As in past years, throughout the hackathon, hackers relaxed and met other teams at fun events. Check them out in the photoblog at the end of this post.
  • Marsh — Sharing team photos and memories.
  • Rainbow — Wild card! These were hidden throughout the venue, Johnson Ice Rink.
HackMIT’s Pokemon gym badge stickers. Props to Jessy Lin, Neena Dugar, and Lucia Liu on the HackMIT team for designing and running the sticker challenges!

The challenges helped bring together hackers from across teams and encouraged students to take advantage of everything HackMIT has to offer. With the feedback we got, we’ll be running similar challenges at Blueprint.

Engaging with resources at HackMIT

Mentorship

While hackers were busy setting up and meeting teammates on Saturday morning, a fleet of mentors were being briefed on HELPq (also known as HACKq), HackMIT’s real-time mentor request system. We carried over the system from 2015, as having technical (and moral) support in times of desperate need can make or break a hacker’s experience. HELPq is a pager-meets-ticketing-system designed for hackathons — it’s open source, along with much of the software that runs HackMIT. For Blueprint 2017, we’re encouraging frequent check-ins throughout the event between mentors and teams they’ve helped.

Talks

With a grand total of fifteen workshops, tech talks, and fireside chats packing Saturday’s schedule, there was something for every hacker to drop in on. The series kicked off with tech talks, technical presentations from companies about almost anything. In parallel, workshops began early in the day (shown in blue) — tutorials about useful (and awesome!) tech and tools to kickstart hackers. As the culmination of Hack Week, these workshops covered machine learning tools, data storage for apps, virtual reality, and car hacking. To cap off the day, we brought in speakers to talk about their life stories, hold a Q&A panel or demo their work in inspiring fireside chats. These included talks on open-source government digital services with 18F, artificial intelligence with Fin, the animation of Finding Dory and Moana with Disney and more.

Each of the talks on Saturday was filled with students, and we’re happy to have had such high engagement throughout the day. Thank you to all of our speakers!

We’re pleased to see how the event has evolved since the first HackMIT, and we can’t wait to keep experimenting and engaging a community at the next Blueprint and HackMIT. Get in touch at team@hackmit.org if you’d like to share your ideas — we’d love to hear from you.

Check out some of the event highlights below, and see the amazing submissions and winners at https://hackmit-2016.devpost.com/submissions!


HackMIT 2016 in photos

Balloons!
Hackers dive into their projects
And the hacking continues… T-11 hours to go!
Final moments before judging!
Group photo from our traditional midnight excursion to Boston’s beautiful Charles River Esplanade opposite MIT. Spot the dome in the background!
Midnight Shakedown
A night-time 7 minute workout
Hackers come back from the midnight excursion to a table lined with Toscanini’s, the finest ice cream in Cambridge
Our fully-stocked 24/7 snack bar
24/7 Help Desk answering hackers’ questions
HTC Vive virtual reality playground, courtesy of Google
The runner-up team, Book Reading Bot, on stage
Hackers could 3D print mission-critical parts throughout the event
A demo from Fretless, the winners of the “Made From Scratch” prize. Learn how to play violin with a new kind of electric instrument!
A student assembles a wifi controlled car
Soldering together a project. HackMIT provided a check-out table for hardware and tools
Wearable! Devpost for FallTrack
A timely election-themed hack, Hillary-Trump
A student demos their project, HYRE
Hackers need some downtime :)

Major props to the tireless, inspiring and hilarious Hack team that made this event possible!