LA Hacks: First Time to a 36-hour Hackathon with a Team

April 2014 came. And so did the marketing army of LA Hacks. Our CS group on Facebook was flooded with posts about the largest hackathon on the West Coast. By this time, I started to get more comfortable with going to hackathons; they were definitely more fun when I met more people who shared the same passion. I wanted to jump on the bandwagon.

I had little trouble finding teammates because I was conveniently put in a team for CSE 110 — Software Engineering, a project-based course that grouped 10 students and had them deliver a software engineering project within 10 weeks. More than half of my CSE 110 team (the roster: Ankush A., Josh A., Angelique C., Lawrence L., Aieswarya M., Elle N., Michelle W.) were interested in going, so we headed to LA on the April 11th weekend. It was great timing because it was only 2 weeks in for our software engineering project; some more ice-breaking was needed. LA Hacks was definitely a great bonding experience, foreshadowing a solid performance on our team’s software engineering project.

Since it was most of the team’s first time at a hackathon, they wanted to make it a fun experience instead of a competitive one. The night before the event, we briefly met to discuss potential ideas, since we wanted to make a good use of 36 hours. Lawrence suggested an idea he called ‘Jackit’. Let’s just say it was an iPhone game through which players competed by using the phones’ accelerometer… The idea was mentioned on one of the sponsors’ blog.

SnapChat’s CEO Evan Spiegel’s Speech

It was my second week learning how to program in Objective-C. I was glad that I finally found the mobile platform that I enjoyed developing on. I had a much better experience developing iOS through XCode as opposed to developing Android through Eclipse. For this project, I worked on exploiting data from iPhone’s accelerometer and gyros to determine the shaking motion’s magnitude. The data was returned in the form of a vector with (x, y, z) components and their associated magnitude. These data were then plugged into a polynomial function to calculate the point value. The polynomial function put more weight on the z-component. Throughout the course of 36 hours, I got a taste of Objective-C; I decided iOS would be my mobile platform of choice. I had to admit I didn’t like the seemingly overcomplicated syntax at first, but it was pretty nice once I got accustomed. Plus, XCode did a very good job at spoiling me by auto-completing a lot of typing. I found myself waiting for Notepad++ or Sublime to autocomplete my typing sometimes…

LA Hacks was a very interesting experience. Here is the public’s reaction (WARNING: profanity heavily used)

Although I do agree with some of the contents in this video, I also understand the struggles LA Hacks organizers had to face. Hosting 2500 hackers for 36 hours in a pavillion was definitely very challenging. Yes, there were many hiccups here and there, but I enjoyed LAHacks for the most part. There were a lot to learn from them in term of organizing a large scale hackathon.

Before heading back to school, our team stopped near Irvine for some Thai dinner and more socializing. We were ready to move on to development phase for our software engineering project.

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