Student Hackathon Inspires Grand Ideas

Students from Bowdoin, Bates, Colby and beyond were recently camped out in David Saul Smith Union for 36 hours to participate in one of the first hackathons ever held by a liberal arts college: CBBHacks.

“Most people hear the word hack and immediately want no part in it. They think they’re under-qualified for it,” said Ruben Martinez, Jr. ’15. He and co-organizer Zackery Leman ’15 hoped that their event would help rid hackathons of their stigma for requiring technical expertise and coding skills. Their efforts were successful — under half of the event’s participates were computer science majors and many came from Bates College, which lacks a computer science program entirely.

The goal for the weekend — as stated on the event’s website — was simple: “build something, anything.” On Friday night, participants mingled alongside mentors from Google, Raizlabs, Cognex and more, formed teams and began to brainstorm. Sunday morning, they presented their projects to a panel of judges.

The winning team — made up of Isabella Tumaneng ’17 and Bates students Tim Chamberlin ’16, Inseo Hwang ’17 and Tuan Nguyen ’16 — created a textbook exchange mobile application. The proposed app would be tailored to individual campuses using geolocation and would integrate colleges’ course catalogs, allowing users to easily find their required textbooks. Second place went to Shaun Carland ’15 of the University of Maine who created GAME, a music-creating program. Carland slept for only 40 minutes during the weekend-long event. Third place was awarded to Julia Hogan ’15 who designed a website for a S’more to Door, a student-run based dessert delivery service at Bowdoin. The site allows users to view menus and place orders.

As the event drew to a close, Martinez asked how many participants had learned a new language or framework, or had learned how to code over the course of the weekend. Every participant raised a hand.

Hackathons are important because they allow participants to gain skills that they might not learn in a classroom. In school, “they’re not teaching you how to build websites; they’re not teaching you how to make mobile apps; they’re not teaching you anything that people are actually doing on a day-to-day basis,” said Shyamal Ruparel, who works for Major League Hacking and was on hand to help with the event.

“I’m sure that the next massive startup is going to come out of a hackathon, but that’s not really the important part. The important part is the learning and building — really celebrating this act of creation and invention,” said Ruparel.

CBBHacks was initially imagined by the Information Technology Advisory Council, a group in its first year as an official student organization. The council hopes to make CBBHacks an annual event and attract even more participants and mentors in coming years.

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