Hackers gather for 24-hour competition

By Elizabeth Zakaim
Staff Writer

A group of students sat around a table trying to develop a voice command option for Google’s virtual reality headset. Some planned on working on the project for 24 hours straight. They refused to give up until they had completed the task at hand.

This is just one example of the technological progress showcased at the College’s annual hackathon, HackTCNJ.

“HackTCNJ is a 24-hour event where students from colleges around the area come to create their own software projects, then present them to judges at the end to win prizes,” said senior computer science major Brandon Gottlob, who helped organize the event. “It’s less of a competitive event and more a time where people can socialize, collaborate and learn about programming and computing.”

Students across NJ spend the day writing code for prizes. (Heiner Fallas / Photo Assistant)
Students across NJ spend the day writing code for prizes. (Heiner Fallas / Photo Assistant)

The hackathon took place this past weekend in various rooms throughout the Education Building. Hackers took their places on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27, and continued until the next morning on Sunday, Feb. 28.

Junior computer science major Graham Roberts is part of the team that worked on virtual reality (VR) during the hackathon.

“VR works by projecting two images to each eye, enhanced by a plastic lens in the cardboard so it surrounds your field of vision,” Roberts said. “I wanted to use VR from the get-go and I figured an easy way to do that is with something simple, like a notepad. Then I wanted to make the notes generated hands-free, using voice commands.”

At the center of the table was a Google cardboard virtual reality viewer. A person could insert a mobile device into the viewer, which was attached to a hat. The person wearing the viewer could then see a panoramic shot of any scene he or she wished.

Akshaya Dinesh is a sophomore in high school who heard about the hackathon through Facebook and helped out with the virtual reality for the day. Even though she is still in high school, Akshaya is already skilled with computer science and says she plans to major in the discipline while in college. Members of her group were confident in their hacking abilities and hoped to win a small prize at the end of the day, such as a free keyboard or headphone set.

The hackathon is sponsored by various technological companies, such as Linode, which provided free web servers for all hackers present at the event. Community advocate for Linode, Mark Korsak, attended the event and worked as a mentor for students during their creative process.

According to Korsak, this year’s judges were looking for the best first-time hacker who was able to develop an innovative product that would serve the greater good. The prizes up for grabs included a Playstation 4 and a starter kit for Arduino computer hardware.

One team works on bringing a virtual reality project to life. (Heiner Fallas / Photo Assistant)
One team works on bringing a virtual reality project to life. (Heiner Fallas / Photo Assistant)

Some students were in it for the friendly competition and prizes, whereas others came out to enjoy the time to work on private assignments and socialize with others.

“I have heard of the hackathon before, but I never really considered going because I thought it was more for computer science majors,” junior interactive multimedia major Jamie Fonzino said. “I thought it would involve really intense coding, a skill that I am still in the process of learning, but my friend told me that the whole event was really laid back and that anyone could just show up to hang out and have a good time.”

Whether or not they were there to win a prize, everyone at HackTCNJ had a good time. The event maintained an energizing and infectious atmosphere and the best part of the day was the overall experience, according to those who attended the event.

“The best part is how relaxed of an environment it is,” Roberts said. “Every other time I’m coding, it’s either a personal project that I work really slowly on or a frantic homework assignment. The hackathon is a laid back place for me to write meaningful code quickly.”

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