Students clustered around computers last Friday afternoon, typing away at their code in the Science Center. However, these students weren’t gathered for the mandatory lab component of a computer science course.
Instead, they were participants at the hackathon hosted by the Computer Science (CS) Club at Wellesley this past weekend, which ran from 5 p.m. all on Friday.
The event brought students together to spend the weekend learning about web development, specifically on personal websites. Content of student submissions of websites included current projects, links to personal blogs and Instagram feeds. While some students who participated had previous experience creating websites, for many, this was their first introduction to the Web development languages.
Hackathon is a weekend marathon of “hacking,” which is a verb used to describe a group of people coming together to create something through computer programming. They have become increasingly popular on college campuses, bringing together students from across the globe to work together in creating and executing ideas.
Recent hackathons include HackMIT hosted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MHacks hosted at the University of Michigan and PennApps hosted by the University of Pennsylvania.
Hacking usually takes two forms — hardware hacking, where participants create physical devices, and software hacking, where participants code computer programs.
“My co-chair, Karina [Chan ’16], came up with the idea of the theme being personal websites. It’s lots of fun, and the languages necessary to code for Web development aren’t that difficult to pick up. A lot of recruiters look for personal websites, and it’s recruiting season right now,” said Sravanti Tekumalla ’16, co-chair of the hackathon.
Website content varied, but each was unique to the hacker. For Tekumalla, this included her research, summer work and personal interests. Sunnia Ye ’17 included her artwork on her website.
Some, like Lily Xie ’16, chose a hardware hack as an alternative. Xie created wearable technology in the form of a tote bag that lit up in response to weight and light using a microcontroller called Arduino Gemma.
The event concluded with an awards ceremony, judged by a panel, which included Professors Scott Anderson, Susan Buck and Benjamin Wood from the computer science department. Best beginner project was awarded to Jane Abarnathy ’18, best feature to Shirley Lu ’15 and best overall to Ye.
Wellesley’s hackathon offered a change of pace to the chaotic environment characteristic of many hacking events. Workshops in Django and Bootstrap, which are frameworks for creating websites, were offered to ease first-time hackers into the experience.
“We wanted to have a hackathon that appealed to Wellesley students, who already have so much on their plate. We know it’s hard to get to other schools, and we wanted to create an experience that was friendly to beginner hackers,” Tekumalla said.
While most hackathons have students work in teams, the smaller scale of the hackathon hosted this weekend allowed students to work individually.
“I liked the individual aspect of the hackathon; it motivated you to make your best,” Ye said.
The hackathon, open to exclusively Wellesley students, also created another unique opportunity: a technology event in which the majority of the participants were female.
“Hackathons tend to be very male-dominated, there are often little to zero women, and it can be intimidating, especially coming from Wellesley. At these hackathons, you see people who have been hacking all of their lives, whereas a lot of Wellesley students don’t start coding until college,” Tekumalla said.
CS Club is planning another, larger hackathon for the spring, perhaps in collaboration with other schools.
In the meantime, several participants already have plans for more hacking this semester, including Tekumalla, who plans to participate in HackHolyoke at Mount Holyoke. Ye plans to attend Duke University’s HackDuke.
Ultimately, hackathons offer a wide variety of perks that have made them increasingly prevalent in college communities.
“I think that the rise of hackathons coincides with technology companies having money.
A big reason for going to hackathons are because of the great prizes and free swag given away. Big companies often come, and they offer a chance for face time with these companies,” Xie said.
However, in addition to the material rewards offered, hackathons are also environments that foster creativity and cooperation and introduce students to computing in a quick and unique way — merits that Tekumalla believes make them such great opportunities.
“CS Club is always looking to increase outreach,” Tekumalla said. “Our greatest achievement is that we got people coding who haven’t done so before. We are trying to expose people to things they may not otherwise experience.”
Photo by Bianca Pichumuthu ’16, Photography Editor