Community Involvement: Hackathon Judging at SDHacks 2018
How I Got Involved With Hackathon Judging
I have always had passion for assisting students. As the Chief Technology Officer at CourseKey, I get to do so daily, but not as directly as I’m used to. When I was a student at San Diego State University, I was involved in student organizations that afforded me the opportunity to lead and mentor other students. I was frequently tutoring my peers, helping them develop their future career skills. Since I left campus, I have been missing the experience of helping students in a direct and personal way.
In 2015, I participated in the SDHacks hackathon. The experience of the hackathon was unforgettable! It was my first hackathon, and I got the chance to work with a great team of friends to create something truly interesting. We ended up winning, but that’s not to say we were already pros when we started our project. We still learned a lot of things that we didn’t know when we started. You can see our project here.
When I was contacted to be the judge for SDHacks 2018, I agreed instantly! My experience in 2015 as a participant was so memorable that the opportunity to participate again as a judge was a no-brainer. And while hackathon judging is great, I still wanted to be more involved. After speaking with the organizers, I became a 2018 mentor as well.
The Hackathon Experience: 2018
On Friday, October 12th, the hackathon opened the doors at 5:30PM. I joined the students at 8:00PM for the opening ceremony before offering my assistance as a hackathon alumnus and mentor to the participating students. Since most teams were still deciding on ideas and what to work on, there wasn’t much for me to help them with project-wise so early in the weekend.
Closer to midnight, the teams started forming solid ideas and began asking for help. The first team I worked with was building an Android application. As a back-end engineer by career, my Android app development knowledge is limited, but I was still able to guide the team in the right direction. Once they were on the right path, I was able to help another team find their footing in using Macy’s developer APIs.
Sadly, due to prior commitment on early Saturday morning, I had to leave the hackathon for a day.
I was back early Sunday morning to rejoin the students. While I had only been gone for one day, in that time, the environment had taken a drastic change. Some students had quit. Others were sleeping on the floor. And others still were so sleep deprived that they were struggling to finish their projects under the clock. I put my metaphorical mentor hat back on and got to work helping as many teams of exhausted students as I could before it was time for the hackathon judging orientation to begin.
The second best part of the experience, by-far, was getting to see the result of everyone’s hard work. There were many projects and many interesting things that came out of the weekend that I couldn’t possibly touch on all of them here. To check out a fuller list of projects, visit Devpost.
My Personal Favorites:
Another awesome tool that utilizes machine learning and natural language processing to help people. The tool takes in an article, scans the text to identify the important sentences within it, and generates questions based on those sentences. This tool can help evaluate learning outcomes from the content and students and teachers can benefit from a tool like this.
The team that created Nutrition Mission did not get to connect the final pieces under the clock, unfortunately meaning they didn’t finish. Since I saw this project in action when I was working with the team over the weekend, I feel it deserves to be mentioned. This project would allow you to take a picture of any food label and scan its ingredients list. Using the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) database, it will return a breakdown of what each ingredient is with a full breakdown to what it is made of. I really liked this project because it helps teach people about what we are eating in easy to understand lay terms.
After All is Said and Done
I will definitely do it again! This hackathon was a fun new experience for me and I got to meet a lot of smart, creative, interesting students. It allowed me to scratch an itch to help students directly. I will for sure be participating as a full time mentor in SDHacks 2019.