The word “hack” seems to have a very negative connotation these days, seemingly always associated with big company data breaches and malicious foreign governments. This past weekend, however, the campus saw the positive implications of the word, as over 500 students from across the country traveled to campus to attend HackUMass, the 3rd annual hackathon at Umass.
So what is a hackathon? Well, as a computer science student, I like to solve problems. These days it seems like there very few things that can’t be improved or made more efficient by some sort of technical solution. At any hackathon, like this past weekend at HackUMass, students break up into teams to create a technical solution to a problem. This weekend, each team had between midnight Friday and noon Sunday to build, design, and troubleshoot their solution. Most teams worked through the 36 hours without much, if any, sleep.
My team hit Facebook to search for inspiration of what to build. We ended up on the UMass ‘Free and For Sale’ group and began looking through the posts there. Here, students can post anything and everything they are looking to sell to other students on campus. It seemed like a sort of Craiglist on Facebook. Here’s the issue though: Facebook is a social media platform. It’s simply not built for this sort of thing. Items that are posted disappear as more posts are made after it. You can’t easily search for items you are looking for, and there is no sort of filtering or category search. We knew we could build something better.
Armed with just our laptops and an endless supply of Redbull, we set to work in our cozy room in the Integrated Learning Center (ILC). Our project, CampusForSale, was going to be a website that let students buy and sell items on campus. We thought it was important for the website to only allow students to post items, as we wanted to make sure it was as easy and safe to pickup items as possible. Most of my team had never done any web development before the event, so we took a divide and conquer approach. Two of us worked mainly on the back-end database and search functionalities, while the other two worked on the front-end website. In order to make it more useful than it’s Facebook counterpart we made sure that you could search for items, and browse listings by category.
Other teams worked on hardware projects, some involving various sensors, LEDs, and embedded computers. You can view other projects that teams worked on at http://hackumass-iii.devpost.com/submissions.
Over the course of the weekend, each of us got only about 4 or 5 hours of sleep total, but our prototype of the site was live at http://www.campus.forsale by noon on Sunday. After an initial round of judging, CampusForSale was selected as a finalist and we got the opportunity to present our project at the closing ceremonies!
Now we’re all off to bed until HackUmass 2016.