Hackathon showcases students’ coding talents


Photo courtesy of Calvin Hackathon.

Calvin College hosted its first ever hackathon this week. The event was named “Calvin Hacks” although the word “hacking” brings to mind malicious online activity. At hackathons, students build and code their own inventions. Participants included students from Calvin, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College, and Ferris State University.

According to Andrew Quist, co-founder of Calvin Hacks, about 120 people participated in the competition. “Hackathons are events where people learn and build” said Andrea Chen, a representative of the national organization Major League Hacking (MLH). Chen, who was present at Calvin Hacks, also pointed out that hackathons create an environment where people “feel safe and comfortable.” She described the hackers as a “community of learners and builders.”Quist, described the mood of the night.

“The spirit of a hackathon is just programming and having fun with tech”, he said. He also noted that it is a valuable professional experience. “They can put this on their resumes” he pointed out. The hackathon also gave the participants a chance to meet the corporate sponsors who attended the event. Chen explained that this “exposure to professionals” is one of the biggest benefits of hackathons.

Photo courtesy of Calvin Hacks
People at registration for Calvin’s first hackathon

The hackathon ran from 6 pm on Friday, Feb. 8 to 9:30 pm the next day. Chen pointed out that the lack of sleep for the student hackers was not ideal. She estimated that most of the students there got about 3-5 hours of sleep during the night, and stayed awake with the help of caffeinated beverages provided.

Students worked on their projects in teams for 24 hours. A wide diversity of ideas was evident in the projects. Chen praised the coders for their creativity. “There are lots of cool projects that have emerged”,  she said. One project involved programming a Google Home API to send signals to Raspberry Pi in order to display images on a screen. The students named their device ‘Mike’ and pointed out the real world applications of their invention, especially displaying google calendars.

Students Sam Crow, Martin Grimley, Caleb Schmurr, and James Kolaga were the team members of this project. Another project included artificial intelligence that could recognize an image of a duck. GVSU student Howard Barnes, one of the members of the project, talked about his experience at the hackathon. “It was a lot of fun”, said Barnes. “You get to see how other people think and do things and it makes you think harder about what you want to do.”

Other projects included an app for coming up with ideas for group projects, and an LED light sequencer, to name just a few of many. Towards the end of the event, Quist reflected on how the first-ever hackathon at Calvin had gone, saying “I’m very happy with how it turned out”