Photo: Remi Yuan.

Region’s largest hackathon hosts over 400 students

UOttaHack returned to the University of Ottawa’s Learning Crossroads for the region’s largest hackathon on Feb. 9.

The event challenged students to team up for 24 hours of non-stop computer programming and networking activities. Participants are expected to come up with a project and complete it from start to finish within the allotted time.

“A hackathon is a place where people can work on something that excites them and something they want to do,” says MinhThao Dang, a coordinator for uOttaHack. “Too often in school, you get your projects given to you, and you get too busy to have fun.”

Over 400 participants from universities across Canada participated in the challenge and networked with computer science professionals.   

Participants were allowed to set their own goals and challenges for the weekend, allowing participation from people at a variety of skill levels. Projects ranged from a context-dependent event planner that offered suggestions on what to do based on weather, personal ability, and location to a transit-synced music app.

“It is more about having just an idea. It’s about having something to show off. Instead of having a full, working application like you might do with a full term, you just have a rough outline. But it lets you brainstorm solutions that you don’t get to try otherwise.” says Patrick Elis, a participant in uOttaHack.

“It is stressful, but we are also just here coding for fun—which you don’t get to do often (in school) … there is no stress it is going to be graded, there are no expectations,” Elis continued.

Tech industry heavyweights including Google and Survey Monkey were also present, hoping to find top talent for their growing operations in Ottawa. The companies encouraged participants to solve specific problems and prove their worth for lucrative industry positions.

“A hackathon is an opportunity to see talent in action, working as part of a real team.” said Amar Jasarbasic, a third-year software engineering student at the U of O. “The other side of things, is trying to promote a product—so they challenge students to use a product in some new or creative way and build expertise around products that might not be well known.”

Jasarbasic commented that some of the key players in Ottawa’s booming tech scene were present at the event. The industry’s interest in the hackathon is another step in linking U of O students with local industry talent.

“We noticed there were hackathons happening at pretty much every major university in Ontario and Quebec, and we felt like we were missing out on that,” said Jasarbasic. “This is something that was missing at the university.”