Science & Tech

Hack the Hill Logo
Hack the Hill Logo Anjaliya Sonnilal/Provided
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COVID-19 managed to complicate (ruin) a lot of things for students not only education-wise, but also in the fun events department. With the University of Ottawa returning with in-person activities, Hack the Hill event coordinators saw an opportunity to revive an experience described as “a right of passage for engineering students.” Said right of passage offers students a chance to network, build new skills, and meet new friends, all while being a little (incredibly) sleep deprived. 

The Fulcrum spoke with event directors Ming Ye Chen, Steven Li, Disala De Silva and Pavly Saleh to discuss what students should expect at this year’s much anticipated Hackathon. 

What is a Hackathon?

Contrary to what the name implies, there’s actually very little hacking involved in a Hackathon. According to Wikipedia, the name is a combination of “hack” and “marathon”; however, in our case, “hack” can be interpreted as “exploratory programming,” which somehow still manages to sound like hacking. Nonetheless, it’s a challenge-based competition centred around a project that needs to be completed by the end of the 36-hour period. In addition, there are typically networking opportunities, workshops to build new skills, social activities, and more. 

The kicker is at the end when teams are awarded prizes following the 36-hour time frame. Hack the Hill organizers were keen to keep the prizes a secret, keeping us in suspense a little longer.

What is Hack the Hill?

De Silva explained that Hack the Hill has big plans to expand the boundaries of what a traditional hackathon entails. Part of that plan involved hosting a series of events known as the “hacker series,” which had the goal of generating interest in the hackathon itself but also acting as an opportunity for students to network and learn about different areas of computer science and computer engineering, all in preparation for the main event, which is set to take place between March third and fifth. 

“[Hack the Hill] is hosted by two schools, the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. Meaning, we’re a city-wide hackathon, since the City of Ottawa has a really big population of students interested in these kinds of events. We really loved the idea of bringing all students from the Ottawa region together for this event,” added De Silva.

What to expect at a Hack the Hill?

In terms of the actual weekend-long event, Saleh elaborated on what students can expect, “we plan to have the typical workshops which introduce coding and the basics to beginners, but also specialized ones, which include hardware. We want there to be social events as well like game nights where students can network with each other.”

“We’re also hosting a career fair that spans two days where our sponsors are going to be able to network with the participants and connect with them on a more informal basis instead of of a formal interview style,” added Saleh.

On the main “hacking” event, Chen said, “It’s very similar to a traditional hackathon, where it’s a 36-hour event where people create a project from scratch and by the end of the 36 hours, they will pitch their project to a panel of judges. Based off the judging from all of the projects, winners will be selected for each of the categories that we have.”

The three categories include web development, hardware, and game development. Hackers will be able to select one of these categories and compete within it for a prize. Judges won’t be as focused on how technical the project is, but rather on the creativity behind the idea being implemented with technology. Treat this as a learning experience which welcomes all skill levels.

The packing list

Much like summer camp, there’s the all-important packing list, which according to Li and Saleh, will be sent out via email to all hackathon attendees. When asked for a short version of the list, notably the word “deodorant” came first, quickly followed by, “basic toiletries, change of clothes, and a sleeping bag.” 

The experience

In order to paint a better picture of the hackathon experience, the Fulcrum asked the event organizers to draw upon their own previous hackathon experiences. 

For Li, “it was more than just coding. It was also [about] meeting new friends, hackers, and people who have similar interests. Being able to socialize and network with [everyone] was a huge advantage back when I attended my first hackathon.” 

Chen added, “A memory I [will always] have is about project submission, where there is often a set deadline to submit and we’ll all be scrambling to the last minute. Within that period, it’s very stressful and looking back once we’ve submitted, we realized the humour in how everything plays out in such a short time.”

For more information on Hack the Hill visit their website here.


  • Emma Williams was the Fulcrum's science & tech editor for the 2021-22 publishing year. Emma is a passionate third-year environmental science student at the University of Ottawa. As a returning editor she hopes to continue sharing her love for science with the U of O community. When she isn’t studying, she can be found outdoors hiking in Gatineau Park, reading or biking with friends.