A German Hacking the (True) North

Since I am at Waterloo this term I have the awesome opportunity to dive into North American Hackathon culture. The first event I took part in was Hack the North in the middle of September. It is Canada’s biggest hackathon and well known even in Europe.

After meeting a lot of awesome people at the team building and brainstorming session, I decided to form a team together with three full-time Waterloo students and we set out to pursue an education-related idea: Did your teachers in grade school ever reward you for doing well in class with stars and/or stickers? Some of our teachers went beyond this and rewarded their students with points that could be spent on rewards, such as pizza, movie days, and toys. This was the original idea for what later came to me called Points and Me; to create a elegant, approachable, and friendly system for rewarding students for excelling in academics.

By the way, the name may or not may not have something to do with the fact that there were free .me domains for the event (which we ironically didn’t even end up registering due to lack of time).

4 people eating Poutine a.k.a. my team at Hack the North

We decided on using Firebase (a Backend-as-a-Service) and AngularJS for the frontend. We did this partly because none of us had worked with either one before but we had all heard a lot of positive things about it – and what better place to explore new things than a hackathon.

After 48 hours with very little sleep that included a complete rewrite of a major component 6 hours before the due date we finished just in time to pitch our idea to the judges. While we were really proud of what we had achieved it didn’t come as too much of a disappointment that we weren’t among the finalists that got to pitch their idea a second time in front of the entire audience in Hagey Hall (the biggest lecture hall on campus). Despite not winning anything we all took home a lot of fond memories, new ideas and new friendships – oh, and I scored a Hack the North toque to prepare me for the Canadian winter.

The other hackathon I attended was Electric City Hacks in Peterborough, Ontario at Trent University – which took place for the first time. There was an insane number of Waterloo students going there, so they organized a bus that picked us up at Waterloo and dropped us off in Trent. This time, I already knew one of my teammates because he studies at TUM too and is also on exchange to Waterloo.

3 countries and 3 different disciplines – Our awesome team at Electric City Hacks (fltr): Sarah, Lukas, me, Jared, and Peter

Going into it, we had the vague idea of doing something location based and in the end we decided on building journé which is an Android app that allows users to anonymously post photos attached to their current location. These photos are available exclusively to users who are in close proximity to the original location thereby allowing users to see what took place at the location they’re at right now a few minutes or days ago. The technology we used this time was Android which meant I was on way more familiar turf than for the webdev project at Hack the North. My awesome teammates were not only all first-time hackers – one of them (Jared) wasn’t even in college yet which I found to be very impressive. You can see how the app works and how goofy we all are in the demo video we made (at least until YouTube decides to take it down because the soundtrack is not properly licensed ;)).

This time judging was done in science fair style, i.e. every team had its own booth. This is awesome because you also get a chance to check out the stuff all the other teams built (including e.g. the Sandwich-O-Matic at the booth right next to ours or an Amazon Echo that reads you the top post on a subreddit of your choice).

After 48 hours with even less sleep than at Hack the North (this time less than 2h) and way too much Mountain Dew (one of their sponsors) we were on the way back to Waterloo again and the person next to me on the bus gladly offered me his window seat so I could get some shut-eye. (Which might or might not have had something to do with me dozing off numerous times before and naturally falling over onto his shoulders 😉 ).

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