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HackWestern 2015

April 04, 2015

On the 27th of March, I got onto a bus heading west to Hack Western. This is the first student planned hackathon that I’ve attended (where I haven’t helped organize it), and it was amazing!

There was a huge difference in being at a hackathon as a participant - it felt really weird having no responsibilities, and not needing to make sure that everyone else was ok. It also gave me time to work on my hack, meet with other hackers, and attend some of the really great talks that the sponsors of HackWestern were putting on.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself, so I’ll wind back a little bit. Thursday night before the hackathon, I had packed my bags and I was ready to go. I had the obligatory laptop and charger, along with a spare pair of clothes and other doodads that I thought I would need. I also brought along my super awesome, ridiculously colorful hat.

I still had work on Friday morning, so my plan was to take all my hacking things to work with me, leave work an hour early, and head straight to Con Hall, where the bus was picking us up. Luckily, I made it just in time to get onto the bus, and was officially on my way. I sat next to the ever charming Qasim, and we talked about many things from UofTHacks, to his first year at UofT, and his upcoming internship at Microsoft! After about 3.5 hours, we make it to our destination, and head over to the student center to checkin. The energy was already pumping, with sponsor booths giving away lots of free swag, and people buzzing around getting excited for the weekend to come.

After checking in, we had dinner, picked out places to work then had opening ceremonies. As an official GHSeoul representative, I sat close to the front so that I could talk a little bit about the Global Hackathon as the first place team would be automatically accepted.

After the opening ceremony, it was officially time to start hacking! I had no idea what to make. I eventually began digging around Mashape’s dashboard to see what tools were available. I finally found something that I thought would be interesting to hack together, but I shall talk about that in a little bit.

HackWestern had some really great talks lined up for the weekend. They were spread out in a few different rooms, and I really enjoyed all the ones that I sat through. There was one by Hussam from Communitech on his experiences in Africa - “From Canada To Africa And Back”. Some others included “CDK Making an Impact on Legacy Systems” which talked about Legacy code. I think one of my favorite was by Fred Harper from Mashape, who talked about “Personal Branding: Who doesn’t want to be a rock star developer?“. I now have a checklist of different things that I’m going to continue to improve on :)

The atmosphere throughout the hackathon was great, and constantly pumping. After about 3am on the first night, you would find people sleeping everywhere. But you’d also find people working, talking and having a lot of fun! There was an intense cup stacking competition that happened around midnight, as well as fun walks around the campus - all great ways to keep people awake and entertained.

Now to talk about My Hack. As I was looking through Mashape’s list of API’s, I came across a couple of different api’s that would figure out if an image contained nude content. I remembered a conversation I had with my little cousin a week ago, where she wanted to get SnapChat (along with other social media). For obvious reasons, we didn’t let her get it. And it served as inspiration for my hack. The basic idea, or 4 word pitch: Censored Snapchat, For kids. Ideally, you would block a persons ability to upload nude pictures (and thus their account) before the picture ever reached unsuspecting children. Parents today are in a really interesting and awkward situation where they have to figure out how to teach their children to be responsible with their internet usage, and this could be one of the steps towards that.

Overall the hackathon was incredible. The entire HackWestern team did a great job keeping the energy alive, and making sure every hacker knew what was going on throughout the event. I was extremely impressed with how well they did it, and how well their entire team worked together to make sure things got done properly. I really hope they throw another hackathon next year, and will definitely do my best to go for it.