High School Hackers are taking the World by Storm.

Last week, 120 of the most acclaimed High School hackers gathered at Stack Exchange’s NYC office. No, they weren’t plotting to take over the world (although they probably could). They were gathering together to demo some of the amazing projects they work on in their spare time.

Group Photo

The meetup was put on by the “HS Hackers” Facebook group, which now boasts more than 1,800 members. We used a demo day format where groups of 3 - 4 hackers were given 5 minutes each to show off a recent project. In between groups we had some amazing guest speakers and delicious food (courtesy of MLH!).

Here’s a recap of three of my favorite hacks from the night.

Elementary OS Freya

Avi Romanoff, one of the founders of the HS Hackers group, demoed the upcoming version of Elementary OS - Freya.

As a member of the core team, Avi was able to provide insight into the humble beginnings and history of Elementary OS. His involvement in the project started in 9th grade because he was disinterested with his school work and wanted to build something useful that would help him study. Today, Elementary OS is a massive open source operating system with dozens of contributors. It’s amazing how simple side projects can evolve into much larger community efforts!

Avi demoed a ton of amazing features in Freya, but there was one that really blew my mind - CSS Customizable Application Windows. You read that correctly. You can use the same CSS you use in your browser to customize the way that applications on your computer look and feel. To demo this feature, Avi fired up a text editor and typed out some simple CSS keyframe animations. As soon as he saved the file, every window on the screen began morphing colors.

Download Elementary OS: http://elementaryos.org/

Bitshift

As a developer, it’s often difficult to find specific examples of code when you’re learning a new language or framework. Bitshift, a project built by Severyn Kozak, Ben Kurtovic, and Benjamin Attal, aims to solve that problem.

Bitshift

Google is great at indexing web pages, but things aren’t so hot when it comes to indexing repositories and code. For starters, it doesn’t account for special characters, which are extremely prevalent in code snippets. There’s also no concept of languages or frameworks built into the search, so finding really specific examples is a challenge. To solve this, Severyn and his team indexed around 3000 code snippets from Github and created an interface for users to quickly find sample code for their projects.

For example, say I’m learning to use the parse function in Python, all I have to do is search “language:python” AND “function:parse” AND “author:Guido van Rossum”. Instantly I have the exact types of code snippets that I want to learn from. Bitshift was a really neat solution to a problem every developer has, and I’m excited to see Severyn and his team move on with the project.

Try it Now: http://bitshift.it/

Parkour

Have you ever tried to find parking in NYC? It’s not an easy task. Aaron Landy’s hack, Parkour, makes it super simple and fast to find nearby parking spaces. The interface is a map with red and green highlighted areas, which represent restricted and permitted parking zones respectively.

The project was built using publicly available data silos released by the NYC government. Using this data, Aaron foresees some really cool opportunities like optimizing your driving route to search for parking.

The thing that I really enjoyed about Aaron’s project was the discussion that ensued. There were some really amazing ideas about where to take the project next and how to leverage it into potential businesses. This collaboration is the essence of the HS Hackers group and I want to see even more of it in the future. Stay tuned for our next meetup!

View the Source: https://github.com/Aaln/parkour

Jason Marmon

HSHackers Meetup Organizer

Published

14 July 2014

How to throw an Epic Hackathon

How do you throw a truly epic hackathon? In this post, we’re going to walk you through some of the things that helped make one of the MLH team’s favorite new events, BoilerMake, a huge success.

If you’re not already familiar with it, BoilerMake is Purdue University’s hackathon. They threw their first event this past Spring season and they have another event coming up in the Fall. Luke Walsh is a member of BoilerMake’s UX Committee and the official MC.

0. Get the basics right

Generally speaking, there are 5 things you need to organize a hackathon - a venue, food, power, wifi, and people. Getting those things right is core to having a successful event.

BoilerMake Wifi Map

BoilerMake spent $5,000 improving the venue’s wifi and brought in their school’s IT department to help design the hardware layout.

Pro-tip. You should always lean toward having extra food and you should have an emergency budget in case you run out. More than one hackathon has been saved by a 2am Costco run.

Pro-tip. Work with a local homeless shelter to donate any leftovers. They’ll probably even send people to pick it up!

1. Keep the event small enough to fit in one room

Throwing the largest possible hackathon has become a badge of honor among hackathon organizers. Even though they could have easily housed all 900 applicants, the BoilerMake organizers decided to cap the event at 400 (which was the capacity of the main gym).

You don’t have to throw the world’s largest hackathon to have a great event. Usually, limiting the size allows you to focus on a higher quality experience for both attendees and sponsors.

Pro-tip. You should always opt for a single large room over a bunch of smaller rooms for hacking space. As a hacker, it’s really easy to call it quits when you get stuck if you’re off by yourself in a random side-room. Being in a huge room with everyone else is an extremely powerful motivational and inspirational factor.

Another thing the BoilerMake organizers did well was positioning the sponsor tables next to the hackers. Having the mentors literally next to the hackers makes it really easy for people to ask them for help and for the sponsors to feel as if they are part of the event.

2. Target nearby schools for buses

Charter buses are becoming an increasingly popular method of getting attendees to hackathons. Traditional travel reimbursements can cost up to $200 per attendee, but chartering a 56 passenger bus brings the cost down to around $50 (if you fill every seat).

Knowing this, it’s really easy to go overboard and target schools that are far away. Keep bus trips short and only target schools that are within a 6 hour driving distance from your event. BoilerMake easily filled 7 charter buses from regional schools alone (UIUC, Rose-Hulman, University of Chicago, Ohio State, UW-Madison, Michigan, & Iowa).

Pro-tip. Bus trips that are longer than 6 hours are risky business. Last season, we had several issues where buses had mechanical issues or broke down entirely during long rides. Waiting on the side of the road for a new bus isn’t how most hackers want to be spending their weekends. Additionally, replacing a bus at the last minute is extremely expensive and will likely triple your costs.

3. Design engaging mini-events

One of our favorite moments at BoilerMake was the massive 150 person dodgeball tournament that sprung up on Saturday afternoon. It was a much needed and welcomed break for hackers and sponsors were able to connect with attendees in a fun way. A well planned and executed mini-event is an excellent way to leave attendees and sponsors with a lasting, positive impression.

Pro-tip. For dodgeball, the BoilerMake organizers split sponsors into two sides and had them recruit hackers for their respective teams. This was a really effective technique at getting hackers and sponsors to interact in a fun way.

The BoilerMake team also arranged for some other cool mini-events including rock climbing and swimming. Be careful not to go overboard with distractions though, there is a happy medium.

Be sure to have small things for hackers to do around the venue so everyone can get up and stretch their legs once in a while. BoilerMake had slushy and popcorn machines staffed during the entire event by their main sponsor, Interactive Intelligence.

4. Keep energy high

Recruit a high energy MC. This person will be the face of the event to hackers and sponsors, so having someone who is excited about hacking with some public speaking experience helps hold the entire event together.

36 hours is a long time to stay in one place. Keep background music going, but not too loud. Let hackers choose the type of music you play using a shared spotify playlist.

BoilerMake Snack Train

Pro-tip. Get out and talk to hackers. Encourage volunteers and other organizers to walk through the venue and chat with anyone who wants to talk. BoilerMake volunteers were constantly scattered throughout the gym debugging code or suggesting cool new APIs to use.

5. Engage sponsors, make sure they understand what to do

Create a short sponsor info packet. This doesn’t need to be fancy, just explain what a hackathon is and how they can prepare to get the most out of it. You should make it clear what you are providing, and mention a few things sponsors have done at other hackathons that you thought were awesome.

Pro-tip. Keep them in the loop about what other sponsors are planning; no one wants to show up to an event and be completely blown out of the water by the awesome booth next to them.

Have only one point of contact for sponsors. This makes it simpler and more personable and makes your event seem a lot more human. You should try to contact your sponsors early and often just to ask the questions like “How are you feeling about our upcoming hackathon?”

Pro-tip. Encourage sponsors to arrive before the hackers. They can get their swag and table set up and ask any last minute questions before your organizing team gets swamped with check-in. BoilerMake had a check-in line that snaked past sponsor tables so hackers and sponsors could chat before the event even started.

6. Pick a good headline sponsor

A good headline sponsor is NOT just the company who will give you the most money. A good sponsor should make planning easier for you. Interactive Intelligence, BoilerMake’s headline sponsor, sent 20 employees who took it upon themselves to help make the event awesome. They loaded up trucks with furniture and goodies and held raffles every hour.

Pro-tip. If one of your sponsors is holding a raffle, have attendees physically walk over to their table to enter it. This is a great opportunity for sponsors and attendees to engage with each other.

BoilerMake Hot Dog

Target local sponsors. Typically sponsors who are located closer will be able to send more company reps, bring more stuff, and relate more to the hackers. At BoilerMake many of the company reps were Purdue alumni who came back because they were stoked to reconnect with hackers from their alma mater.

7. Work with your school to make it a success

Your relationship with your University can make life extremely easy for you if you get them on your side early. Some schools will even kick in cash or provide venues for free if you can find the right people. Bring advisors on board who understand your vision and can help connect you with decision makers.

Learn how to sell your event. You should have a quick elevator pitch that everyone on your organizing committee can give (“No, we will not be breaking into your bank account. Actually a hackathon is…”). Find something your administration understands, and relate a hackathon to that.

Pro-tip. Position your hackathon as a recruiting event with a twist. Odds are, your school already has a career fair and you can position your event on those terms. This immediately aligns your event with your school’s goals.

What’s next?

The next edition of BoilerMake is coming up this October 17th - 19th. Registration is still open, so get on that!

This time around, we’ll be doing things a bit differently. For example, we’re restructuring how tech talks work and trying some new ways to encourage people to interact. We’ll be writing a follow up post about that soon. Subscribe below to read it and more awesome posts like this one.

What things to do you do to make your hackathon epic? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Happy hacking,

Luke & Swift

Luke Walsh

UX & MC @ BoilerMake

Published

07 July 2014

UK Lineup for the 2014 Fall Season

We can’t wait for the UK’s first Major League Hacking season this Autumn. We’ve met dozens of enthusiastic hackathon organizers over the past few months. Everybody’s so keen to get involved and help grow a national community of hackers. We’ve had some cool events join the season calendar and we’re excited to tell you all about them.

Hacker Cup

The UK season starts in October and we’ve already got 6 events on the calendar with more coming soon. Here’s why you should be excited to go to each event:

MLH UK Launch Hack October 4th - 5th

To kick off the season, 200 students will converge on Bloomberg's stunning London offices for a weekend of hacking fun. Come to the Launch Hack for a taste of what's to come in the MLH season: meeting likeminded people from around the country, learning new things, building cool stuff.

GUHack October

Do you have the GUTS? That's the challenge GU Tech Soc set the hackers who come to GUHack. Come to Glasgow in the Autumn to share ideas, learn new things, and prove you have the guts to spend a weekend hacking. It's set to be an extremely fun event.

StudentHack October 31st - November 2nd

This winter marks the third instalment of StudentHack, and we're really looking forward to hacking at such an awesome event! Add to the fact that there is a Halloween theme, we're certain this is going to be one weekend you're definitely not going to want to miss!

Hackathon Plymouth October/November

Set in the UK's 10th largest university, Hackathon Plymouth will bring hackers from across the country down to the South West. Having already held 2 hacks this year, the team behind Hackathon Plymouth are experienced and excited to push their limits in this inaugral MLH season.

HackNotts November

The University of Nottingham's HackSoc will be hosting its third hackathon in November. Robin Hood's favourite hackathon will have hearty food, fun prizes, and 200 students. What more could a hacker want?

HackNE November

Yes! More hacks in the North! Tired of commuting to London to get your hacking fix? Well now you won't have so far to go because Newcastle University are throwing their first hackathon. We're excited to see what cool stuff all the northern hackers will be making at HackNE.

More hackathons coming soon!

We’ll be announcing even more hackathons for the Fall Season in the coming weeks. You’ll always be able to find the official schedule here.

If you don’t want to miss out on all the UK hackathon news, be sure to sign up for our mailing list or follow us on twitter for the latest.

Have a wonderful summer! We can’t wait to see you all at Launch Hack!

- Bil, Joe, Tim and Syeef (MLH UK)

Tim Fogarty

UK Commissioner

Published

30 June 2014

Introducing the Hacker Survey

We are extremely excited to launch our Hacker Survey. Many of you have received e-mails from us asking you to take this survey, but you might be asking yourself ‘Why should I?’

Oculus Rift DK2

Aside from the fact that completing the survey enters you into a raffle for an amazing new Oculus Rift DK2 just in time for Fall Hackathon Season, this survey is going to be integral to the growth of the hackathon movement at large.

As hackathons expand to more schools around the world it is becoming increasingly important to understand who is going to hackathons, how each and every one of you is impacted by hackathons, and what might be preventing you from attending. Only by looking at this data in aggregate can we set goals for the entire hackathon community to grow and improve on this amazing movement.

The survey takes only 3-5 minutes to complete and we will announce the winner of the raffle for the Oculus Rift DK2 on July 15th.

Your feedback is the only way that we can improve our community at scale. We can’t wait to find out what the next big steps are for hackathon organizers everywhere!

Happy Hacking,
Jon and the MLH Team

Jon Gottfried

Co-Founder

Published

30 June 2014

Credits

Hackathon Fundraising: Getting Started

So you want to throw a hackathon? You’re going to need to fundraise. This guide will get you from zero to sending your first emails to sponsors in no time. If you have any tips of your own, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Fundraising

0. Setup

Create a google spreadsheet right now. Add all of the tech companies you can think of to the spreadsheet.

Now go to the Official Hackathon Schedule, open all of the hackathons you find there in separate tabs, and add every single company from their sponsor lists into your spreadsheet.

Woohoo! Hopefully you have 100+ solid leads already.

Pro-tip. Most of these companies are going to say “no” to you. Every hackathon out there uses this strategy and, while your event might be awesome, a majority of these companies don’t have the bandwidth or resources to sponsor every hackathon that emails them.

1. Make a list of other companies

If most of the companies we identified during setup are going to say “no”, how do you identify the companies that will sponsor your event?

There are several effective strategies you can use, here are some of our favorites. As you come across companies, make sure you enter them into the spreadsheet we created earlier.

Pro-tip. Your hackathon is most likely to be funded by companies that are looking for developers but no one else has reached out to yet.

Leverage your network.

  1. Shoot a message to every developer you know (right now!) and tell them about what you’re doing (you’re going to want to do this anyway). You should ask for a list of companies that they have either worked at in the past or are connected to somehow.

  2. If you know any faculty members at your school, you should reach out to them as well. Many have good relationships with companies in industry that they can leverage to help you out.

Pro-tip. As you’re talking to people in your network, you should find out if they are comfortable introducing you do the people at the companies they’ve shared with you. An introduction from a trusted friend or colleague carries a lot of weight.

Local companies.

Local companies are way more likely to sponsor your hackathon and aren’t usually bombarded by sponsorship requests (unlike the initial group we identified during setup). Make sure to reach out to every company you can find in your area. You may even want to just show up at their offices.

Pro-tip. Reach out to your career services department and ask for the list of companies that typically sponsors / attends your engineering or computer science career fair.

Follow Fundraising Announcements.

50,000 startups raised $250k+ in funding in the past year. Most of them aren’t getting reached out to at all. Do some research and find these startups on angellist, crunchbase, or techcrunch.

2. Mine for Contact Info

Download rapportive now. You’ll thank us later: http://rapportive.com/

Make sure you’re reaching out to real people (not a general info email). At most companies, the generic email gets ignored because it’s constantly bombarded with spam. You don’t want to associate your event with that.

Pro-tip. Most founders respond to emails sent to foundersname@companyname.com right away. You already have the company name. All you’re missing is the founders name. Crunchbase.com makes it really easy to find this. Just type in the company’s name.

Crunchbase

There are tons of great blog posts about how to do this effectively. Here are some examples.

3. Compose your Email

We’re going to need an intro email to send to the people we’re reaching out to. The email should contain just enough information to get them interested in the event (where it is, when it is, how many students you’re expecting, etc), a hook, and the ask.

The key thing you’re shooting for here is a phone call or meeting with someone who makes decisions about event sponsorships.

Here’s an example:

Hey [Name],

I’m reaching out because I’m the organizer of a student run programming competition at [Hosting University] called [Event Name] ([Event Url]). On the weekend of [Event Date], more than [# of Attendees] of the most talented student developers are going to gather together to build things like mobile apps, websites, and hardware devices to show off their skills.

I’d love the opportunity to tell you more about the event and see how we can work together to get [Company Name] out in front of some of the top developers in the world. What does your calendar look like for a brief chat next week?

Thanks!

[Your Name] Organizer, [Event Name] [Your Phone Number]

Keep your emails short. If it’s longer than a paragraph or two, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Pro-tip. Note that we’re not attaching a sponsorship prospectus at this point. We’ll talk about that more in our next post, make sure you sign up to get updates about it here.

4. Send your First Email

Now that you have a list of people at companies that you want to reach out to and an email template, it’s time to send your first emails.

Pro-tip. Don’t send emails to everyone on your list at once, especially if you haven’t done this kind of pitching before. You get much better at it over time and it’s often prudent to start with low risk companies first to help you get into a rhythm before you go after more important companies.

Pro-tip. If you or one of the people on your team already knows someone on this list personally, you should always go through the existing connections first instead of cold emailing someone else at the company. An intro from someone internal goes a long way.

You should track who you’ve sent emails to and the status of each lead. You could do this in the spreadsheet we create or a tool like Trello or relateIQ.

What happens next?

Congratulations, you’ve sent your first sponsorship emails! Now we play the waiting game. Hopefully some of the sponsors you reached out to will want to setup phone calls or meetings.

We’ll be writing another two posts on what to do once you have a potential sponsor on the phone and how to optimize this whole process. Subscribe to our mailing list to get the next two posts when they come out!

Have tips of your own on sending out sponsorship inquiries? Leave them in the comments below!

Happy Hacking,

Dave & Swift

Dave Fontenot

Contributor

Published

16 June 2014

Credits

Announcing the 2014 Fall Season Lineup

We are extremely excited to announce the launch of the calendar for the 2014 Fall Season. Last semester more than 10,000 student hackers competed at nearly 40 Major League Hacking hackathons all over the United States and Canada. The Fall Season is gearing up to be the biggest and best season yet, here’s a sneak peak of some of the awesome events that are on the way!

Hacker Cup

With almost three full months to go until September, we already have 15 hackathons that will be a part of the Fall Season. Here’s why the MLH team is excited about each of them.

MHacks September 5th - 7th

If you haven't been to an MHacks before, you're not going to want to miss this one. We’re kicking off the Fall Season in a big way with the 4th installment of the University of Michigan’s hackathon. The event will be returning to Ann Arbor (it was in Detroit during the Spring)!

PennApps X September 12th - 14th

This Fall marks the 10th installment of one of the oldest and most beloved hackathons around - PennApps X. From the sounds of it, they’ve got a lot of awesome stuff in the works. One of the things we’re most excited about is the extended focus on hardware hacks. Check out this awesome video of last season’s winner, Homework Machine.

HackGT September 19th - 21st

We just started seeing hackathons pop up in the South last season. We’re really excited about Georgia Tech’s hackathon HackGT, which could be the first Southern hackathon to break 1,000 attendees. (They win the award for most legit event landing page, since their website is just an Oscar Wilde quote right now!)

Hack the North September 19th - 21st

Another newcomer event, the University of Waterloo’s Hack the North has the potential to be a really awesome hackathon. They’re shooting to be Canada’s largest hackathon ever and have partnered with YCombinator. Sam Altman will be making an appearance along with some other really incredible judges and speakers.

Unhackathon September 19th - 21st

The Stony Brook Computing Society is making their Major League Hacking debut in a big way this Fall. After an exciting Spring season, the Stony Brook Seawolves are ready to up the game for hackathons everywhere and put a new spin on the traditional format. They’re launching the first ever Unhackathon - a hackathon focused on mentorship, nontraditional prizes, and collaboration.

BigRed//Hacks September 26th - 28th

Hackathons are taking the Ivy League by storm. Cornell is launching their inaugural Major League Hacking event, BigRed//Hacks. Students from a diverse array of backgrounds and schools will gather in Ithaca in September. The event is very newbie-friendly and will be a great place for all hackers to get a taste of what it’s like to create mind-blowingly awesome technology.

Design & Hack September 26th - 28th

Design & Hack is the first student hackathon focused on design. The Parsons Creative Code Club is launching this fresh new event in the Fall to give developers and designers a place to collaborate and learn something about what life is like on the other side of the desk.

Cal Hacks October 3rd - 5th

Last semester we saw the epic rise of West Coast Hackathons with HackTech and LAHacks. We think the University of California, Berkeley’s hackathon, Cal Hacks, could be the first major event in the Bay Area.

HackMizzou October 3rd - 5th

This Midwestern hackathon returns in the Fall to the University of Missouri. Hackers in the Midwest are taking the world by storm, and HackMizzou attracts some of the best. We can’t wait to see The Show Me State show everyone who’s boss.

HackMIT October 4th - 5th

MIT’s hackathon, HackMIT, is back this Fall! Last year, it was one of the most impressive events around. Their landing page boasts that they’re putting together a “Hackathon like None Other” and we believe they can do it!

hackNY October 18th - 19th

I’ve personally been to all but one of the hackNY hackathons, and there’s a good reason for that. Not only does this hackathon bring together the best hackers in the New York metro area, but it’s also a great place for hackers just getting their start. Almost everyone who attends finishes a hack!

HackTX October 18th - 19th

We’re really excited about the return of the University of Texas, Austin’s hackathon, HackTX. We’ve been hearing from more and more hackers in Texas and they’re all hungry for high quality events. We can’t wait to get everyone in the region together for an epic weekend of hacking.

Kent Hack Enough October 24th - 26th

Kent Hack Enough is not only one of the best student hackathons out there, but it’s also the largest hackathon in the entire state of Ohio. Put on by hacKSU, this event has been growing every year and includes the best hackers from the surrounding region. Why throw it? BECAUSE YOU SIMPLY KENT HACK ENOUGH (dohohohoho)

Y-Hack October 31st - November 2nd

This Fall, the team at Yale is doing something especially scary - they’re hosting Y-Hack on Halloween! Hacker costume contest anyone? They’re also shooting for an unheard of 1,500 hackers.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come soon!

This is just the begining. We’ll be announcing even more hackathons for the Fall Season in the coming weeks. You’ll always be able to find the official schedule here.

Sign up for our mailing list and we’ll email you updates once in a while or follow us on twitter for the real-time fix.

As always, happy hacking everyone!

- Swift

Swift

Commissioner

Published

11 June 2014

What does it take to become an official MLH Hackathon?

One of the most common questions that hackathon organizers ask us is “What does it take to become an official Major League Hacking hackathon?”. Today we’re excited to unveil the official MLH Event Sanctioning Guide.

The guide outlines all of the basic requirements for becoming an official hackathon. We tried to make the rules as general as possible and we think that the majority of events will have no problem meeting the bar we’ve set.

Keep in mind that the guide is a work in progress. Our hope is that it will be constantly evolving to meet the needs of student hackers and organizers. If you have any thoughts or feedback, we’d love to hear from you.

So, without further ado!

You can always find the most up-to-date version of the guide here: http://static.mlh.io/docs/event-sanctioning-guide.pdf.

Swift

Commissioner

Published

02 June 2014

How To Judge a Hackathon - Finding the Chosen One

This is an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released MLH Hackathon Organizer’s Manual. Sign up at the bottom for instant updates! Check out the previous post on Hackathon Prizes

Picking a winner is tough. Especially as hackathons get bigger, the decisions must be made quickly, and selecting the ‘best’ project is always subjective.

How you design the last chapter of your hackathon is important: it is the last thing your hackers will remember and take away from the event. Do they feel accomplished and successful, or do they feel like they wasted a weekend? A hacker’s sense of belonging in this community is based on what they feel is prized and valued. This is often a reflection of what is prized and valued at the events they go to. Obviously we want them to feel accomplished and like they are part of something bigger so that they continue to go to hackathons, so let’s dive in and look at what makes a finale and the associated judging process successful.

This post will equip you with tools for different styles, methods, and approaches to judging hackathons.

Your Array of Judging Formats

The Demo-athon

HackNY Demos

The Demo-athon is the tried and true hackathon finale. Every team getting 2-5 minutes on stage to show off what they built was the only way of finishing a hackathon for quite a long time. But it isn’t perfect, and sadly it did not scale well. Let’s dig into why.

Benefits:

  • Hackers love to see what their peers have built.

    Being able to see all of the bizarre, awesome projects that your friends built is great. You can see who you want to work with in the future or what you want to contribute to after the event, and you also get to learn about new, crazy technologies.

  • Demos engage your community as a cohesive group.

    When watching demos, you get to enjoy everybody’s hacks together in one big happy family. You get to see how your friends approached problems that you might have encountered and you discover what is really possible in the scope of a weekend. Everyone laughs, cries, and cringes together and it makes you feel closer as a result.

  • Judging is more transparent and simpler to coordinate.

    A demo-athon only needs one small panel of expert judges to evaluate all of the hacks. In addition, sponsors can see everyone who is eligible for their prizes in one sitting. Hackers only have to worry about having a working demo that one time, and then they can breath a sigh of relief.

  • Big Demos Teach Big Skills

    Demoing forces you to get comfortable in front of an audience, and learn that it really isn’t that scary. Your best qualities can come out, whether that is your humor or your technical expertise, there will be audience members who resonate with your style.

Drawbacks:

  • Holy moly, demos can be long.

    Raise your hand if you’ve ever conked out because you didn’t sleep all weekend and then some fool asked you to sit and watch 6 hours of hack demos. I have… Once you have more than 40-50 hacks, the time needed to give them all demo slots becomes unreasonable. Some of our biggest events have more than 200 hacks. ‘Nuff said.

  • Decisions depend heavily on the pitch.

    I’m all for hilarious, interactive pitches. But there is a fine balance to be had between enhancing hack demos with funny pitches and turning into a full-on pitch competition. No one wants to hear you pitch Uber for Kittens at a hackathon, sorry.

Pro-tips:

  • Have 2 A/V hookups that you can easily toggle between. This makes it possible for your on-deck presenter to get set up before the previous hack is finished and smooth the transition process.

  • Have someone in front of the demoer with a visible countdown timer who also gives a signal when they have used up half of their time.

  • Make sure whoever is 2nd on deck is ready to get set up and has their hack ready to go. No one should get on stage with their computer in sleep mode…

  • If you have time, do dry runs with each of the demoers so they understand how short 2 minutes really is. During this time you can also coach them on tips and tricks like the fact that it is always better to Show, not Tell.

  • Give your judges clear criteria on what they will be evaluating for each hack and how they will be picking the top hacks. Sometimes a rubric is helpful to this process.

Parallel Demo-athons

One of the first alternatives to this mass demo-athon debuted at PennApps a few years ago. They realized that hackers did not want to sit through hundreds of demos, and decided to split up their judging into multiple simultaneous demo rooms.

“The worry with multi-tiered judging is this: imagine you spent your entire weekend sleepless. Your implicit reward, prizes or not, is that a hundred or more people will get to see what you did and, prizes or not, applaud your effort. Instead, you go into a tiny closed conference with 4 older-looking folks who listen to you for two minutes and then wait for an email with the list of finalists - a list you’re not on.” - Alexey Komissarouk, Founder of PennApps

Benefits:

  • Hackers still get all of the advantages of the Demo-athon, with the scale problem solved.

    This is pretty self-explanatory. You take demos, and run them in parallel in smaller groups.

Drawbacks:

  • The logistics get very complicated, very quickly.

    When there are multiple demo rooms, each with their own presentation queue, knowing where you have to be and when gets to be pretty confusing, especially if you are trying to juggle watching your friend’s demo with giving your own.

  • No single judge sees all of the hacks.

    When judges get to watch every demo, it is easy to rank them relative to one another. But what if one room has a handful of amazing hacks and another room has no amazing hacks? Judging then becomes more subjective and you run the risk of not really surfacing the best hacks from the event into the final demos because no one has the full picture of how they stack up.

Pro-tips:

  • Let folks know which rooms they will be demoing in as far before demo time as possible and have them check in with an organizer in their room to confirm that they are in the right place before demos begin. No one should have to run between rooms because of a mixup.

  • Use the A/V and prep tips from the demo-athon section above to make switching between demoers as seamless as possible.

  • Publish the full room schedule online so that hackers can find out when their friends are demoing.

Science Fair

LAHacks Science Fair

Soon after the test of this parallel demo-athon, the organizers of MHacks decided to try something completely different. They decided to have a science fair.. or at least repurposed it from their middle school science teacher. They set up a huge expo hall and gave every team a table to demo at. The top 10 teams bubbled up based on roaming judges and demoed for the entire audience. If you’ve ever been in a room of 1,500 hackers all demoing their mad science projects at once, you know how amazing it feels. If not, I highly recommend you try it some time. The feeling is indescribable and truly makes you think about hackathons in a new light.

Benefits:

  • The demos are easy to scale.

    Since demos are running in parallel, time is no longer an issue. When you have more hacks, you just increase the number of tables. Problem solved!

  • Conversations > Pitches

    During the science fair, you have to demo your hack over and over and over. That means that it actually needs to function in a reproducible way. The functional, interactive demo becomes far more important than the pitch, which is great.

Drawbacks:

  • The logistics are still pretty complicated.

    Assigning 1,500 hackers on 250 teams to exhibition tables and getting them set up and ready to demo in a timely manner is really hard.

  • Judging takes a lot of time and is hard to coordinate.

    Though hackers have something to do with their time other than watching lots of hack demos, judging 250 hacks (and physically moving from one to the next in order to do so) takes a lot of time. Aggregating all of those scores to surface the top 10 hacks is really difficult, and requires a lot of coordination between organizers, judges, and hackers. Additionally, no single judge gets to see all of the hacks so surfacing the top projects becomes somewhat subjective.

  • Hardware hacks are far more visually appealing than software hacks.

    We’ve observed that hardware hacks tend to attract much larger crowds (and as a result, more attention from the judges) simply because they are more visually interesting than most software hacks. While this is awesome in a lot of ways, it does tend to unfairly skew the judging towards hardware hacks.

  • Hackers don’t get to see other hacks or engage a large audience.

    Since you have to demo over and over in the science fair, you and your teammates rarely have the opportunity to go browse everyone else’s hacks. This is probably our main gripe with the science fair system because seeing awesome hacks is one of the best parts of going to a hackathon. You also lose the group humor and audience engagement of working with a large audience, which definitely makes people feel closer together and builds community around hackathons.

All of those criticisms aside, the science fair works well. For a hackathon with large numbers of hacks, a better system hasn’t yet been effectively tested that we’ve seen.

Pro-tips:

  • Give hackers a large time buffer to get set up at their exhibition tables before judging begins.

  • Make it clear to hackers who the judges are and how they will be evaluating the hacks.

  • Have a publicly available spreadsheet (or an app such as HackerLeague or ChallengePost) that makes it clear which hacks are at which tables. You would be amazed how complicated judging becomes when it is not clear which hacks are at which numbered tables…

  • Provide sponsors with a list of all hacks that are eligible for their prize so that they can easily find and evaluate them in the science fair.

  • Consider grouping hacks in some meaningful way to make judging more straightforward based on prize category or type of hack.

  • Find judges who are not sponsors or organizers (both of whom are very busy) to evaluate and re-evaluate all of your hacks. The more hacks you have, the more judges you will need. At some events I have seen this number climb to upwards of 30-40 necessary judges.

What Next?

The three judging methodologies we explored earlier each improved on some aspect of the hackathon finale, but there is still a lot of room for growth and experimentation with this vital component of your events.

My recommendation would be to combine the best aspects of the Science Fair with the community feedback frequently seen at Demo-athons.

Eliminate the roaming judges altogether and turn the decision making power over to the hackers themselves. Additionally, force team members to rotate staffing their booth so that every person has a chance to see and vote for a large number of hacks. LAHacks tried this model of restricting each booth to only be staffed by a single team member and it proved effective in forcing people to explore other projects. If each hacker has 3 votes, and you can safely assume that hackers will first explore neighboring hacks to where their team is stationed (at large events where they cannot see every project), I believe you could surface some of the best hacks from an event without having to appoint and coordinate large groups of judges.

This solution is not perfect, nor has it been tested in a meaningful way. But we strongly believe that any successful hackathon finale will incorporate these elements:

  1. Let hackers see what their peers have been working on to build community

  2. Let sponsors see the projects that are eligible for their prizes

  3. Let hackers show off what they built in a meaningful way so that they leave feeling accomplished

  4. Encourage hackers to launch early and often and not to fear the demo, despite lack of polish

  5. Create a sense of community where what you built is more important than what you won

With those five points at top of mind, I am sure that hackathon organizers will continue to make their event finales even more fulfilling for their hackers.

How to Judge Hacks

We’ve run the gamut of judging variants, now let’s talk about how exactly you pick the very best hack out of a pool of hundreds of amazing hacks.

You Don’t

Sorry for the spoiler, but the truth is that judges rarely, if ever, pick the best hack.

Being the ‘best’ is an entirely subjective assessment that varies from person to person and from event to event.

But Really, How the Heck Do We Pick Who Gets Our Billion Dollar Prize?!

If you have a billion dollar prize, you have already failed. Go read our Prizes post and then come back. We’ll wait…

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Okay, now that you know better than to offer silly wads of cash at your hackathon, we can talk about some techniques for surfacing high quality projects from a large batch of interesting projects.

  1. Focus on awesomeness.

    Awesomeness is one of the best qualifiers I have seen for what constitutes a great hack and it something that I learned from HackNY, the primordial student hackathon. Everyone’s definition of awesomeness will be different but ultimately it boils down to creativity, depth, and wow factor. You want your winners to be endlessly creative and inventive. They should be building things that no one thought possible in the scope of a weekend. They should be using techniques that are abnormal, often impractical, and weirdly elegant. As subjective as it is, distinguishing between a simple CRUD app and something that is mind-blowingly awesome is fairly easy.

  2. Have the right judges.

    Your judges can make or break your hackathon finale. First off, have a balanced and diverse judging panel. Generally I like to have almost all technical judges (engineers/developers/designers/etc.) but you can certainly have a large amount of skill and demographic diversity on a technical panel. While there are some extremely talented and creative non-technical judges out there, we’ve found that panels of technical experts tend to pick projects that are more technologically interesting regardless of polish, which is the right fit for hackathons.

  3. Focus on learning over profit.

    Sorry to break it to you, but 99% of hackers are going to hackathons to have fun and learn something. It is rare that anyone goes to a hackathon to bootstrap a startup (Startup Weekend/StartupBus are not hackathons), and rarely do those people win hackathons because they spent their time creating a product rather than awesome technology. Occasionally, cool hacks (like Grooply, which became GroupMe) become products over time but rarely do they start out that way. Hacks are built as creative solutions to problems or simply for fun, not to make money.

  4. Give beautiful, useful hacks a chance.

    As much as I like to tout the benefits of ugly and technologically awesome command line hacks, designers are great hackers too. Beautiful hacks, or those with innovative user experiences, should be able to win hackathons if they are functional as well. Hacking design is as valuable as hacking code, but they are best when paired together. Awesome design + awesome code = Awesome hacks.

  5. Involve the community.

    Judges don’t notice the same things that hackers do, regardless of how technical they are. I have seen many hacks that were truly amazing in every capacity but botched their demo or didn’t pitch well who were passed over for top honors. Oftentimes their fellow hackers know how cool their project is and so community voting is able to surface hacks that would not otherwise rise to the top.

With these 5 points in mind, hopefully you can craft judging criteria that help make hackers feel awesome at the end of your event. Distilling these points into a cohesive rubric is difficult and perhaps unnecessary, but explaining to your judges and hackers that Awesomeness is the primary factor goes a long way towards surfacing the best hacks and encouraging hackers to think outside the box.

“When you judge things like business value you begin to restrict creativity. Feasibility is an important factor to be aware of but should not be a decider. The goal, in most cases, should be to foster a culture of innovation at minimum expense. That was the original motivation behind hackathons and one that I believe still makes sense today. Within our realm we have unparalleled creativity and that creativity, like a muscle, must be exercised. Engineers are not unlike artists in this regard. Hackathons are an opportunity to exercise our creative muscles. Don’t constrain that opportunity unnecessarily. Let innovation and creativity be the most powerful motivating factor and we can build amazing things.” - Randall Hunt, Director of Developer Evangelism at MongoDB

Comment below with your own ideas for how to improve hackathon finales, this is a constantly evolving process!

Sign up below to be the first to hear about new excerpts and the release of the full Manual.

Jon Gottfried

Co-Founder

Published

15 May 2014

Are Hackathon Prizes The Worst Thing Since Moldy Sliced Bread?

This is an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released MLH Hackathon Organizer’s Manual. Sign up at the bottom for instant updates! Check out the next post on Judging a Hackathon

Prizes have been a hackathon staple for many years now, but this was not always the case. Originally, hackathons offered a way to build community and garner respect. No prizes necessary. As hackathons have entered the mainstream (sorry hipster hacker), prizes are now expected. At increasing levels of visibility, magnitude, and monetary value.

So it is important, as either an organizer or a sponsor, to seriously consider why you are giving a prize, what sort of behaviors that prize rewards, and how you can go about motivating those behaviors. No one wants to be seen as a stingy starfish, but prizes say a lot about who you are as a community, why you are there in the first place, and influence the vibe of your event big time.

What motivates you to stay up all night hacking?

Chances are there aren’t any scale models of some company’s mascot in your mad scientist lair…so instead let’s dig a bit deeper and look at the types of motivations that make or break communities before we go around offering prizes all willy-nilly.

When you do something because you love it, that is an intrinsic motivator. For example, when you decide to learn INTERCAL because you love esoteric programming languages, you are intrinsically motivated. It is unlikely that anyone else cares whether or not you can read, write, or are even aware of the existence of INTERCAL.

Extrinsic motivations are motivations that are driven by some external force or goal. To use the example above, when you compete in a INTERCAL app competition (do those exist?), you are extrinsically motivated. You are definitely not writing INTERCAL for personal enjoyment but instead to win something and beat the other competitors.

I’m Not Lazy, I’m Just Unmotivated!

When we consider intrinsic versus extrinsic motivations in the context of a hackathon, things become way more interesting. If someone is intrinsically motivated to build something, they feel ownership over it and are likely to continue pursuing it even if all extrinsic motivations (such as prizes) disappear. If someone is motivated purely by the competition or prizes involved with an activity (extrinsic motivation), they may be very effective and focused in the short-term but it is unlikely that they will continue work on their project or pursue a skill in the long-term because the motivating factor for them is suddenly gone. It’s not like any of us have ever done that..right?

As a hackathon organizer, it is your job to design for the right kind of behavior.

Large prizes, such as Salesforce’s $1,000,000 hackathon prize, may seem like great motivators but they are actually very ineffective at building communities and creating long-term engagement. In fact, after a point they even fail to inflate the number of participants in your event. Why are big prizes like this so ineffective? They say that our community is more about money than curiosity. Cheddar > respect. That gives us the creeps.

If a hackathon prize is too large, people who hack because of passion will likely be turned off. Focusing too much on prizes can make those who are there out of passion or to learn something new feel like their experience is not valued by their peers or the event organizers. Placing a higher value on extrinsic motivating factors can quite literally scare people away.

Who could possibly be scared away by hyper-competitive environments or cash prizes? Newbies, future community leaders who get the wrong vibe, and people who are not completely confident in their programming skills, to name a few.

In actuality, it is far more dangerous to lean too heavily on extrinsic motivations such as prizes than it is to lean too heavily on intrinsic motivations such as curiosity.

To be fair, though, many passionate hackers like prizes. They like to feel recognized and rewarded for investing their time in building something. If a prize is too small or nonexistent, people who are more extrinsically motivated or need that extra push to commit (git, haha) to something may not show up for your event. Intrinsic motivations aren’t really sexy, so it is up to you to use your immense prize-buying power with great responsibility to build your community rather than scare people away from it.

But What About Sponsor Prizes?!

Have you ever seen a company desperately offer a completely absurd prize at a hackathon? #facepalm

Often sponsors like to give out prizes for the best use of their API or product, but you may want to reconsider letting them.

Instead, urge your sponsors to be more directly engaged with your hackers - that will help them increase usage and help hackers get sharped. Engaging with hackers directly provides much higher quality hacks to the sponsors because people only integrate their service if it adds value to their hack rather than simply to be eligible for a prize. It also helps build a more personal, sustainable, and memorable relationship between hackers and your mentors/sponsors.

There are certainly companies that are aware of and comfortable with quantity of hacks over quality. If that is something that you as an organizer are comfortable with, it is your decision to pursue those types of sponsors.

Choose your sponsors carefully. This event is yours to design. And really, in our experience, prizes make no difference in product adoption if you provide high quality resources and mentors for your hackers.

The Perfect Prize

The best prizes do not involve ‘dolla, dolla bills yall’. Cash prizes tend to attract people who are primarily motivated by the competition and potential reward. But awesome hacker-focused prizes are a great opportunity to brand your community and make it more cohesive. What do your prizes say about your community?

An Oculus Rift, despite costing $350, has a much higher perceived value than the actual monetary value for most hackers because it provides additional enjoyment long after the event is over. It is also something that they would not go out of their way to buy with the same amount of cash on hand. These types of prizes create a positive association between their day-to-day usage and the event itself, which is a huge win for event organizers trying to differentiate their hackathons from many of the others out there. There is an additional opportunity here to create some great content showing off what people build with the prizes they won at your hackathon, which is a win-win for everybody.

Cash, on the other hand, is likely to get spent on day-to-day necessities and forgotten as quickly as it is received because it is not particularly novel or useful. Interesting and useful prizes provide an educational experience for hackers, which is a primary cause for people attending hackathons in the first place.

So before you go throwing around that wad of excess cash, talk with your fellow organizers and think long and hard about what types of behavior your prizes actually encourage and how you truly want to build your community long-term. This kind of debate will produce some useful design principles for your team, and a better experience for your hackers.

Ideas For Great Prizes

Gear - Cool items to use with future hacks

Experiences - Have a memorable, one-time adventure with your friends

  • Movie Tickets
  • Trip to Medieval Times or an amusement park
  • A trip somewhere (may cost $1000/person, but still less overall than many cash prizes)
  • Lunch with your hero
  • Laser tag tournament
  • Conference tickets
  • Company trip - visit and hang out with your favorite companies for a day

Novelty - Things you might love, but might not buy for yourself

Jon Gottfried

Co-Founder

Published

18 April 2014

MLH is Coming to the United Kingdom.

The rate at which the global student hacker community is growing is nothing short of phenomenal. We organize student hackathons in the UK and have seen our events inspire determined and passionate students into making more friends, becoming better developers and making an impact for themselves, the people around them and the world at large.

With this success, we’ve been looking for ways to make it even better. That is why we’re extremely excited to announce MLH UK with our first ever season starting this winter. We think it will help us encourage new hackathons, bolster the existing ones and ultimately provide the best platform for the student hacker community in the UK.

Hackers at StudentHack, UK

MLH UK will be a competition for all British universities. When a student attends a hackathon, they earn their university a point on our leaderboard. When a university hosts a hackathon, that university earns a point for each student who attends. At the end of a season, the university with the most points is declared the winner and they’ll also receive a totally badass trophy.

Badass trophy aside, we’re more than a competition. We’ll provide support to students who organise hackathons or who want to set up hacking societies. We will help hackathons get sponsorship, organise buses to hackathons, and make sure events don’t clash. Anything to do with hacking, we’re here to help.

The first ever MLH UK season starts in October and it kicks off with an official MLH UK launch hackathon in the heart of London. The UK’s biggest collegiate hackathons will also be joining us:

  • MLH Launch Hack (Oct 4/5, London)
  • StudentHack III (Oct 31-Nov 2, Manchester)
  • HackNottingham (Nov 8/9, Nottingham)

We’ll be announcing many more hackathons at a later date. If you’re a student hackathon organizer in the UK and we haven’t yet been in touch, please drop us a line and let’s get the ball rolling.

The Team

MLH UK will be organized by the following team:

Tim Fogarty UK Commissioner

Tim studies Physics and Maths at the University of Nottingham and is president of the university’s hacking society, HackSoc (@hacksocnotts).

Joe Nash HackSoc Nottingham

Joe studies Computer Science at the University of Nottingham and is founder and former president of HackSoc (@hacksocnotts). He is also a Twilio Hero and PayPal BattleHack 2013 Finalist as part of Team London.

Bilawal Hameed StudentHack

Bilawal is currently studying Computer Science at Manchester Metropolitan University and founded one of the largest student hackathons in the UK, StudentHack (@studenthack), in 2012.

Syeef Karim StudentHack

Syeef is studying Computer Science at Manchester Metropolitan University. He also helps organize StudentHack (@studenthack).

We’re really excited to bring MLH to the UK. We believe hackathons can benefit students all over the world and we can’t wait to get involved with MLH towards building and blossoming a global hacker community we can all be proud of.

– Bil, Joe, Tim and Syeef (MLH UK)

Tim Fogarty

UK Commissioner

Published

04 April 2014

Hackcon 2014

One weekend late in January, a hundred or so college kids made their way to New York City, ready for an intense weekend learning, presentations and not very much sleep. They weren’t heading to a Hackathon. Not this time. Instead, they gathered for the first ever HackCon.

College hackathon organizers from over 30 events - veterans and first-time organizers alike - spent the weekend doing what growing, maturing communities do - learning, arguing, searching for ways to improve and understand their world. The schedule alternated between talks, Q&As and general discussion.

We recorded most everything that wasn’t off-the-record.

Background: A Brief History of Hackathons

Jon Gottfried is a co-founder at Major League Hacking.

Selected Favorites

If you’re curious about where student hackathons are going (or want to start one yourself) but only have a few minutes, watch these audience favorites:

1. When ‘awesome’ is isolating: Making Hackathons Accessible to Newbies

ADICU, the student organizers behind most of Columbia’s Tech Events, focus their time on getting students with some programming background interested in making stuff and tech in general. This year’s DevFest, ADICU’s week long lots-of-tech-talks-culminating-in-a-hackathon event, attracted over 700 signups (and over 300 attendees) inside Columbia alone. Here’s their report on how - and why - they did it.

Dan Schlosser is a Sophomore at Columbia University and a board member at ADICU.

2. Aligning Interests for Successful Hackathons

John Britton has been on all sides of the new age of hackathons. As one of the first Developer Evangelists at Twilio, John pioneered the current generation of “let me give an unbelieveable 2-minute demo” developers that exist today. As a hackathon organizer, he has organizer several MusicHackDays in New York. John joined us at HackCon to talk about getting Sponsors, Organizers and Hackers interests' aligned for a great event.

These days, John Britton is the Education Liason for Github.

3. Hackathon Stories: Why they matter, and how to make them happen.

Beyond the hacks that get created and the learning that goes on, one of the most important outcomes of a hackathon are the stories. As a powerful medium for sharing the ethos of hackathons with potential attendees, Tess Rinearson reflects on her year-and-a-half of blogging at - and about - hackathons, creating a compelling case for making sure your hackathon has its stories.

A version of this talk is also available as an article on Medium.

Tess Rinearson is an engineer at Medium, and somewhat of an alum at Penn and CMU.

4. Hackonomics 101

Why have hackathons blown up in size as much as they have over the past few years? How can an organization like PennApps or MHacks raise over $250,000 for a single event? Where is this money coming from, and is it sustainable?

I (Alexey) gave a talk about the economics behind the current and future state of Hackathon Sponsorships

A version of this talk is also available as an article on Medium.

Alexey Komissarouk is the founder of the PennApps hackathon, and most recently a Developer Evangelist for Pebble.

5. Hackathon Values

ADICU’s Dina Lamdany, spoke about the values underlying their organization and lead a discussion about the values of the hackathon community as a whole. The discussion was not recorded, but Dina’s statement of principle stands on its own.

Dina Lamdany is a Junior at Columbia and Board Member at ADICU.

All the talks

The rest of the videos are worth watching as well. Easily. They’re full of advice about branding your hackathon, recruiting and training your organizing team and advice for pairing newbies with experienced mentors, and much more.

For a full list of topics as well as slides for most talks, see the full HackCon schedule.

More posts about hackers and hacking are also available on a Medium collection curated by Tess.

Thanks to Nick, Ishaan and Swift for putting together a fantastic event.

PS. Ideas, concerns? Email team@hackcon.io.

Alexey Komissarouk

Board Member

Published

31 March 2014

Hackathons are taking the world by storm.


This is a cross post from the one and only Dave Fontenot. Originally posted on his blog here.

A year ago today, hundreds of college students flooded an auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The stage was set for an educational revolution. As we awaited the opening kickoff, I looked out into the audience and saw 500 students who were about to spend the next 36 hours of their lives turning their ideas into reality.

Instead of spending the weekend partying, these students had come to the University of Michigan to take part in the inaugural MHacks Hackathon. That weekend would change many of their lives forever.

MHacks

You may be asking yourself, “What is a hackathon?” A hackathon is a marathon where people come together to create things. Most commonly, they produce software applications, as software is easier to develop than ever, costs almost nothing to create except time, and can be deployed to millions of people’s hands in an instant. Anyone can attend a hackathon with zero prior experience, and, by the end of the weekend, have the newfound ability to create.

Hackathons are the biggest thing to happen to education since the rise of the Internet. While the Internet gives people the ability to consume the world’s knowledge, hackathons unleash people’s ability to create. Instead of sitting in a coffee shop or library discussing the world’s problems, people come together at a hackathon to fix those problems right away. There are no tests, no rules, no limitations. The feedback is immediate, and you learn at an unheard of pace by testing your hypotheses right then and there. You deploy your app, show the people around you, and witness how the world reacts. The best part: it’s fun.

And the community around these events is insane. You won’t find the next 10 Mark Zuckerbergs in a dorm room; you’ll find them at a hackathon. Rather than meeting years down the line, they are coming together this weekend. In ten years people will look back and say which hackathon they got their start at, not which university.

The scarcity of technical talent is our nation’s biggest bottleneck. Hackathons are the answer.

Software Is Eating The World and leaving no industry untouched. Since Marc Andreessen’s groundbreaking post in the Wall Street Journal, we have already seen many of his then bold predictions come true already. When he wrote the post three years ago, Apple had just surpassed Exxon Mobil , then the world’s most valuable company. Last week, Google did the same.

“We are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.”

Graph

This is a huge opportunity that will be instrumental in deciding the future of our nation’s economy. Cory Booker gets it. Mark Zuckerberg gets it. Even Obama gets it. In his recent State of the Union Address, he announced that he would be committing $3.1 billion for STEM education.

If you aren’t sold yet, just take a look at the Fortune 500. 41 of the 500 companies are in technology . Amazon is replacing retail stores, Netflix is replacing Blockbuster, Uber is replacing traditional taxi companies, and technical job growth is replacing non-technical job growth in just about every industry.

This time we aren’t seeing another tech bubble. We are seeing the next Industrial Revolution. “More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services.” One problem: our workforce isn’t prepared at all to fuel this explosive growth.

Graph 2

“Our policy at Facebook is literally to hire as many talented engineers as we can find. There just aren’t enough people who are trained and have these skills today.”

The US Education System can’t keep up.

In 2012, 50,000 startups raised $250k or more in funding each. We have fewer than 20,000 Computer Science and Computer Engineering graduates every year. Do the math.

The growth of technical jobs is far outpacing our ability to train people in those skills through traditional means. This is a huge opportunity that we are leaving on the table. Even if each startup only needs to hire one CS grad, universities clearly aren’t producing even close to enough talent.

Additionally, our universities are failing to prepare students for these positions to begin with. We are teaching students how to code, not how to build. Both are important, but the second is what is necessary. Show someone what they can build and you won’t be able to stop them from learning how to code.

Hackathons give people superpowers…in a weekend.

Not only are hackathons changing the way we view education, but they are also providing immense economic opportunity. Hackathons are the most effective vehicle for preparing young people to enter the workforce. If you don’t believe me, attend one. Hackathons are already replacing career fairs like nobody’s business, and you’ll find the fastest growing companies in the world doing everything they can to get in on the gold rush of talent that they are producing.

Since the inaugural event a year ago, 3,000 students from over 125 universities have participated in MHacks at the University of Michigan.

This is just the start. This semester alone, Major League Hacking (the NCAA of hackathons) is supporting 10,000 students participating in over two dozen of these events. Next school year, we will reach 50,000 students. That’s nearly the same number of students studying CS at every university in the US and Canada combined.

High Five

I’ve convinced hundreds of people to attend hackathons. When I first invite them, a common initial response: “I don’t know how to code.”

We tend to have this preconception that we need to do some magic practice to prepare to build things, but in reality, the only real way to learn is to dive in. I can tell you this from experience: there’s no better place to dive in and begin learning than at a hackathon. Hackathons are like gyms — they provide the perfect environment for you to begin building your technical skill set.

It’s time to change the way we view technology. Technology is not an industry, it’s a tool that is disrupting every industry. People aren’t “technical” or “non-technical.” Technology is simply a competitive advantage that anyone can add to their skill set. It’s a force multiplier for everything you do. It allows you to unlimit yourself by replacing rudimentary, repetitive tasks and computation with programs a computer can run in an instant. If you don’t use it, you are making a decision to pass on the greatest competitive advantage that has ever existed.

If we are serious about preparing our youth to enter the workforce, we need to encourage every student to take part in hackathons. They will learn how to code, but also, more importantly, they will become passionate about building things.

Hackathons are taking the world by storm and provide an unparalleled opportunity to get young people excited about technology. If there was a way for me to convince students to spend their weekend learning instead of partying, I would do so in a second.

What will you do?

Dave Fontenot

Contributor

Published

21 February 2014

Hackathon Playbook Part 1: How to Sponsor


This is a cross post from the awesome Lob Team. Originally posted on their blog here.

It’s no secret that hackathons are quickly growing in prevalence and size around the world. If you are unfamilar with what a hackathon is, check out this great piece by Dave Fontenot. At Lob, our goal is to give developers access to physical world infrastructure through an API, so that they can build cool features directly into their applications. Hackathons have been a very valuable medium for us as a company to evangelize our APIs, build our brand, and meet developers. We have seen many creative uses of the Lob APIs as hackers have built applications on top of Lob and as cool extensions of their existing applications.

As a hacker, these events are the best way to come together with others to build amazing products, solve interesting and challenging problems, and meet new people all within the span of 24-48 hours. When companies sponsor hackathons, they are presented with a great opportunity to meet talented individuals of all ages and backgrounds. With numerous software and hardware hacks, the insight into the most popular tools, APIs, languages, and development approaches taken can be invaluable for companies as they look to hire and develop their own products. If the organizers of these events are able to bring together all these parties in a well-planned fashion, then it is truly a one-of-a-kind experience for everyone involved.

Demo Day at MHacks 2014

In part one of our Hackathon Playbook Series, we wanted to lay out 10 things that sponsors need when they are considering sponsorship of hackathons. Sponsoring these events often requires a great deal of commitment for companies of all stages and it is important to make the most of your experience. We based this list off of our own observations and learnings sponsoring and attending various hackathons of all different sizes. No matter what event you choose to sponsor, the common theme of a successful sponsorship is a strong presence.

1. Engage Engage Engage

We cannot stress the importance of this as it relates to sponsors. Even though you probably have a nice spot in the venue with a table set up dedicated for your company, you should be spending a good chunk of your time during the hackathon walking around and meeting hackers. Ask about what they are working on, offer your help and constructive feedback, and tell them about your company. The large majority of hackers at these events won’t even know you are there if you stay at your table all weekend.

2. Bring Swag

Bring as many stickers, t-shirts, stationery, and other fun things as you can get your hands on. Hackers love swag (who doesn’t?) and bringing fun stuff accomplishes two things: 1) builds your brand and 2) attracts attention. Things like stickers have a viral effect and subtly markets your brand during and long after the weekend is over. When you have swag at your table, people will immediately gravitate towards you and more often than not, listen to a quick pitch about your product. If you don’t bring anything, you’re going to miss out on these opportunities.

3. Send Technical Evangelists

This one is absolutely crucial, especially for companies that are trying to evangelize technical integrations such as APIs. It is very important to have someone on the ground for the duration of the weekend that knows your product inside and out and can help to debug and answer any questions hackers have at these events.

Peter Nagel, Software Engineer and Dev Evangelist at Lob

4. Cleary Communicate Your Product How-Tos

Have clear documentation/instructions on your website that is immediately accessible. Explore other avenues as well. For example, the folks at MongoDB hand out small, aesthetically pleasing journals that are ripe with FAQs and helpful tips on how to integrate with their product. They hand this out as part of their swag pack and it’s awesome. You have to remember that hackers have to build out a functional product in as little as 24 hours so if your product is confusing to use, they will more than likely give up and use something else.

5. Bring Big Signage

Make sure to bring banners, table throws, and whatever signage you can get your hands on. Hackathons are usually held at big venues, so unless you have a visual presence that commands attention, it is difficult to stand out. Buy some stand-up banners and put it on top of your sponsor table so that everyone can see it from anywhere in the venue.

Signage

6. Provide Real-Time Customer Support

All companies should always make sure to beef up their customer support efforts, but this is especially true when it comes to hackathons. There has to be a way to interact with company reps in real-time. So if you can’t send people to be physically there, make sure to let everyone know that they can get answers from you in real-time via a support phone line, email, olark, twitter, and other mediums.

7. Offer Creative Prizes

For those companies that have an API, offer up a prize to the team with the best integration. Make sure you approach every single person that uses your API that weekend, thank them, and ask for feedback. For companies that are recruiting, offer up a prize to best overall hack or some other general category. This will allow you to personally communicate with teams that impress you. Prizes don’t necessarily have to be expensive. iPads and gadgets are always a hit, but often times what’s more valuable may be some sort of unique trophy, or perhaps even a private dinner with your team. The opportunity for hackers to pick your brain can be way more valuable than gadgets you can buy any time. Just keep in mind that simply offering up a prize is not enough, you have to do a good job of evangelizing it as well.

The Lob team along with the Post. team, winner of the Lob API Prize at MHacks

8. Provide Snacks and Fuel

When midnight rolls around, hackers start getting tired and burnt out. Even though the event organizers generally do a great job of making sure there is always enough food, you can never have enough frappuccinos, red bulls, chips, and candy. If nothing else, people will love you for bringing treats, but more often than not, they will also give you their attention and learn about who you are and what you do. We have personally had quite a few hackers find out about our product and actually use it because we offered up some drinks.

Snacks

9. Bring Business Cards

Many people will say that business cards are becoming obsolete, but it is still the easiest way to hand out your contact info. We have found that hackathon participants ask for your personal business cards because it is always nice for them to be able to follow up with you after meeting at the event. You will meet lots of interesting and talented people at hackathons, so be sure that they have a way to contact you afterwards.

10. Meet and Build Relationships With Other Sponsors

When it comes to sponsorships, there is an innate sense of competition. Sponsors are competing for talent, technical integrations, and attention. Although this is true, you should be building relationships with other sponsors. If you go to enough of these, you start running into the same people. The two most recent hackathons we have been to were MHacks and hackTECH. At both events, we saw several cool apps that used a combination of sponsor APIs such as Pinterest + Lob, Sendgrid + Lob, and others. Some ideas are so impressive that they could inspire real product integrations.

Comments / discussion avaiable on the original post.

The Lob Team

Contributor

Published

29 January 2014

Announcing the 2014 Spring Season (Part 1)

The MLH team has been hard at work to put together an amazing lineup of hackathons for the upcoming 2014 Spring Season. We’ve met and talked to a ton of student hackathon organizers and couldn’t be more excited for all the awesome events that will be taking place this Spring.

Terrapin Hackers

So, without further ado, here are the first 4 official hackathons of the 2014 Spring Season.

  • MHacks - January 17th - 19th - University of Michigan
  • HackTech - January 24th - 26th - California Institute of Technology
  • BoilerMake - Feburary 7th - 9th - Purdue University
  • PennApps - February 14th - 16th - University of Pennsylvania

Applications and registration are open for all of them and space is limited, so we highly encourage you to go apply now!

Additional Events

We’ve got several more events in our back pocket that we’ll be announcing in the second batch. We’re also still reviewing all the applications we got from events in November. You can expect anywhere from 8 - 10 total events this Spring.

If you’re a student hackathon organizer and we haven’t been in touch, please drop us a line so we can talk about how MLH can help support your event.

Other Awesome-sauce

There are a number of other awesome things we’ve been cooking up that you can look forward to this Spring. Here’s a summary of a couple of them:

  • MLH Sponsored Buses - Major League Hacking is partnering up with some really awesome API companies to provide buses to student hackathons. One of them may be coming to your school this Spring. (If you’re an API company and that sounds interesting, get in touch)

  • The Hacker Cup - The MLH Trophies from the Fall Season & Postseason were pretty epic, but we’re going to go huge this time around. We’re working on getting a mega trophy that will be passed around each season and have the winning schools engraved in it. Keep your eyes out for photos.

Keep your eyes out for more in the coming weeks. Subscribe to our mailing list or follow us on twitter for real time updates.

We’re looking forward to seeing you at the official Spring Hackathons. Happy Hacking!

- Swift

Swift

Commissioner

Published

13 December 2013

Credits

Hack Duke Scoring Breakdown

With only 11 hours left in the last event of the Postseason, the title of champion is still anyone’s game. By hacking at an official MLH event, each hacker here is earning 2 Attendance Points for their school (just 1 if they go to Duke, sorry!). There’s also 500 Merit Points on the line for hackers to win. This is gonna be a close one.

Hack Duke

Out of all the hackathons I’ve been to this season, Hack Duke certainly takes the cake for having the best opening keynote. Douglas Crockford, the inventor of JSON and author of Javascript: The Good Parts, kicked off the hackathon with a talk about paradigm shifts in programming. The rest of the kickoff was pretty awesome too. While we were waiting for some of the last buses to arrive, everyone watched adorable animal videos on the big screen and told more cheesy programming jokes that I can normally handle in one sitting.

There has also been some pretty awesome food and one of the most epic Nerf battles I’ve ever been involved with personally. The organizers here did a great job and definitely deserve some props.

The Merit Points Breakdown

A shade over 500 hackers checked in at Hack Duke today. The organizers will have 500 MLH Merit Points to distribute along with their normal prizes. Here’s what we came up with for the breakdown:

  • 1st Place - 80 MLH Points
  • 2nd Place - 60 MLH Points
  • 3rd Place - 40 MLH Points
  • Best Novice Hack - 40 MLH Points
  • Best Twilio Hack - 35 MLH Points
  • Google Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Coinbase Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Best SendGrid Hack - 35 MLH Points
  • Best Payment App - 35 MLH Points
  • Under 20 Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Best use of a Microsoft Platform - 35 MLH Points
  • Epic Games: Best Game - 35 MLH Points

Keep your eyes open for an announcement with all the winners later this week and good luck if you’re hacking!

- Swift

Swift

Commissioner

Published

17 November 2013

Credits

The first Postseason Rankings are Out

This past weekend was a great weekend for hacking. Hackers from 94 schools across the United States and Canada descended on the Yale and Princeton campuses for some really intense competition. The Major League Hacking team has been working closely with the organizers from both hackathons to compile the standings - click here to see the full breakdown or read on for details.

HackNY Workshop

The Y-Hack Results

Last Friday, around 900 student hackers made their way to Yale’s West Campus for the second edition of the Y-Hack Hackathon.
The event kickoff took place outside and involved a barrage of t-shirts being flung from a 3rd story balcony into the crowd. It was epic.

About 75 different schools were represented at the event. The most notable performance was from the University of Maryland’s Terrapin Hackers who had 43 hackers finish hacks. They even managed to beat out Yale’s hackers despite their home school advantage. It’s also worth mentioning CalTech’s impressive perfomance. Considering they traveled across the country to get to the hackathon, having 28 hackers finish and submit hacks is remarkable to say the least.

YHack Science Fair

The hackathon culminated in a crazy science fair style showdown (Pictured above, credit: Balaji Arun). In fact, it was so crazy that many of the sponsors didn’t get to see all their hacks and we’re still waiting on them to pick a winner. We did manage to get the top 7 teams and a few of the sponsor prizes to award Merit Points though. You can get a full list of what we’re still waiting on in the Y-Hack MLH Points Breakdown.

Top Seven

  • Rainman - Yale University (1st Place, 100 Points)
  • Lux - Yale University (2nd Place, 80 Points)
  • cHat - Carnegie Mellon University (3rd Place, 60 Points)
  • SubtleGlass - University of Maryland (50 Points)
  • Leaf - UMass Amherst (50 Points)
  • LaserLock - New York University (50 Points)
  • HackSearch - School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (50 Points)

Category Prizes

  • Pixl - Rose-Hulman I of T (Prometheus Research Prize, 35 Points)
  • Unlocked - Pennsylvania State University (Best Use of MongoDB, 35 Points)
  • Truckit - Brown University (Apportable Prize #1, 17.5 Points)
  • skyglove - University of Waterloo (Apportable Prize #2, 17.5 Points)

Note: We’ll be posting additional category prizes here as they are announced.


The HackPrinceton Results

Just a few hours down the road, about 500 hackers were hacking the weekend away in several Princeton University buildings (including the awesome EE Lab!) at HackPrinceton. Unlike Y-Hack, Hack Princeton was a 48 hour event. To keep the hackers' spirits high and alleviate the any hackathon induced stress, the organziers had puppies show up at several points for the hackers to play with. It was awesome.

Hack Princeton Puppoes

HackPrinceton has one of the most notoriously competitive hardware categories of any hackathon. Rest assured, there was plenty of soldering and tinkering going on throughout the weekend. The organizers asked me to teach an Introduction to Arduino workshop while I was there, which was awesome. By the end of the workshop, almost everyone there had made an LED blink and read data from a button.

In terms of attendance, SUNY Buffalo and Carnegie Mellon had the two strongest showings at the event besides Princeton. In total, there were 34 different schools represented at the event. Notably, there was a very high number of High School students at the hackathon. I’ve been seeing more and more of this recently and I have a feeling we’re going to see some really awesome High School only hackathons pop up soon.

As for the Merit Points, here’s how things broke down:

Top Three Software

Top Three Hardware

Category Prizes

  • Artemis - Princeton (Best Hack that Makes Life So Easy, 30 Points)
  • Cheap Motion - RIT, SUNY Buffalo, UPitt, MIT (Best Mobile Hack, 30 Points)
  • Artemis - Princeton (Best SendGrid Hack, 30 Points)
  • Personal Rave - Brown University (Crowd Favorite, 30 Points)
  • What Would I Say - Princeton (Best Facebook Integrated Hack, 30 Points)
  • Sloosbox - Columbia, Princeton, New Hampshire (Biggest Fail Hack, 30 Points)
  • Voice Hack - Illinois I of T, UCincinnati (Best Use of MongoDB, 30 Points)
  • Princeton (Best Echo, 30 Points)

The Top 10

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for - the top 10 announcement. Keep in mind that at the time of writing this there are still 350 Merit Points on the table from Y-Hack and 30 Merit Points on the table from Hack Princeton, so it’s still anyone’s game.

Rank School Attendance Merit Total
1 Princeton University 68 294 362
2 Yale University 37 180 217
3 University of Maryland 94 50 144
4 Carnegie Mellon University 24 65 89
5 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 34 33 67
6 UMass Amherst 14 50 64
7 New York University 10 50 60
8 California Institute of Technology 56 0 56
9 School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 2 50 52
10 Brown University 4 47.5 51.5

As always, you can get the latest standings on the standings page. As we find out who won the missing merit points, we’ll be posting updates here.

Good luck to all the hackers heading to HackDuke, the final event of the Postseason. We’re really excited to see who’s going to take home the trophy!

- Swift & The MLH Team

Swift

Commissioner

Published

12 November 2013

Hack Princeton Scoring Breakdown

After nearly 48 hours of hacking, Hack Princeton is finally drawing to a close. This hackathon boasts one of the most competitive hardware hacking categories around, so I’m really excited to see all the amazing things that people have been soldering together in the engineering labs. If you’re watching from home, make sure you keep your eye on the Hacker League page

Hack Princeton Arena

The Merit Points Breakdown

The new scoring system gives each official MLH hackathon 100 Merit Points to distribute for every 100 hackers that attend the event. There were about 500 student hackers that descended on Princeton this weekend, so the Hack Princeton decided to distribute the points as follows:

Software

  • 1st Place - 45 Points
  • 2nd Place - 37 Points
  • 3rd Place - 33 Points

Hardware

  • 1st Place - 45 Points
  • 2nd Place - 37 Points
  • 3rd Place - 33 Points

Category Prizes

  • “Best Hack that Makes Life So Easy” - 30 Points
  • “Best Mobile Hack” - 30 Points
  • “Best Designed Hack” - 30 Points
  • “Best Echo” - 30 Points
  • “Best SendGrid Hack” - 30 Points
  • “Best Facebook Integrated Hack” - 30 Points
  • Crowd Favorite - 30 Points
  • Biggest Fail Hack - 30 Points
  • Best Use of MongoDB - 30 Points

Edit: The Points were adjusted on 11/13/2013 to reflect addition of some missing sponsor prizes that weren’t on the list.

Good luck to everyone hacking. Keep an eye on the blog for the scoring announcement and follow us on Twitter at @MLHacks for live updates!

- Swift & the MLH Team

Swift

Commissioner

Published

10 November 2013

YHack Scoring Breakdown

Last night we kicked off the 2013 Fall Postseason in style with 900 hackers at Yale University’s Y-Hack. Students literally took over an entire office building - hacking in every nook and cranny they could find. There were tons of great talks from sponsors and mentors and, as usual, many awesome surprises throughout the night.

YHack Building

The Scoring Breakdown

Just like the Fall Season, by hacking at an official MLH event, you’ll be earning 2 Attendance Points for your school (just 1 if you’re a Yale student). There are also a ton of Merit Points that you can win along with the prizes. Y-Hack has 900 points to distribute and we’ve decided to divide them up as follows:

Top 7 Hacks

  • 1st Place - 100 MLH Points
  • 2nd Place - 80 MLH Points
  • 3rd Place - 65 MLH Points
  • 4th - 7th Place - 50 MLH Points each

Category Prizes

  • Prometheus Research Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Best Use of MongoDB - 35 MLH Points
  • Apportable Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Redhat Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Wolfram Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Panorama Education Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Microsoft Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Intel Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Dropbox Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Local Yokel Media Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • MEAmobile Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Unbounce Prize - 35 MLH Points
  • Amazon Web Services Prize - 35 MLH Points

Edit: The Points were adjusted on 11/13/2013 to reflect addition of some missing sponsor prizes that weren’t on the list and places 4 - 7.

We’ll be announcing the standings from Attendence as soon as the submissions close and we’ll update it with the Merit Points as soon as the winners are announced. Keep an eye on the blog and follow us at @MLHacks for live updates!

- Swift & The MLH Team

Swift

Commissioner

Published

09 November 2013

Announcing the 2013 Fall Postseason

November is an action packed month for Hackathons. Over the next couple weeks, there are a ton of awesome university hackathons happening all across the country. We’re excited to announce that Major League Hacking has teamed up with a few of them to bring you the 2013 Fall Post Season.

The Postseason will last for two weeks and include three events that we think are a great addition to the MLH Family. It kicks off this weekend, November 8th - 10th, with both Yale’s Y-Hack and Hack Princeton happening simultaneously. And then next week, we’ll be traveling down to Durham, North Carolina for the finale at HackDuke on November 16th & 17th.

Just like the main season, the school with the most points at the end of the Postseason will get to keep an epic trophy. We’ll be posting pictures of it later this week. If you want to be notified when we do or when we make official announcements, sign up below.

Updates to the Merit Points System

We’re using the postseason as an opportunity to experiment with a number of changes that we may implement for the 2014 Spring Season. One of the biggest is a modification to the scoring system regarding Merit Points.

During the Fall Season, we gave each hackathon 1,000 Merit Points to distribute along with prizes based on merit. That works out well when all the events are the same size, but when they aren’t things get a little tricky. Great hackathons come in all shapes and sizes, so we need a system that accounts for that. This time around, we’re going to give each event 100 Merit Points per 100 hackers that show up with an upper limit of 1,000.

We’ll announce how many points will be distributed along with the breakdown once the event has gotten under way.

Stay Tuned for Updates

We’ll be making some more announcements about the Postseason and the upcoming Spring season in the coming weeks. Keep you eyes on the blog and follow us on Twitter at @MLHacks for details.

Happy Hacking!

- Swift & the MLH Team

Swift

Commissioner

Published

05 November 2013

Maryland Wins the Fall 2013 Hackathon Season!

Well, it looks like I’ll be making a trip to the University of Maryland later this month. After six incredible weeks of hackathon season, I’m proud to announce that the Terrapin Hackers have officially claimed the title of Fall 2013 Hackathon Season champions and a spot on the list of best schools for hackers. It literally came down to the last few hacks, but the crew of hackers pictured below managed to seal the deal at HackRU over the weekend. Let’s see how they did it.

Terrapin Hackers at HackRU

When we left off last week, it looked like Carnegie Mellon had locked in first place at HackMIT and that MIT, Maryland, Rutgers, & Columbia would be left to battle it out for second and third place. Knowing how close those teams were, two generous sponsors (SendGrid and 4moms) offered to supply buses to HackRU from College Park and Pittsburgh respectively.


The Terrapin Hackers were certainly not messing around. They filled the entire bus within a matter of minutes. And best of all, in true hacker style, they didn’t just get any bus for the trip - they secured the official University of Maryland bus. That’s right… the same one the football team uses. How cool is that?

The Winning Hacks

We published the breakdown of the MLH points over on Hacker League. In more or less typical fashion, the 1st place hack got 300 points, 2nd got 200 points, and 3rd got 100 points. The remaining 400 points were distributed evenly between the 8 major category prizes. Here’s how things turned out:

Rutgers and Maryland each managed to acquire 350 MLH Points based on merit. A team of High Schoolers stole 2nd place and prevented both schools from acquiring enough points to win on merit alone. It had to come down to attendance.

Too Close for Comfort

After I calculated all the merit points, I realized that both Rutgers and Maryland had past Carnegie Mellon with Merit Points alone. They were also within less than 20 points of each other when I added in the event attendance.

It was too close for me to call a clear winner, so I brought in representatives from each school to go through the points they’d earned from past events and make sure they were 100% accurate. Shariq Hashme from UMD, Kaushal Parikh from Rutgers, and Sri Raghavan from CMU were instrumentally helpful in this process. I’m now confident that the numbers are accurate despite the broken data from some of the larger events.

So without any further ado, here are the top 10 schools for hackers after this season and their scores:

Rank School Attendance Pts. Merit Pts. Total Pts.
1 University of Maryland 320 666.66 986.66
2 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 217 661.66 878.66
3 Carnegie Mellon University 128 625 753
4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 56 442.5 498.5
5 Columbia University 92 300 392
6 University of Michigan 99 200 299
7 Stanford University 20 200 220
8 The College of New Jersey 38 165 203
9 University of Rochester 4 152.5 156.5
10 Virginia Tech 54 100 154

You can get a full breakdown for all 110 participating schools on the standings page.

The Spring Season

We launched the Fall Season with just 5 events on purpose. Starting small helped us work out the kinks quickly so we could scale to the national level for the spring. I’m starting to plan that out with the MLH board already.

We’ll be issuing a call for hackathons in a week or so, keep your eyes out for that. In the mean time, if you participated in the season and have a minute to fill out this feedback survey, it would be extremely helpful.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this season possible. We’re really looking forward to the next one. Happy Hacking!

- Swift (@SwiftAlphaOne)

Swift

Commissioner

Published

15 October 2013

The HackMIT Standings are out

Stage

In case you missed it, last weekend was HackMIT up in Boston. Students from all over the United States and Canada came together to hack on some really amazing technology. The competition was stiff and since this was the 2nd to last MLH event of the season, the outcome is going to determine who’s still in the running tomorrow at HackRU. Let’s see how things turned out.

Rank School Attendance Pts. Merit Pts. Total Pts.
1 Carnegie Mellon University 128 625 753
2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 56 442.5 498.5
3 University of Maryland 96 316.66 412.66
4 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 94 311.66 405.66
5 Columbia University 84 300 384
6 University of Michigan 99 200 299
7 Stanford University 18 200 218
8 University of Rochester 4 152.5 156.5
9 Virginia Tech 54 100 154
10 University of Chicago 2 150 152

The big changes to note are that Columbia has fallen from 2nd to 5th place and MIT has risen from 7th to take Columbia’s spot in 2nd. CMU is still clearly in the lead and it finally looks like their starting to break away from the pack. You can get a full standings breakdown on the standings page and you can review last week’s standings here. Read on for a full breakdown of the new points.

The Merit Points

Just like the other events this season, the HackMIT organizers got 1,000 points to distribute along with prizes based on merit. CMU, Columbia, and Maryland have been consistently snagging sizable chunks of those at other events. This time, the points went to the following hacks / schools:

  • 1st Place - Lightboard (100pts. MIT, 100pts. CMU)
  • 2nd Place - Images as Text (110pts. MIT)
  • 3rd Place - PiVision (45pts. MIT, 45pts. U of Arizona)
  • Makes Life So Easy - nommit (75pts. CMU)
  • API Innovation - Balance (75pt. Waterloo)
  • Best Use of Algorithms - Coeus (75pts. Cal Poly Pomona)
  • Smooth UI - Not Awarded
  • What does the fox say? - Sharity (75pts. Rutgers)
  • KPCB Fellows - Pebble Go (75pts Concordia)
  • Under 20 Hack - Silkspeak (37.5pts. Princeton, 37.5pts. U of Rochester)
  • Next Big Thing - PiVision (37.5pts. MIT, 37.5pts. CMU)

The Attendance Points

If you’ve been following along with the stats at all, you’ll know we’ve been having some problems with getting accurate attendance points. A big chunk of hackers have been submitting their hacks with their primary email address instead of their university one. Figuring out which school each hacker belongs to has been a bit of a challenge, but we’re working on it with the organizers of the events without accurate data.

For what we did have, here are the top 10 schools by attendance:

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology - 50pts.
  2. University of Maryland - 44pts.
  3. University of Michigan - 28pts.
  4. Carnegie Mellon University - 20pts.
  5. McGill University - 20pts.
  6. Brown University - 18pts.
  7. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute - 18pts.
  8. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - 16pts.
  9. State University of New York at Buffalo - 12pts.
  10. Worcester Polytechic Institute - 12pts.

You can find a full dump of the attendance here. Remember, you only get one point if the hackathon is at your school and you only get points if you submit a hack. If you know the count for your school is inaccurate for a fact, get in touch with the names of the hackers from your school and which hacks they we members of.

Closing Thoughts

With 1,000 points on the line at HackRU tomorrow, it’s still anyone’s game. Catching up with CMU is still going to be tough though. I’m working with the organizers to try to do the rankings in real time on Sunday during the demos, so maybe someone will actually go home with the trophy this weekend!

Good luck to everyone hacking. I hope you’re enjoying this as much as I am.

- Swift (@SwiftAlphaOne)

Swift

Commissioner

Published

11 October 2013

Getting the most out of your first Hackathon.

Hackers

It’s no secret that over the past three years hackathons have exploded across the country, bringing with them the opportunity for thousands of students to grow their coding skills and build a community of developers at their university. Despite this massive growth, it seems that hackathon knowledge is still spread by word of mouth, leaving some younger students wondering how to get started.

Every couple of months a new student will pop into our Rutgers Hackathon Club Facebook group and ask “I’m only a freshman, can I still join and be successful?” (yes, you can), “I only know [INTRO TO CS LANGUAGE], can I still make something?” (yes, you can) or “how do I know what project to work on while I’m there?” (more on that later). Although much of this is tribal knowledge among veterans, no one has taken the time to codify how newcomers get the most out of their experience. To that end, I’ve put together a dead simple list of everything a first time attendee needs to do so as to maximize their initial hackathon.

Read up a little bit (optional)

For a coding newbie, your first event can definitely be an intimidating experience. People will be throwing around terms like RESTful API, JSON, NoSQL, and client library like they’re the most natural thing in the world. Meanwhile, you’re sitting at API demos hoping wondering how the hell to get a webpage displayed on localhost (or even wondering what the hell this magic localhost is).

If you want to spend your time developing software instead of learning concepts, a little reading goes a long way. Being able to cite the HTTP spec backwards (or even knowing what it is) certainly isn’t necessary, but if you want to build a webapp, knowing about HTTP requests and responses will save you a lot of conceptual headache. Similarly, if you want to build a mobile app, hello worlding an app in your simulator before the hackathon will save you a lot of headache on the day of the event.

If you’re not sure where to start learning some of the subjects discussed above, there are a ton of tutorials out about utilizing APIs for the web, with the first link there in particular being highly recommended. It’s written in Python, but reading the code should be pretty straightforward for anyone with programming knowledge. If you are looking to do something more mobile-based, the docs for starting Android development and iPhone development are also ridiculously extensive.

Even if you decide not to do any reading beforehand, there will assuredly be tech talks and mentorship to get you up to speed with the basic terminology, so don’t let a lack of background knowledge stop you from attending.

Know what you want to accomplish

This can be as simple or as vague as you’d like, but it’s always good to have some type of plan about what you want to accomplish during your 24-48 hours. Your goal can be something as simple as finish and demo SOMETHING, or it can be as detailed as “build a game on Android where squirrels fly through the air and eat exploding acorns”.

If you’re coming to a hackathon with the goal of learning but don’t know what you want to learn, just pick a random language (Python and PHP are easiest for webapps) and plan to make an application that uses that language. Alternatively, if you’re stuck on an application idea, watch the API demos and see if any of the APIs helps solve a problem that you’ve encountered. If you’re still stumped on a project, head to the event’s pitch session and join a team that seems like it has an awesome idea, there will be tons of teams there that would love to have your help.

While we’re on the subject of teams, I want to address one of the most common questions I see in the Rutgers Hackathon Club: “Do I need to go with a team already in place?”. The answer to that is no, not at all. In fact, you don’t even need to want to work with a team; it is perfectly acceptable for you to go solo-bandito and work by yourself. If coding solo that’s not your cup of tea, there are also plenty of ways to join or create a team on site. For your first time, the easiest way to deal with teams is either head in with an idea of some people you’d like to work with (it doesn’t have a codified team, just 4-5 people you could envision yourself working with), plan to work solo or plan to jump on board with someone else’s team. There is also the option of trying to build and lead a team of strangers on-site, however, unless you have experience with this, I’d advise against trying to lead a team of strangers that you met at the event, simply because working with new people always adds a bunch of layers of complexity.

Whatever your team and your goal, make sure to push your skills as a developer. Hackathons are a unique opportunity to have tons of mentorship at your fingertips; take advantage of that by trying something hard and getting extra help as necessary.

Talk to people

You’re probably coming to this event to code, but that doesn’t mean that you need to spend all of your time creating features and debugging errors; you should also spend some time getting to know the other students attending the event. Hackathons are frequented immense community of students and mentors who travel to events multiple times a month, exchange ideas, and generally share their passion for making awesome technology. By taking time out of your hackathon to meet other attendees, you will not only make some great friends, but also you will find opportunities to learn more about programming, get resources for your hack, and even find internships/jobs that you otherwise wouldn’t have known about,

Granted, if this is your first time at a hackathon, the prospect of making new friends in a sea of 1,000 people could seem like a daunting task. If you’re a bit overwhelmed with how to get started meeting other hackathon attendees, try one of these two ideas to get you started.

  1. Go with your school/friends. Chances are your school has a group of students who are interested in programming outside of the classroom, seek them out at your school CS lab, see what events they’re going to, and then join them for those events. If you’re not sure what to look for, just listen for passionate debates about technology. If the students involved do already regularly attend Hackathons, they will certainly be interested in traveling to one with you. Regardless of how you find fellow hackers, don’t be shy about being new, I can guarantee you that your fellow developers would love to share their passion for technology with you. If you’re on the Eastern seaboard and don’t have a group of hackers at your school, drop me a line at @maltzj, I’ll see if I can get you integrated with our network of Rutgers students.

  2. Once you’re at the event, wait for a little while and find someone who looks like they’re taking a break, walk over to them and ask them what they’re working on. 99 times out of 100 he or she will start excitedly talking to your about his or her team’s project. Ask some questions about themselves, their school, and technology that they’re using. Then, get their name, and wish them good luck. If you see that person again, check up on how their project is doing or congratulate them on an awesome presentation if it’s after demos.

After the event, if you feel like the you got along with someone, exchange contact information (business cards and twitter are great for this), stay in touch with your new friend via the interwebs, and catch up at events throughout the year. Congratulations, you just made a friend and “networked”, that wasn’t such an icky and soulless process was it?

Always, always demo.

At the end of every event there will be a period where everyone who attended can show off what they built to the other attendees. No matter how far along your project is, demo SOMETHING. Seriously, even if it is a concept and half a webpage, you should demo it. For the last 24-48 hours you’ve worked hard to build something that you would have thought impossible at the beginning of the event. You deserve to have your hard work rewarded, if not with a prize, then at least with a round of applause from your peers. In case you’re thinking that you shouldn’t demo, let me share a story which changed the way I looked at demoing forever.

My first hackathon was the Spring Penapps in 2012. After starting off with a ton of energy, the event turned into a disaster which culminated in my team and I making a project called “Easy Mood”, a website sort of like rainy mood but way uglier and with kittens (side note: when in doubt, use kittens and gifs). When demo time approached, I was feeling pretty ashamed our project and didn’t want to submit it for presentation. At around the same time, Rutgers Hackathon club founder and Major League Hacking Commissioner, Swift, was walking around talking to the Rutgers contingent about what they did.

He came over, asked our team what we did, and I sheepishly explained our project while confiding that I didn’t really want to present. As soon as the words left my mouth he said, in classic Swift fashion (with slightly choicer language) “Jonathan, I don’t care what you say, you’re presenting”. This was immediately followed by a Swifttastic tirade in which he simultaneously browbeat me into presenting while giving me enough confidence to do so. It was really quite impressive. After that pep talk we decided that there was really no downside to presenting our project, so we went up their and sold Easy Mood as best we could. It just so happened that we were the only team to use a Mashery API, so one of my teammates ended up walking home with a Jambox, a $200 piece of hardware. Not bad for a group that was going to hide in the audience not more than 30 minutes prior.

If that isn’t enough for you, think about this: at some point in your life you’re going to have to sell the idea that something is awesome. Maybe that something will be a product that your company produces, or maybe it will be yourself when an interviewer asks “Sally, tell me about this here project on your resume”. Regardless of what you’re selling, in moments like those you need to know how to take something and make someone else understand why it is awesome. Hackathon demos are the best time to hone that skill because no matter what happens, you have a supportive audience who will cheer you on even if your demo is a catastrophic failure.

Wrapping Up

So that’s it, that’s all you need to do in order to get the most out of your Hackathon experience. You don’t need god-like web programming skills and you don’t need to be able to know 10 different programming languages. Instead, all you need to do is show up to the event with a positive attitude and follow the four simple actions I outlined above. If you do that, you’ll walk out of your first hackathon with a whole raft of new skills and some new friends to boot.

- Jonathan Maltz (@maltzj)

Jonathan Maltz

Rutgers Hacker

Published

07 October 2013

HackMIT Scoring Breakdown

Even though HackMIT is literally taking place in an ice rink, there’s nothing chill about the atmosphere right now. Hackers are frantically coding to get their hacks into a working state and the clock is quickly ticking down. With the top 10 schools within a few hundred points of each other, the title of MLH Fall 2013 Champion is within grasp for any of them.

/img/blog/hackmit-f2013-cookies.jpg

As per usual, here’s how the 1,000 merit points will be distributed along with prizes at the end of the hackathon. If you need a quick refresher on how scoring works, check out the post here. We tried to make point distribution much more flat this time around. Taking home first place won’t necessarily catapult you into first, but it’ll definitely push you towards the top of the list.

Top Three Hacks 400 Points

  • 1st Place - 200 Points
  • 2nd Place - 110 Points
  • 3rd Place - 90 Points

Category Prizes 600 Points

  • Makes Life So Easy - 75 Points
  • API Innovation Award - 75 Points
  • Best Use of Algorithms Award - 75 Points
  • Wingman Smooth UI Award - 75 Points
  • What Does The Fox Say? Award - 75 Points
  • KPCB Fellows Award - 75 Points
  • “Under 20” Hack Award - 75 Points
  • Most likely to be the “Next Big Thing” - 75 Points

We’ll be pushing out updated school scores later this week, so be sure to keep you eye on the blog and follow us at @MLHacks for real time updates from Major League Hacking.

- Swift (@SwiftAlphaOne)

Swift

Commissioner

Published

06 October 2013

Credits

Official Standings are Live

I’m super excited that after a ton of hard work from the MLH board and myself, we’ve released the official school standings from PennApps, MHacks, and HackNY. You can find them on the standings page or read on for more details about what went in to calculating them.

/img/blog/schools

As of right now, the top 10 teams are all within a few 100 points of each other. This is super exciting because it means the title is still within reach for any of them. A couple of good placements at HackMIT or HackRU could change things dramatically and every hack is going to count. Right now, the top 10 teams and scores are:

Rank School Attendance Pts. Merit Pts. Total Pts.
1 Carnegie Mellon University 108 450 558
2 Columbia University 84 300 384
3 University of Maryland 52 316.66 368.66
4 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 78 236.66 314.66
5 University of Michigan 71 200 271
6 Stanford University 14 200 214
7 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 6 150 156
8 Virginia Tech 54 100 154
9 University of Chicago 2 150 152
10 University of Pennsylvania 140 0 140

The biggest surprise for me personally was that a school that I wouldn’t have even put in the top 8 before I started MLH is actually holding the lead right now. And that’s not luck. The kids at Carnegie Mellon University have really proven themselves this semester. Some strong wins at PennApps and MHacks gave them an early lead and the fact that they have the second highest attendance this season sealed the deal.

Scoring Notes & Changes

The hardest part of compiling the stats was figuring out what school each hacker attended. Often, hackers submit their apps with a non-school email or their nickname, so even if I have the official registration it can be hard to pull together. I spent a lot of time triple checking myself to make sure this was as accurate as possible, but I’m not 100% satisfied. I’m working with the organizers board to get better next semester.

Another issue we noticed was that the home school had a substantial advantage with respect to attendance points. For example, Penn is in the top 10 teams even though they haven’t earned any merit points yet. The board has unanimously decided to modify the rules to award hackers 1 attendance point if they complete a hack at their home school and 2 attendance points if they complete a hack at a school they traveled to. We think this will encourage hackers to travel to other schools events and keep things fair.

The Road Ahead

There are still two events left this season and it’s still really anyone’s game. I’ll be working really closely with the organizers from MIT and Rutgers to get the stats out in a timely fashion. I’ll also be posting the exact break down by event over the next few days so you can dig deeper into how those scores came to be.

Happy hacking everyone!

- Swift (@SwiftAlphaOne)

Swift

Commissioner

Published

02 October 2013

HackNY Scoring Breakdown

Just a shade under 24 hours ago, we kicked off the 8th edition of the HackNY hackathon at NYU’s Courant Institute. Over 250 of the best hackers from all over the northeast bussed in to compete at this legendary event. You can check out all the amazing hacks they put together on Hacker League.

HackNY Demos

As promised, here’s the scoring breakdown for the hackathon. If you need a refresher on how scoring works, check out this post. Otherwise, read on for the juicy details.

Just like the past two MLH hackathons, HackNY gets 1,000 MLH Points to distribute based on merit at the event. We came up with the following distribution for the points:

Top Three Hacks 650 Points

  • 1st Place - 300 Points
  • 2nd Place - 230 Points
  • 3rd Place - 120 Points

Category Prizes 350 Points

  • Largest number of APIs - 50 Points
  • Funniest Hack - 50 Points
  • Best User Interface - 50 Points
  • Most Technically Impressive Hack - 50 Points
  • Hack with the Best User Interface - 50 Points
  • Best Hardware Hack - 50 Points
  • The 8breaker (via Tess Rinearson) - 50 Points

Keep your eyes open for an announcement with all the winners later this week and good luck to all the hackers!

- Swift

Swift

Commissioner

Published

29 September 2013

Credits

MHacks Scoring Breakdown

A little over thirty-six hours ago, nearly 1,200 students from all over the United States made their ways to Ann Arbor for MHacks. From the API demos being broadcast over a massive jumbotron to the incredible venue (The Big House), everything about this hackathon has lived up to the truly epic propotions the organizers promised.

MHacks Stadium

I tried something new at this hackathon that I really liked - I went around with Jon from Twilio and did video interviews with hackers about what they were building. They came out really well, so you should check them out here, here, and here.

Scoring

So now, on to the moment you’ve been waiting for. I’ve been working with the organizers here to figure out the MLH Points will be distributed for the event. If you need a refresher on how scoring works, check out the breakdown I posted a few weeks ago. The MHacks Organizers got 1,000 MLH Points to distribute to teams based on merit. They decided to distribute them as follows:

Top Three Hacks 600 Points

  • 1st Place - 300 Points
  • 2nd Place - 200 Points
  • 3rd Place - 100 Points

4th - 8th Place Hacks 400 Points

The 4th - 8th Place teams will be receiving 80 MLH Points each for a total of 400 Points.

You can check out the full list of hacks on ChallengePost. Keep your eyes peeled for an announcement with all the winners later this week and good luck to everyone hacking!

- Swift

Swift

Commissioner

Published

22 September 2013

Team Profile: RoboSapien Hackers

This afternoon I went over to the hardware lab at MHacks to see what the student hackers were working on over there. I had a quick chat with Josh Adkins and Genevieve Flaspohler about their RoboSapien hack. Check it out!

Working on something cool at MHacks? We’d love to hear about it. Tweet us at @MLHacks.

Swift

Commissioner

Published

21 September 2013

Credits

Hacker Interview: Kyle Smith

While I’m at MHacks I wanted to spend a bit of time getting to know some of the local hackers and hearing about the cool stuff they’re working on. Here’s the first interview I did with local UMich hacker Kyle Smith.

Good luck to everyone hacking. If your team wants to be interviewed, tweet at @MLHacks and we’ll come by!

Swift

Commissioner

Published

21 September 2013

Credits

PennApps Scoring Breakdown

This weekend over 1,000 students from all over the world made their way to Philadelphia for 48 hours of hacking at PennApps. I’ve had the privilege of mentoring and hacking alongside them for about the last 32 hours and I’m insanely impressed with the high quality hackers and hacks I’ve seen. Since there’s only about 10 hours left in the competition, I wanted to take this chance to break down how the MLH points for this event will work.

PennApps Line

First thing first, if you’re hacking and your team hasn’t submitted your hack make sure you do that now. (Seriously, right now. Go do it.) For submitting a hack, you’ll earn one point for your school. You can also win points along with the normal event prizes. There’s a much more detailed breakdown of how the scoring works on the blog if you’re interested.

PennApps gets 1,000 MLH Points to distribute based on merit to the hackers who participated in the hackathon. Geoff and I came up with the following distribution, which we think sets a great precedent for the remaining events in the season.

Top Three Hacks 600 Points

  • 1st Place - 300 Points
  • 2nd Place - 200 Points
  • 3rd Place - 100 Points

Category Prizes 400 Points

  • Best Hack With Originality, Bold Vision, And Synergy Between Two Sectors - 100 Points
  • Best Hack People Will Use Every Day - 100 Points
  • Best Hack That Makes Life So Easy - 50 Points
  • Best Hack in Media/Entertainment - 50 Points
  • Best Hack That Makes Student’s Lives Better - 50 Points
  • Most Viral Hack - 50 Points

Keep your eyes open for an announcement with all the winners later this week and good luck if you’re hacking!

- Swift

Swift

Commissioner

Published

08 September 2013

Credits

How Scoring Works

MLH Trophy

So how are we going to figure out which school gets to keep the totally epic MLH trophy at the end of the 2013 Fall Season? At each official MLH event, students will earn points for their respective schools by doing what they do best – hacking on awesome stuff. We’ll be working directly with the event organizers to keep track of how many points each school earns. Then, at the end of the season, the school with the most points will be awarded the trophy along with the title of the 2013 Fall Season Champion.

How do I earn points for my school?

There are two ways that an individual hacker can contribute points to their schools: participation and merit.

  1. Event Participation - For each student who attends an official MLH event and successfully completes a hack, that student’s school will receive 1 point if the event is at their home school and 2 points if they travel to another school (Note: This was updated on 10/2/2013). The hacker must be physically present at the event to qualify. A “successfully completed” hack is one that was submitted for judging or presented in demos. The event organizers will have the final say in what qualifies as completed and what does not.

  2. Hack Merit - Each official MLH event is allocated 1,000 points to distribute to hackers based on the merit of their hack. For example, an event organizer might decide that winning 1st place at their event comes with 500 of their MLH points that they were given to distribute. The awarded points are divided equally among the respective schools of the hack’s authors. In the given example, if the winning hack was built by five hackers, two from “University A” and three from “University B”, then “University A” would receive 250 points and “University B” would also receive 250 points.

A school’s total score is the sum of all the participation and merit points it accumulates at the official MLH events for that season.

Swift

Commissioner

Published

06 September 2013