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Students create applications, win prizes at HackRice

By Molly Chiu     3/14/12 7:00pm

This past weekend, the McMurtry College Commons and Duncan Hall were hubs of technological activity, filled with computers, programmers and designers during HackRice, Rice's first-ever hackathon.

A hackathon is a marathon event in which computer programmers and designers come together to collaborate and create applications. While many people associate hacking with unlawful activity, this is a misconception, hackathon organizer Brown College sophomore Waseem Ahmad said.

"Hacking is not what people think nowadays - breaking into a computer system," Ahmad said. "Hacking is when people with programming or designing backgrounds get together to make applications."



HackRice took place over two days and was organized by the Computer Science Club. On Saturday, several students gave "Tech Talks" about specific computer science principles. Afterward, the 50 participants broke into groups for the hacking portion of the event. Groups were given 27 hours to conceptualize, code and design a working application.

According to Ahmad, hackathons are common sources of invention in the technological world.

"Companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo! use hackathons," Ahmad said. "Employees are told, 'Whatever you're working on, don't work on it for the time being. Join a team and make something cool.' For example, the Facebook timeline was written during a hackathon."

Ahmad said he organized HackRice after seeing similar events at other universities.

"After seeing many universities like Stanford, MIT, and even University of Texas and University of Houston hosting hackathons, we thought it was time that Rice had its own hackathon," Ahmad said.

Applications competed for awards in three categories: Most User-Friendly, Most Rice-Applicable and Most Useful.

First place for Most User-Friendly went to Degree Planner, an application which allows students to create a plan for their degree by dragging and dropping color-coded courses into their schedule.

First place for Most Rice-Applicable went to HiveWork, a collaborative homework scheduling application integrated with Facebook that allows students to create a to-do list for their homework. Students can see what homework their peers are working on and connect with others working on the same assignment.

First place for Most Useful went to HeyRice, a Facebook application which allows users to create events based on their geographical location on the Rice campus. Events are also color-coded by categories such as academics, parties and free food.

According to Ahmad, many of these applications are still in the prototype stage, so Rice students will have to wait to begin using them.

"They would need more development to get them to a stable level where the public could use them, but the hackathon served as a spearhead for development." Ahmad said.

Applications were judged by Stephen Wong and Scott Cutler, both computer science professors. Wong said that he thought HackRice was successful, and he congratulated the participants and the Computer Science Club for their hard work.

"It really showcased the tremendous level of creativity, ingenuity, sheer guts and hard work of Rice students," Wong said. "HackRice is a great way for the Rice community to come together and feed off of each other's energy, spirit and skills."

While Wong said that he was impressed by all the applications, he said he particularly liked the HeyRice application.

"The HeyRice application by Jesus Cortez and Irina Patrikeeva, the winner of the 'Most Useful' category, was judges' overall favorite because it solves both academic and social event communications problems for Rice students by combining solid technical achievement with an intuitive user interface," Wong said.

Jones College senior Patrikeeva said she wanted the application to be focused on the visual.

"It's easier to see [events in picture form] instead of text," Patrikeeva said.

Cortez, a Jones College senior, said he enjoyed the hackathon experience.

"We all have ideas that we want to do, but with homework, we put it off," Cortez said. "We [forgot] that for this weekend and [made] this thing we always wanted to make."

Ahmad said that the hackathon was a great opportunity for practical application.

"The hackathon was an opportunity for people to take what they learned in their classes, especially the computer science curriculum, and actually apply it," Ahmad said. "For many people it was a learning experience. They got to explore new technologies, meet new people and collaborate."

For a complete list of the winners and descriptions of their applications, visit http://hack.rice.eduhack.rice.edu.



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