HackPSU Recap: Turning Happy Valley into Hacker Valley

Amidst the hundreds of discarded pizza boxes, crushed Red Bull cans, and LED-lit faces eagerly coding their ambitions into reality, five teams emerged victorious from HackPSU, the self-proclaimed first-ever learning hackathon, winning prizes that included bragging rights, $2,500, and even a drone.

It wasn’t all about the prize money, though, as participants were continuously reminded throughout the event. HackPSU was for first-timers, too — for the people who had always wanted to learn how to code, but had lacked the time, or maybe the guidance. In fact, winnings were kept to a minimum, according to HackPSU coordinator Eli Kariv, for exactly that reason–when the stakes aren’t high, there’s less pressure, more willingness to learn, and less worry about the results.

Through hours of workshops on topics from SQL to Node to Ruby-on-Rails taught by local and national technology companies such as Videon Central, Mashery, Fareportal, and SendGrid, several attendees — hackathon veterans and aspiring hackers both — left HackPSU with plenty to fill their minds. And with a seemingly inexhaustable supply of pizza, pitas, and midnight ice cream, there’s no doubt that those in attendance this weekend got to fill their stomachs, too.

Here’s a run-down of the hackers that won awards at HackPSU that got to fill their wallets, too:

Third Place

Winnings: Major League Hacking Badge and three months of Firebase Bonfire

Winners: FastRead, the application that lets you read an article really fast, or really slow. FastRead “parses the article and displays it one word at a time, up to 700 words per minute,” and was hacked by Penn Staters Alibek Utyubayev and Daniyar Yeralin.

Second Place

Winnings: MLH Badge and six months of Firebase Bonfire

Winners: Penn State graduate students Seifu Chonde, Angela Garza, Evan White, Trey Morris, and Ken Hutchinson devised CrawlR, an app that lets you coordinate and plan bar crawls with your friends. Reviewing and liking others’ crawls can also increase your “liver points”and having popular crawls unlocks various levels, which are sponsored by beverage companies.

First Place

Winnings: $2,500, MLH Badge, and six months of Firebase Bonfire

Winners: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology students Neil Semmel, Dax Earl, Jeffrey Carter, and Frank Roetker, who drove nine hours from Terre Haute, Ind., to code Easy AMA, a web app designed to allow people doing AMAs (Ask-Me-Anythings) on Reddit to easily manage their AMA. The team’s story, which included never before attending a Hackathon, meeting and forming a team hours before the event, as well as other amusing thoughts can be found on their blog.

Best use of a Mashery API (Application Programming Interface)

Winnings: Up to three pairs of Beats Headphones

Winners: FastRead

SendGrid API Prize

Winnings: A Super Nintendo Portable with games like Street Fighter and Zelda

Winners: e-zrider, an app that revolutionizes travel by hailing you a cab, using GPS tracking to send cabs directly to you, and does so with no human interaction necessary whatsoever. e-zrider was hacked by Penn Staters Max Marze, Michael Ross, Brad Hjelmar, and Aakash Sham.

Best Story

Winnings: $500

Winners: Wingman, an Android application that allows you to share conversations with a crush (or anyone else) in real time to anonymous users, helping you capitalize on that elusive “what do I say next?” moment. Wingman was hacked by Penn Staters Matthew Porter, Bokang Huang, and John Dori.


Editor’s note: The drone, KloudlessAPI‘s prize, was unable to be conferred during the closing ceremonies, but will be announced within the next 24 to 48 hours.

And so, there’s a run-down of the major things that happened at HackPSU. But why should it affect any of us? After all, most of us have no experience coding, nor do we understand the technologies that exist behind the shiny pieces of metal that we covet, sleep with, and treat as a fifth appendage.

If the cool applications that mere students were able to build in just 36 hours don’t totally blow your mind, then here’s a doozy: technology isn’t going away, and our lives in the present day depend on it. A few years ago, SnapChat, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr didn’t exist, as I’m sure plenty of people have said, millions of times.

But what they may not have mentioned is that the next big thing that could save the world, or at the very least, disrupt it, is probably being coded right now at a hackathon. Many have even speculated that hackathons are the cure for the US economy, can revolutionize the healthcare industry, and can even keep homeless people off the streets.

Today, HackPSU attendees might just be some dorks wearing T-shirts with the latest tech startup’s logo emblazoned across their chests, but tomorrow, well, they might just change the world quietly — furiously typing away on their keyboards, one 36-hour block at a time.

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