After two years of running virtual editions, 1000+ university students from around the world descended onto campus in person for what is dubbed the largest hackathon in the country, Waterloo’s annual Hack The North. A weekend filled with networking, developing, caffeine and much more.
The hackathon was a 36-hour long event from the evening of September 16 to the morning of September 18. Teams of students with a variety of skill sets in the tech field were tasked with turning their original ideas into functional hardware and/or software. Teams had to do all their work in these 36 hours and afterwards, they were judged by a panel of tech executives and put on showcase for other hackers to see.
The students were not alone throughout the process — mentors and company representatives from organizations like Meta, TD, Ubisoft among others were there throughout the hackathon to guide the teams through challenges, as well as to network and facilitate helpful workshops.
Though the main goal of the weekend was to develop their ideas, students also participated in additional activities like bubble soccer and silent disco, which allowed the teams to take a much needed break. Sleeping accommodations were provided as well in the form of air mattresses lined throughout the hallways of E6, though many chose to code through the two days and two nights as coffee was provided at many of the events throughout the weekend.
The in-person event was a return to form for Hack The North. Gone are the pains that were unavoidably felt by remote hackers from the past two years — the isolation of working remotely, the online webinars and the frustrations of internet woes compromising a demo for judges through video conferencing. In its place, an enthusiastic and focused group of students all working in close proximity to each other, motivating each other by example. The opening and closing ceremonies bookended the hack, taking place at Lazaridis Hall on WLU campus. Students attending the former got to hear speeches from organizers, tech executives and recording artist will.i.am, known famously for his work with the musical group Black Eyed Peas. He gave his keynote speech virtually through Zoom.
The closing ceremony was a celebration of the hackers’ achievements and the announcement of the 12 finalists. One of the finalist groups this year were two second-year UW engineering students, Shari Sun and Candice Zhang, who created a virtual karaoke web program called Vioke. They said Vioke was created to “simulate an authentic karaoke experience without needing to physically go to a Karaoke room.”
When asked, the duo stated that they were informed 10 minutes before the closing ceremony that they were selected as finalists and were to give a demo of Vioke on stage to the rest of the hackers, and were met with great enthusiasm.
This was Sun’s third time participating in Hack the North and second time in-person, while for Zhang, this was her first. They stated that they found the in-person format with 1000+ people very motivating and that it allowed for easier networking.