Northwestern programmers innovate at hackathon competition

Jordan Harrison, Assistant Campus Editor

About 70 students participated in the ResdesigNU hackathon over the weekend, a 24-hour competition in which new and experienced programers created a variety of designs, including a comprehensive Northwestern mobile application and several alternatives to CAESAR’s class search functionality.

This was the first year Associated Student Government held the competition, which was oriented around building applications to enhance the NU student experience.

The panel of judges included two NU alumni and one current student. Former ASG president Neal Sales-Griffin (SESP ’09), the co-founder of the programming school The Starter League, and Ethan Romba (McCormick ’13), former ASG vice president of technology, judged the entries along with Weinberg senior Sofia Sami, former ASG academic vice president.

The contest’s grand prize of $2,000 was awarded to the makers of the mobile app for “addressing multiple facets of student life,” Sami said. The two students on the team were McCormick sophomore Matt Ehinger and Weinberg sophomore Eric Brownrout.

The runner-up prize of $1,000 went to a scheduling application called CourseDJ.

McCormick sophomores Michael Wang and Gregory Leung, members of the CourseDJ team, said it was their first “hackathon.” CourseDJ takes a selection of classes a user is interested in taking and the number of classes they want in their schedule and “remixes” the courses into different schedule combinations.

The competition also featured an Emerging Underclassman Innovator Award for teams with freshmen and sophomores who are less experienced programmers. The award went to Course Connect, an app designed to recommend courses for students and reduce clutter when creating a class schedule.

The judges chose eight finalists for students to vote on throughout the week, including all of the teams who they awarded prizes to during the competition. The winner and runner-up of the student voting competition will also receive prizes.

One of the finalist teams created a real-time interface called Census, which allows students to give anonymous feedback and ask professors questions in large lecture classes.

McCormick sophomore Jon Rovira, one of four members of the Census team, said the competition helped him gain experience with programming and he appreciated the freedom he had to be creative in the design.

“I’d never done a hackathon before and I kind of always wanted to,” he said. “Just get some more hands-on experience, just learn through the process of doing.”

Sales-Griffin said he was impressed by the quality of the design and presentation of the entries, noting they can be just as important as the functional code of an app.

“When you’re presenting and you’re trying to win a competition or you’re at least trying to convey what it is you want your app to do, the most important part is the visual interface,” he said at the awards ceremony on Saturday evening. “I think all of you did a great job at doing that.”

Sales-Griffin also said he was pleased with the direction NU is heading with regards to technology and innovation.

“When I was about to graduate from here, these aren’t the type of things that were going on,” he said. “We were wishing for things, we were hoping for things and ASG senators were arguing about things, but there wasn’t anything really getting done in that respect. So to see this room full of people coming up with 16 different ideas for apps that could solve problems for Northwestern with technology, that’s amazing.”

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