Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Serena Zheng ’17

Rockville, Maryland • Computer Science View Profile

36 Hours of HackPrinceton

My first hackathon experience

Last weekend, I participated in my very first hackathon: HackPrinceton!

For those of you who don’t know, a hackathon is marathon computer programming event where lots of people come together to build all kinds of projects.

Every fall and spring, the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club hosts HackPrinceton, a 36-hour hackathon where students from across the nation come to work on software and hardware projects.

Here’s how the 36 hours of HackPrinceton played out for me:

Friend Center

HackPrinceton took place in the Friend Center for Engineering Education.

Friday, 9 p.m.: The hackathon begins. I arrive at the Friend Center with no specific plan or project in mind, but I definitely want to make something. I’m excited to hear some tech talks, get free swag and snacks, and play with the hardware from the sponsors. I end up taking lots of gummies and a Surface Book from the Microsoft table and spend the night doodling.

Surface Book

The Surface Book was delightful!

Saturday, 8:30 a.m.: I wake up with a plan of action.

I’ve spent the past week worrying, disappointed with the U.S. Presidential election results.  I wanted to find a positive way to respond. I’ve have asked friends, teachers, adults, mentors: What good can come out of this? How will we move forward? What can I do?

Listen, they say. Talk to everyone, not just people like you. Be vigilant, be kind. Reach out and learn empathy.

Taking their advice to heart, I resolve to design an app that will facilitate honest, one-on-one, personal discussions about social and political issues. I’ll call it “Converse,” for people to converse about converse views. Hurrah!

10:30 a.m.: I eat brunch at my eating club, Terrace, and download trial versions of Sketch and Framer.js onto my computer. I’ve been itching to try out these two prototyping tools ever since I first heard about them this summer. This is the perfect time to experiment with them. When I open the applications on my computer, however, I realize that’s easier said than done.

Sketch

Designing the UI of my app in Sketch.

Noon: Fumbling my way around Sketch. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I'm making progress, slowly but surely.

3:30 p.m.: Break for a bike ride with a friend!

Biking

Biking along Riverside Dr.

4:30 p.m.: Return to working in Sketch in earnest.

6:30 p.m.: Break for a walk with a friend, then dinner.

10 p.m.: Finished creating the UI in Sketch, I move to Framer to animate them. Since I have no idea how to use Framer and want to be done with this project, I write some of the hack-iest code I’ve ever written.

Framer

Frankly, this code is just embarrassing.

Sunday, 12:30 a.m.: Submit my project and go to sleep, yay!                                        

9AM: The hackathon ends, and it's time to demo my project at the hackathon’s Science Fair. I have a few great conversations about technology’s responsibility to resolve social problems, and I also get to see the cool projects that other participants have made.

Augmented Reality showcase

An augmented reality (AR) demo at HackPrinceton's closing ceremony.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed my hackathon experience! I loved experimenting with two new tools, learning about the design process, and building something of my own! It was a productive – a surprisingly cathartic – end to a tumultuous week.

Thanks, HackPrinceton!

See all the HackPrinceton projects here, if you'd like :)