Hundreds of hackers embark on great BoilerMake expedition

01-25-2017

Author(s):Tim Brouk


Somehow, Sam Javed was still standing.

The Purdue Computer Science freshman was one of 550 participants in BoilerMake IV, a 36-hour hackathon held Jan. 20 to 22 at the Córdova Recreational Sports Center.

Young programmers compete to make the best new code, app, website or game from scratch. These weary computer geniuses get little rest, as there is too much work to be done before that Sunday morning deadline.

“I have slept about two hours total in the last 36 hours. Right now, I’m running on a lot of caffeine. Any CS student knows how that feels,” Javed said. “I’m probably going to crash pretty soon.”

Javed and hundreds of other young men and women saved the last of their energy for pitches to discerning BoilerMake judges – a mix of alumni, programmers from visiting companies and current Computer Science upperclassmen.

The tall, thin young man’s eyes could barely stay open but Javed still pitched his new finance app that allows users to enter data on specific products they are saving up for. The money management tool alerts the user when he or she is getting close to affording that new Ford Mustang, Javed’s dream car.

“Under the savings account, we have these ‘boxes’ where you store money for things you are saving up for,” Javed explained. “The app makes things more organized in your account.”

 

Counting down

BoilerMake IV had a NASA theme: A balloon sculpture rocket ship, retro “Men in Black” pod chairs, and arcade games like Defender and Galaga added to the space vibe, but the hackers’ ideas that were about to launch were the real stars of the weekend.

Hackers
BoierMake IV was out of this world.

As programmers from as far away as Florida, Texas and Ontario, Canada, filed into the CoRec, anticipation was building. Students loosened up, got pumped up, and built up fuel levels with tacos, pizza and caffeinated implements. It’s going to be a long, turbulent journey from a blank screen to a finished product.

Some students come into a hackathon with ideas. Others test their limits by waiting until liftoff to brainstorm.

“I’m one of the blank slate people,” said Dominic Yoder, a Computer Science junior. “I haven’t thought of anything ahead of time but I think my language of choice will be Java. I’m not sure whether that will be an application on the computer or an Android application.”

Rizky Wellyanto, one of the 100 visiting programmers from University of Illinois, oozed with confidence and Illini orange. He wore a GoPro camera on his head to document his hacking process and prowess.

“We already have some hacks in mind,” Wellayanto said. “It’s gonna be a fun weekend.”

Wellyanto hinted at a friendly rivalry brewing between Illinois and Purdue hackers. Two busses of Illini invaded Boilermaker country for BoilerMake IV and there have been – gasp – boastful memes produced saying who will have the best hacks, according to Wellyanto.

While BoilerMake is only in its fourth year, the hackathon mirrors its participants – always changing and finding fast success. One of the event’s driving forces during BoilerMake’s formative years was Kirby Kohlmorgen. First as a hacker then organizer, the 2016 Computer Science graduate was happy to come back as an alumnus representing MongoDB, a New York City database company.

“It’s really cool to see BoilerMake still living on and being more and more awesome year after year,” Kohlmorgen said.

Landing

A day and a half later, these programmers are changed men and women. Some brim with confidence; many are giddy with lack of sleep and excitement over creating something that did not exist 36 hours ago.

Still others are crashed out on any piece of furniture they can find. Some teams of programmers allow their most awake member to pitch their creation. That job fell on Javed’as shoulders. Others like the Purdue Computer Science crew of Anav Gagneja, Dhruv Upadhyay, Jean-Michael Diei and Connor Borzello displayed unity by all contributing to Sunday a.m. presentations, which led to a new collaboration with visiting company Mixmax, an email platform company dedicated to communications tracking, automation and enhancements.

The men created a potential solution for the digital age-old dilemma of determining tone in email. Could we have a sarcasm detector on our hands? The students’ work created algorithms that deconstruct sentences into 10 different perceived tones: joy, anger, fear, comfort, analytical, disgust, tentative, conscientious, agreeable and sad.

“Press analyze before you send the email and it will analyze the tone,” said Gagneja, while pointing out the different levels of different tones for one short email.

Mixmax approached the students during the hackathon about using some of their code. Unexpected benefits like this are why computer science students adhere to hacker culture. To them, hacking is not a dirty word. It represents accomplishment, creation and fellowship.

“It’s a great way to learn new stuff and win something while doing it,” said Nicole Markley, a Computer Science sophomore, who competed in her second hackathon. “The people are really nice. The first time I was completely flummoxed. I went to the girl next to me for help with my code. The people are really supportive. They provide mentors and it’s a great environment.”

Hackers

The Purdue Computer Science crew of (from left) Dhruv Upadhyay, Jean-Michael Diei, Anav Gagneja and Connor Borzello display their hack from BoilerMake IV. The creation measures perceived tones of email.

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