UMD Hosts 36-hour Hackathon for Out-of-State Programmers

By midnight on Saturday, hundreds gathered in the University of Maryland’s Reckord Armory, sitting at tables covered with circuit wires, desktop computer monitors, laptops, virtual reality headsets and empty Soylent bottles.

Bitcampers hack their projects at about 1 a.m. Saturday. India Hamilton // Pulsefeedz.

“This was my first time trying Soylent. It tastes like Lucky Charms without the marshmallows…But it definitely has kept me from leaving to go get food,” said sophomore mechanical engineer Sam Lewando, whose team worked on a 3D-printed version of Rockem Sockem robots during UMD’s Bitcamp 2016.

Lewando and his teammates were one of 126 registered groups entered in the competition. The hackathon’s kickoff was Friday night at 10 p.m., at which time hackers had 36 hours to design and create tech projects.

About 1,100 hackers came out to the event, with almost 50 percent traveling from out of state, to complete technology-based projects, according to Bitcamp co-director and UMD grad student Jenny Hottle.

“We came up with the idea Thursday night and got right to work on Friday around ten p.m. We’ve made pretty good progress but still have a long way to go in six hours,” said Gerry D’Ascoli, who was still working on the Rockem Sockem Oculus team in the Armory at 4 a.m. “We’re confident we might win something.”

In orderly chaos, bitcampers sat at 53 tables that lined the interior of the Armory and hacked away at projects they started Friday night. Educational websites, video games and mobile phone apps were among project registrations.

“Bitcamp is a place to explore your imagination while creating something fun that can also be useful,” said freshman Bitcamp volunteer Courtney Peng.

In the middle of everything to signify the theme was an artificial campfire complete with LED lighting for fire and wooden logs. “I know it sounds cheesy, but we really wanted it to be like going away to camp,” said Hottle, who’s currently earning a master’s in Human-Computer Interaction at UMD.

Bitcampers participate in a cup-stacking competition at UMD's Bitcamp 2016. India Hamilton // Pulsefeedz.
Bitcampers participate in a cup-stacking competition at UMD’s Bitcamp 2016. India Hamilton // Pulsefeedz.

At various points in the night, there were announcements for snacks, t-shirt giveaways and bonding activities.

At about one a.m. Saturday, mentors and volunteers for the event began a resume and interview open discussion forum at the campfire to talk about how to succeed in interviews and building resumes for companies in computer science fields.

Throughout the weekend, representatives from tech company sponsors including Oculus, Intel, Microsoft, and Norththrop Grumman were available at tables to offer advice to hackers as well as provide them with tools for their projects.

Bitcamp also received support from companies like Facebook and Capital One, in addition to the A. James Clark School of Engineering, College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, the Division of Information at UMD and Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory.

Some bitcampers take a break from hacking to play a video game. India Hamilton // Pulsefeedz.
Some bitcampers take a break from hacking to play a video game. India Hamilton // Pulsefeedz.

To take a break from hacking, some played video games, watched Netflix, caught up on homework or slept. Air mattresses for hackers to sleep on filled a room in the basement of the Armory.

“We slept for about four hours today but not downstairs, just on a bench outside,” said freshman computer science engineer Kevin Dicola. Dicola’s team worked on a ping pong video game that they converted to a mobile app.

“It’s not even about winning for us. I’m actually just happy to be here and finishing a project,” said one of Dicola’s teammates, John Murray.

Each team was required to create a written post that described their project, detailed the coding involved, listed the challenges they attempted and explained what they learned as a group. Project descriptions were posted to Bitcamp’s Devpost website, where sponsors could view them at the competition’s close.

At the end of the hackathon, sponsors awarded prizes to teams that made use of various tools and met goals predetermined before the event began.