Hack U at UW: Always Memorable

A couple weeks ago, a few of us flew up to Seattle, to host a Hack U competition at the University of Washington. Having been there twice before, we were carrying great expectations, and we certainly were not disappointed – as usual, UW students proved to be an incredible group of hackers. Here’s what transpired:

The Hack U began on Wednesday, with an evening kick-off in the wonderful atrium of the Paul Allen Computer Science Building. We provided lunch, and discussed the short few rules of the Hack U contest. We also heard from Code for America, a great organization devoted to helping local governments with solutions to engineering problems, and from Amazon, which graciously provided students with free accounts for hosting their hacks (thanks goes out to both organizations!).

View from Gates Commons in Allen Building, University of Washington Hack UUW_nightview

On Thursday, we hosted a couple of talks: an accessibility lunch talk by Ted Drake, who gave students many great insights on the importance of accessibility at Yahoo!, and an evening talk by Douglas Crockford, Yahoo!’s chief JavaScript architect, who provided a wonderful overview of JavaScript’s history and popularity, as well as some of its finer technical aspects.
Finally, the Hack U competition itself began on Friday at noon.

University of Washington generously provided us and the student hackers with the use of the Gates Commons at the top of the Paul Allen building, a room with amazing vistas overlooking the campus and Seattle. The space (decorated with many cool artworks by Chuck Close, a UW alum!) served as an inspiration for us and even more so for the hackers, who worked tirelessly through the day and the night, and produced a lot of incredible work.

Student hackers at University of Washington Hack UHacking room

On Saturday, after all the teams presented their work, we were in absolute awe. We expected the hacks to be of consistent quality, but UW exceeded our expectations: every single hack was just wonderful. This, of course, led to some heated arguments among the judges, but we were able to come to some agreement (with a minimum of physical violence :)). And thus, the winners were:

- Honorable Mentions: How Will Your Day Be for the most fun/amusing hack, and John Cage Machine for the best learning ramp-up.
- Best Mobile Hack: sKrEXP – KEXP-based mobile song browser and playlist generator.
- Hack For Good / Accessibility Award: Data Speak, a tool for describing graphed data sets.
- 3rd Place: Get That Junk Off My Screen – a site redesigner.
- 2nd Place: Pocket Change – a tool to make donations when you buy stuff.
- 1st Place: Katamari Hack – a game that allows one to play Katamari Damacy with any website’s elements!

The first and second place hacks were especially amazing in their own unique ways. The Pocket Change hack had an incredibly strong idea, which we found both compelling and well-executed (and we hope the students continue to push to make this hack a reality!). The Katamari Hack was engaging, fun, and wonderfully complex in its technical execution: both the graphics and the collaborative gameplay were a wonder to behold.

And so, as we have said goodbye to Seattle until next year. We left exhausted, but inspired and happy! Thank you, UW hackers, for once again demonstrating the quality of your work.

And a special thank you is due to Marty Stepp, a great lecturer in the CS department who supported us in countless ways.

The list of all hacks is available here: developer.yahoo.com/hacku/show/2011/mar/washington
There are many more photos here: HackU at UW, 2011