Andover Hosts First Hackathon: Hack Andover

Under the watchful eyes of student mentors, small clusters of students worked for hours in The Nest on Friday and Saturday to solve problems related to time in Andover’s first ever hackathon, Hack Andover.

Teams of about 6-8 people were given the single word prompt “time” and had 24 hours to present a solution to a related problem that would improve students’ lives at Andover, using the prototyping tools the NestEd had to offer. The event was planned by John Koobatian ’17 and Darius Lam ’17, and sponsored by The Nest, the Tang Institute, and M.I.T. Launch.

Koobatian said in an interview with The Phillipian, “We’ve kind of known that there had to be a hackathon at some point, just from the offset of the Makerspace, but it only started getting planned about five weeks ago. That’s a pretty short time. Most hackathons are planned months and months ahead… We organized the schedule, settled on a theme, we saw what other hackathons had done in the past.”

Lam said, “[Koobatian and I] have gone to a few hackathons ourselves, and we were always very intrigued by two things. First, the quality of work that came out of the hackathons. It’s just 24 hours… and yet, [competitors] come out with really nice web applications. The second part is really the sense of community. When you think about hacking, you picture this lone guy sitting in a room but that’s something we try to break away from.”
At the end of their 24 hours, groups presented their ideas and prototypes to a table of five judges, including two current faculty members, two alumni, and the co-founder of the Lowell Makes Makerspace. Projects were judged based on creativity, usefulness, how much was accomplished within the 24 hours, how many students the team recruited, as well as the presentations themselves.

Fay Rotenberg ’03, Venture Investor and Developer, and judge of Hack Andover, believes that holding hackathons at schools like Andover is important to inspire a love of building and ideation in students.

“I think it’s really important [to hold events like Hack Andover], because in many cases, this is the medium of the world. This is how things are built, and I think encouraging people to come together and see what they can do and build within a really short period of time, that’s how you encourage founders and entrepreneurs to create things,” said Rotenberg.

Projects included a redesigned Bluecard system, a campuswide scooter GPS system, and a charger organization system for silent study. Amanda Li ’18 and her group coded a website that would help organize the club system on campus.

Li said, “We have so many clubs on campus, and it’s really awesome, but it’s disorganized. [My group] created a web app that basically catalogues all of the clubs and different club owners can add their club onto it. This means that anyone who registers with their Andover email can join clubs and get automatic updates, notifications, stuff like that… At the moment it’s beta, but we’re definitely thinking of taking this to a larger scale.”
Li continued, “I think Hack Andover gives students a platform to really explore their problem solving skills, and to actually try and help students around them solve issues related to the Andover experience.”

Throughout the day, workshops were hosted by student presenters. Ally Klionsky ’17 held a workshop on graphic design, Lam held a workshop on ideation, and Phillip Lamkin ’17 held a workshop on the coding language “Ruby.” The event was opened with speeches from both “Hacker-in-Chief” Head of School John Palfrey and Program Manager at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and the Founder & Executive director of MIT Launch Laurie Stach.
Koobatian said, “[Palfrey] was talking about how when he first came to Andover he taught a course on hacking, and to him, hacking is about taking something that we deal with every day and deconstructing it, breaking it down to its most fundamental level, and then putting it back together again. I thought it was really interesting.”

Lam hopes that Andover will continue to host hackathons in the future, and views this year’s Hack Andover as a learning experience.

“This was really a beta test to see how [a hackathon at Andover] would run… The results were not bad. I think in the future, we would definitely strive to invite other schools as well, that’s something that seems feasible now with a little more planning. Also, we’re hoping to expand some of the tools that are available. Some people were stuck with using the vinyl cutter, for example, because we didn’t have enough resources there to help them. That’s something we could improve upon,” said Lam.

“[Laurie Stach] told us three things, and I think the one that stuck with me the most was ‘scare yourself.’ Go outside of your comfort zone. We’ve all heard that before, but especially how it relates to a hackathon, that’s something that we’ve never done before, and it’s a great experience,” continued Lam.