6 Things I Learned at the Largest 24-hour Hackathon in Western Canada

Hosted by UBC club nwPlus, this year marked the 5th annual nwHacks – a 24-hour hackathon with over 700 of the brightest minds in the Pacific Northwest.

1. A hackathon does not mean intense hacking

One of the biggest misconceptions when someone hears “hackathon” is that it entails someone furiously typing code to breach system defenses. As intriguing as that sounds, a hackathon, at its simplest, is where teams work together on a project within a tight time limit. At nwHacks, teams of 2-4 collaborate to create purposeful projects in 24 hours which are then judged by a panel of top industry professionals.

2. Innovation can come from anywhere

Hackathons have generated more “Eureka!” moments than a long, thoughtful shower. The range and diversity of projects is incredible; a virtual meeting assistant to improve the efficiency of meeting minutes, a machine learning armband to identify sign language, augmented reality software to bring your favorite Pokémon to life, or even an IoT coffee maker that makes coffee when you send a tweet.

3. Energy drinks become your best friend

Perhaps it’s because it was a 24-hour hackathon, but I have never seen so many people stock up on energy drinks as I did during nwHacks. Of course, all empty cans were recycled.

4. Tech is getting bigger and bigger

This year’s nwHacks was the largest with over 700 participants from across the Pacific Northwest. There was a plethora of individuals from different degree backgrounds from over 25 different schools, some include computer science at New York University, visual arts at the University of Washington, biology at the University of Calgary, and electrical engineering at McGill University, to name a few. It is becoming more prevalent that technology can be applied to different industries and fields.

5. Don’t be afraid to try new things

One of the best things about these events is that it is a space to test your ideas with minimal limitations and to be courageous. Hackathons are the ideal place to bring your wildest ideas to fruition and even help catalyze projects that could be taken beyond the event.

6. A hackathon is not just an event, it’s an experience

If this hackathon taught me anything, it is that a hackathon is so much more than typing up code or soldering hardware. It is a place to learn about technology through engaging workshops, to jumpstart your career through expanding your network, and to unite like-minded people through creating something meaningful.

Learn more about nwHacks 2019 here. There has been a surge of hackathons across Canada and all around the world, and if you’re interested in getting involved, check out upcoming hackathons near you. In addition, nwPlus will be hosting Vancouver’s first all-female hackathon in March, apply before February 23.

To stay up-to-date and find more cool events like this at UBC, follow @UBCevents and check UBCevents for new events everyday.

Photos courtesy of James Yoo
Words by Karina Kwok