Group of Huge Nerds Holds Slumber Party in Exley 137: Meet the Senior Week Hackathon

Breaking: Wes has Computer Science majors, and sometimes they stay up all night, making friends for life.

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The tables and floor of Exley 137 are piled high with gluttonous food remnants—pretzel bags, sandwich displays, Dunkin Donuts bags, half-eaten pizza, chips and salsa, dozens of condiments and wrappers and sauces—but the eleven occupants of the room are far too busy staring at computer screens, coding feverishly behind glazed eyes, to take much notice. Tensions are high. Every once in a while someone grunts or high fives or messes something up and swears at a teammate. Evan Carmi ’13 is pacing furiously, staring at scripts and barking orders at his teammates, who remain surprisingly calm. I take a look at the screen, but it may as well be in Korean. (I don’t speak Korean.)

Meet the participants of the first ever Senior Week Hackathon, a heated, unimaginably sexy 36-hour coding competition organized by Carmi, Julian Applebaum ’13, and Anastasios Germanidis ’13. The participants, most of them Comp Sci majors, have been awake for the better part of 36 hours, camped out in this single, sweat-stained classroom on the main floor of Exley, and in a little less than an hour they will emerge into the world with the shiny, digital results of their tech-savvy soil. Basically, it is a slumber party for nerds. Naturally, they have been tweeting up a storm every step of the way (and enjoying free “swag” from their various sponsors). 

Several hours ago, I ventured into the Senior Week Hackathon in a desperate attempt to figure out what the hell a Hackathon is. I ended up interviewing Carmi, with some choice interruptions by fellow Hackathonners. It should probably be disclosed that in addition to being a friend and next door neighbor, Carmi is also the director of all tech- and design-related concerns for Wesleying, including our most recent redesign. Hence, this feature is also a belated and largely inadequate attempt to acknowledge him for the work he’s put into Wesleying on a daily basis since 2011, receiving little or no credit in the process. If you read this blog and don’t hate everything we do, consider thanking him.

Anyway, about the Hackathon.

What the hell is a Hackathon?

Evan Carmi ’13A Hackathon is like a marathon—a nonstop activity over some amount of time where you try to do something, and in this case it’s take an idea and make it into an actual web site. So what we’re doing is we all have different ideas for web sites—different web app products—and by midnight tonight we have to finish and launch our thing and then get people to rate it. We have four comp-sci alumni as judges: Sam DeFabbia-Kane ’11, Carlo Francisco ’11, Micah Wylde ’12, and Ryan Gee ’11. They are gonna judge us in like three different categories when the apps are finished. So we started yesterday at noon till tonight at midnight. There are teams of three or four.

How did you get all these sponsors? 

I called up a bunch of people and said “Hey, wanna sponsor us?” and they said “Sure,” then I called up more people and said, “Wanna sponsor us?” and they said, “Sure,” then I called up more people and said “Hey, wanna sponsor us?” and they said, “Sure.”

Who is sponsoring you?

Linode sponsored us, Pragmatic Programmers is sponsoring us, O’Reilly Media is sponsoring us, Squarespace is covering all the food and shirts, that’s where Julian [Applebaum ‘13] is working next year. Oh, and the Comp Sci department gave us cash to buy Arduino starter kits.

So what is the web site that you’re making?

We’re all making different things—these are three different teams. There have been lots of alumni reaching out—like Jake Levine [’07, of Digg.com], Makaela Kingsley [’98, of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship], Tim Devane [’09] from Bit.Ly and Betaworks. Lots of people have been really excited on Twitter and emailing us.

What is your team making?

My team is making WesPeople.com. It’s a web site where you can see geographic locations of alumni around the U.S. and search by a lot more stuff than WesConnect allows.

So it’s like Grindr, but for Wesleyan alumni?

What’s that?

[Before I could answer, Matt Adelman ’13, a fellow Comp Sci major and longtime friend, interjects.]

Matt Adelman ’13: Did you know someone flashed us here last night? I’m not sure who it was.

Julian Applebaum ’13: No, there were two of them.

Adelman: One of them didn’t flash us.

Applebaum: No, they both flashed us.

Carmi: Wait, what? Someone flashed us? Don’t remember that. I guess I blacked out!

Okay, back to coding. Did you conceive of this web site before the Hackathon started?

We came up with it before and we were allowed to do data scraping beforehand. The only thing we were allowed to do beforehand was thinking and gathering data but no actually developing any of the site.

How does this compare to running the tech side of Wesleying?

I have never pulled a 36-hour coding marathon for Wesleying, although I would say I have encountered nearly similar levels of frustration. [Editor’s note: if you’re on the Wesleying listserv, you can probably attest to this.] But I’ve been very—you know, no one knows I do that for Wesleying. Also, I never get any food from Wesleying or free shit or acknowledgment or anything else. Just getting all those emails from alumni like, “Yo, you guys are crazy” has been fun.

Well, this post is sort of a backhanded way of acknowledging the ridiculous amount of work you do for Wesleying.

Good. You can also say I’m becoming an independent web developer and software developer after graduation and people should contact me with their software ideas or other things they want help with. You can also say that I built the Sketch-a-Song web site, even though Zack Sulsky [’13] never said that I did in the interview.

[At this post Carmi interrupts his own interview by looking at the clock and screaming, “We have four hours and 51 seconds to go! Aaaaah!” Adelman screams, in his unmistakably booming voice, “Someone tweet about it!”]

Has anyone slept?

Adelman: I slept for about three hours.

Carmi: I slept on the floor for maybe an hour in front of the computer. We went and saw the sunrise for a few minutes and saw some drunk people out on the hill riding scooters saying, “Aaah, I’m blackout drunk.”

Evan, is this the longest you’ve gone in the past without doing any tech stuff for Wesleying?

Yes! I dunno if that’s actually true. I haven’t responded to any of the Wesleying emails this weekend. [Editor’s note: there really haven’t been that many as of late.]

What else do you want people to know about the Hackathon?

At midnight there’s a community vote. We want people to look at our sites and vote. It’s pretty much a popularity contest flashback. Also, people don’t know that Comp Sci actually exists on Wesleyan. Every skill used in this thing we did not learn in this department.

[Editor’s note: This last remark sets off a heated debate in the room. “I learned many of these skills in Comp Sci 211. Upper-level Comp Sci classes teach you how to do important stuff!” Adelman claims. “Bullshit!” Carmi retorts. “They teach you how to think about programming,” Adelman claims. “I’m saying the stuff we’re doing now we did not learn in this department, which is why it’s important that we do these things,” Evan explains. He looks at me and sighs. “I’m just not as patriotic as these guys,” he tells me.

At this point, Lisa Sy ’13, the only female participating in the Hackathon, cries from across the room, “I’m an American Studies major!”]

Learn more about the first ever Senior Week Hackathon at this web site.