Mudders Take Top Prizes at 5-C Team Hackathon

Harvey Mudd College encourages a collaborative problem-solving approach that lets students harness the power of collective skill and experience. Harvey Mudd students put this power to good use at the recent 5-C Hackathon, an all-night programming competition that challenges students to design a useful Internet application. Harvey Mudd fielded winning teams—both made up of first years—in two of three categories.

Hackers Daniel Johnson ’18 and Hamzah Khan ’18 placed first in the Advanced category with their app “Augmented Reality Snake,” which lets a user play the popular game “Snake” on paper instead of on screen. Johnson and Khan describe the project as “a sheet of paper that has a marker pattern similar to a QR code, but without the data.” Designed and written over the course of just 11 hours, the program recognizes the code using a webcam or smart phone camera, overlays a grid on the paper and transforms the game of snake to fit on it.

Another team, Zhenghan Zhang ’18 and Weiyu Zhou ’18, took first place in the Intermediate category with “SimulTube,” an app that enables video playback technology on multiple devices. The inspiration? Convenience, says Zhang. “I didn’t want to stop a movie right in the middle if I had to go somewhere, and thought it would be terrific if an app allowed me to resume the movie on another device.” In the manner of Apple’s continuity and handoff features, SimulTube also enables interaction and communication between multiple devices, allowing users to work on the same document or read the same web page on different devices.

Each of the victorious Mudders had some previous hackathon experience, though none is required to enter (contest planners even offer a week-long tutorial course for beginners). Khan, who began robotics programming in middle school, attended his first hackathon as a high school sophomore and now helps to organize the competitions for high schools and colleges. Johnson taught himself Apple Script in sixth grade and hasn’t looked back, participating in high school competitions as well as in the recent MuddHacks contest, along with Khan. Zhou and Zhang began programming in middle and elementary schools, respectively, and have also participated in past contests.

Hackathon success balances technical skill and creative inspiration, all done under an admittedly intense time crunch. But Zhang, who aspires to be a software architect, says the reward is worth the stress. “Participating in hackathons is a great opportunity to realize some cool ideas,” he says. “It’s extremely exciting to stay up all night working toward the final goal. To me, each hackathon is a fulfilling and unforgettable experience.”

Zhou divulged the main ingredients behind his team’s win: “Teamwork and division of labor are really important,” he says. “Good hackers must know how to work with others.”

The next 5-C Hackathon takes place during spring semester.