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Hackathon challenges students to be innovative
Hackathon challenges students to be innovative

Attending a hackathon sounds downright frightening, especially if you’re not a programmer, but senior Amar Ramachandran says it’s so much more than individuals simply writing code.

“People think programming is so rigid and that you need logic, but at a hackathon, there is so much creativity,” he said. “You should attend if you’re into design or an entrepreneur.”

Amar was the lead director for LancerHacks, the successful hackathon hosted by the Saint Francis programming club, sfhacks, moderated by Mr. Steinke. The event drew 125 students from 20 local schools; about a third of the students were female. There was music blasting, and during breaks, students played dodgeball.

Hackathons are designed to be open-ended. At LancerHacks, participants had 12 hours to turn an idea they dreamed up, often addressing a societal issue, into some sort of end product, such as an app or a program.

This was junior Sarayu Namineni’s first time attending a hackathon, and it was incredibly worthwhile, she said. She and with her group — Saint Francis students Carolyn Chen, Shivam Singhal, Rohan Athalye, Isha Muthyala and Ashwini Sarvepalli — built a web page devoted to the issue of fresh water conservation. Their idea included a trivia game where money would be donated to water conservation charities on behalf of the user, depending on how many questions were answered correctly.

“It was such an amazing experience, and I had so much fun learning,” Sarayu said.

Before the project, Sarayu wasn’t sure if she would be able to commit to staying the whole day, nor did she know much about water issues around the world. But her attitude was transformed once she and her teammates immersed themselves into their research and began working on their idea. Suddenly, 12 hours didn’t seem enough time anymore.

“I loved this group, and I was committed to this idea,” Sarayu said.

Participants also heard from guest speakers from companies such as PayPal and Google who spoke about a diverse range topics, from cybersecurity to artificial intelligence.

Amar had wanted to hold a hackathon at Saint Francis for two years, and for a long time, he said, the idea just resided in notes and spreadsheets. He was proud that he and a group of Lancers were able to make this idea come to fruition, bringing students from the community who didn’t know each other together to experiment and learn new things. Hopefully, he added, the event will be even bigger next year.

“It is so rewarding to be able to say ‘I built this,’” Amar said.