Peddie club hosts 24-hour hackathon amid pandemic
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“Something funny or witty that makes us laugh.” It was an unusual theme for a hackathon, which usually focuses on problems to solve or more serious topics — but for the PeddieHacks team, the lighthearted theme felt perfect for this moment in time. While the global pandemic continued, and with the looming uncertainty of what school would look like in the fall, the team wanted this event to be simply fun.

“We had a lot of questions from the participants when we announced the theme,” said Elizabeth '21, leader of the Computer Science Club at Peddie. The Club hosted PeddieHacks, which ran for more than 24 hours straight on August 23-24. “Participants were really surprised, but in the end they had a good time with it.”

A hackathon is an event where individuals or teams can test their coding skills by creating a project based on a central team. Participants have 24 hours to create and complete their projects, which are then evaluated by a panel of judges. PeddieHacks was open to only high school students and registered close to 200 participants, some from as far away as California and even Ireland. 

The inaugural PeddieHacks event had been a long time coming. The members of the Computer Science Club had begun planning it last winter, in hopes of holding the event on campus this past spring. When schools were forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the group was undaunted. They pivoted to hosting a virtual hackathon and pushed the event to August. 

The PeddieHacks team on Zoom

The PeddieHacks team met twice weekly all summer long to prepare to host their first hackathon.

Elizabeth and her team were determined to get their first hackathon off the ground. The group, along with faculty advisor Joy Wolfe, met twice weekly all summer long. The web team coded the PeddieHacks website from scratch, and the fundraising team worked with Peddie’s Director of Development Amy Cabot to devise a plan for acquiring sponsors and alumni support.

"Overall, we sent more than 185 emails to companies and made numerous phone calls," said Elizabeth. "PeddieHacks contracted more than 22 sponsors, and thanks to them, we rasied $850 in cash, $13,000 for prizes and over $500 in raffle gifts. This was my first experience with finance and reaching out to sponsors, and I've definitely learned a lot from this entire process."

The Class of 2012 chipped in 350 dollars.

"It is so great to see alumni like Rotimi Opeke '12, Jennifer Creel '12, and Winston Yang '19 come together and support PeddieHacks," added Elizabeth.

Yang volunteered to be the "midnight game master" and helped guide and encourage programming teams throughout the competition. In addition to the gaming sessions, there were interactive workshops interwoven into the program to break up the intensity of the marathon. 

Nic '22 monitored the Discord (communication channel) throughout the event. “It was great talking with all of the competitors over the two days,” he said. “One advantage to having a virtual hackathon is that people from all over the country and even around the world could attend.”

The organizers were busy from start to finish with tasks like checking in on teams, monitoring the chat, running a prize lottery during the wait for the judges’ announcement. 

And while they weren’t competing in the hackathon, they appreciated the behind the scenes view and they learned a lot about what it takes to run an event of this magnitude.

“It was really fun to check in on the teams at the beginning planning stage and then seeing what they came up with at the end, said Meghna '21. 

All participants were required to present their projects to a panel of judges at the end of the event. They shared a demo and the code they developed. Projects were judged based on theme relevancy, creativity, technical skill, presentation and effectiveness. In the end, 38 projects - almost double what PeddieHacks anticipated - submitted projects for judging.

"The Hackathon was quite an undertaking," said Wolfe. "It was a tremendous effort on the students' part. In addition, we received an amazing response from our alumni, sponsors and from novice to experienced computer science students. Hopefully, this will become an annual event."