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200 students dream big and work fast at Winfo Hackathon

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Students work together at the Winfo Hackathon.

Give some enterprising University of Washington students a whole day and they’ll dream up some amazing ideas. That’s the impetus for the annual Wiinfo Hackathon, held Jan. 28 at the HUB on the UW campus.

About 200 students spent the day in small groups huddled around tables, munching on snacks while brainstorming ideas, then designing and, in some cases, coding their technological solutions. They were joined by mentors representing sponsors of the event, including Alaska Airlines, Avanade, G.E. Digital and Nordstrom.

Peter Freschi and Xiaowen Feng, both senior Informatics majors, came prepared with an idea for an app that would have both economic and societal benefits.

“We’re going to try to address the societal issue of food waste, and the app will recommend recipes that use expiring food first,” Freschi said.

Feng said she was hoping the event would help crystallize their plans for their upcoming Capstone project.

“We have a big idea, but we don’t have the little details yet,” she said.

At another table, a group of Informatics majors was brainstorming. Juniors Alexis Burks and Sarah Feldmann, senior Sydnie Fenske and sophomore Nicole Wood were all at their first hackathon.

“I wanted to get the experience of a hackathon,” Fenske said. “You always hear about them, but you don’t really know what it is until you actually do it.”

Said Feldmann: “We’ve done a lot of projects in classes, but it will be interesting to see what we can get done in eight hours.”

The group later worked up an idea for crowdsourcing news events. The app would alert people to events happening around them and have them contribute reports from the scene.

While Winfo stands for Women in Informatics, the event was open to UW students of any major and gender. Many were current or prospective Informatics majors, while others hailed from departments such as computer science, human-centered design and engineering, or various social sciences. This year’s edition was the biggest yet, up from 150 attendees in 2016.

Isabella Spaletta, Winfo’s director of outreach, said this hackathon was unusual in that it was open to coders and non-coders alike.

“The people who don’t code still have a chance to be part of the Hackathon in a different way, because not everyone is a coder. Some people want to design and have great ideas,” she said. “So what we encourage is a little bit of both. If you want to come and code and design, you can. If you want to just design, we encourage you to do that, too.”

At the end of the Hackathon, projects were judged based on social impact, design, development and usefulness.

First place overall went to “Do Now!” Team members Aria Cha, Leanne Hwa, Rodney Olson, Isha Sharma and Alex Zhu designed the app to build positive everyday habits that make a positive impact on the world by issuing simple daily challenges to people.

Second place went to Conner Ardman, Gil Guday, Zach Palmer and Ryan Turner and their program, “ReMeD.” The program takes HTML code and converts it to R Markdown code that can be shared and analyzed much more effectively.

The Best Design award went to “PhilanTrophy,” an app created by Joyce Huang, Christy Lu, Aisha Toulegenova and Jing Wen Pan. The app is designed to make it easier for local charitable organizations to state their needs, such as canned goods or clothing, and for users to meet those needs with donations. People would earn points toward coupons or other special offers each time they contribute.