SharkHack attracts Boston area students


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By Voice Staff

SharkHack coordinators

SharkHack participants pose for a picture. (Photo by Alison Bernstein)

This weekend, the Simmons School of Library and Information Science (SLIS), along with professors and students of the Department of Computer Science, hosted Simmons’ first-ever 24-hour hackathon, Simmons SharkHack.

Hackathons are events where participants, often college students, work in teams to develop creative technological applications, such as web or phone apps, hardware projects, and solutions to real-life challenges. These are collectively known as “hacks.”

Simmons SharkHack attracted students from schools all over Boston and surrounding areas, including students from Northeastern University, Boston University, UMass Lowell, UMass Amherst, and Wellesley College.

Forty students comprised 11 teams of three or four people, each with a mentor from an area company, generally with a tech focus. These teams, all named after various kinds of sharks, brainstormed ideas and implemented them over the course of the 24-hour event. The role of mentors was to give input, keep students on task, and provide technological support if necessary.

Several Simmons professors were also involved with the event, including Professor Amber Stubbs of the Computer Science Department, and Dane Groves of the Communications Department. Professors Stubbs and Groves both presented workshops at the event to get students up to speed on the version control platform Github, and introduced the basics of user experience/user interface (UX/UI) design.

SharkHack posited itself as a “women-centered” event. According to the website, the goal of SharkHack was “to create a safe space for individuals who identify as female or nonbinary, or were assigned female at birth, since these people are frequently underrepresented in computer science.”

Although there are many hackathons that take place in the Boston area, including HackMIT, HackHolyoke, and HackBeanpot, few of them are touted as “women’s” or “women-centered” hackathons. WHACK, the women’s hackathon that takes place at Wellesley College, is one of the few local hackathons specifically centered on women.

The hackathon was sponsored by the Simmons Alumnae Association, SLIS, Wistia, Sonos, Kenzan Media, Treehouse, WeGush, as well as area eateries Thornton’s Bar and Grille, El Pelon Taqueria, Insomnia Cookies, Pavement Coffeehouse, and Neighborhoods Cafe.

There were four hack categories: Best Socially Minded Hack, Best Game Hack, Best Web/UX/UI Hack, and the People’s Choice Hack.

The Zebra Sharks, comprised entirely of Northeastern students, won the Socially Minded category with their hack Anti-Pen Pal, which provides a platform for civil disagreement online. The Goblin Sharks, which was made up of three Simmons students and a student from Northeastern, won the Game category.

The Lemon Sharks won the Web/UX/UI category with a weather app that integrated Twitter and hardware components. The Crocodile Sharks won the People’s Choice with Trumpify, which satirizes presidential candidate Donald Trump’s speech patterns.

The event concluded on Saturday evening with a panel from several mentors at the event, including Priyal Goyal ’14 and Dr. Amber Stubbs ’05. Provost Katie Conboy and SLIS Dean Eileen Abels were both present with encouraging remarks for the participants.

Simmons SharkHack is intend to be an annual event and will take place again in the fall of 2016.