Weekend-long conference features a computer programming bootcamp and competitive hackathon.

The University kicked off its second annual WesHack conference, a weekend-long series of tech-focused events for students and alumni, on Friday, Sept. 5. The weekend ran along two tracks: a day-long tech crash course nicknamed a “bootcamp,” and a 48-hour hackathon for programmers interested in design and technology development.

The hackathon boasted 28 participants divided into four teams, each of which conceived of and created a unique Wesleyan-themed app over the two-day period. Over 80 students participated in the bootcamp, which featured a series of lectures by alumni, fellow students, and others regarding web design, computer programming languages, app development, and promotional video development.

WesHack was organized by Director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship (PCSE) Makaela Kingsley and was sponsored by Squarespace and other local companies.

Kingsley discussed the meaning of the word “hackathon” and its relevance in business and technology today.

“To design a solution, companies will host a hackathon to solve a problem that they can’t solve internally,” Kingsley said. “Getting people to sit for a weekend with an idea allows their brains to open up with creativity, creating an immersive temporary think tank. So [hackathon] is an interesting and trendy word, but not a brand-new concept.”

The WesHack hackathon began on Friday, Sept. 5, at 12:30 p.m., and ended on Sunday, Sept. 7, at 12:30 p.m. The four coding teams involved were required to take 12 hours off from coding together during this time period. According to WesHack Coordinator Max Dietz ’16, this was because both he and senior WesHack Coordinator Sam Giagtzoglou ’16 are also on the crew team and had other commitments that weekend.

One team created an app called FoodyCall, which allows a user to type their phone number into the interface and directly order a meal from Summerfields or Late Night. Another app, Bounce, was designed to find parties and friends while at the University. A third app, called WesPlan, allows students to plan their academic careers in terms of classes completed, currently taken, and needed based on their majors. Study Buddy, with the tagline “You never have to study alone again,” is an app that allows the user to find someone to study with based on hir major, course schedule, and academic interests.

These projects are available to view on Wesleying’s Facebook page, where students were able to vote for their favorite app.
Hackathon participant Ani Acopian ’16 said that she signed up for the project with a limited knowledge and understanding of HTML/CSS and was surprised to find that she was nevertheless an integral member of her Hackathon team.

“It’s not just about being able to write code,” Acopian said. “It’s about understanding the user and making the app as simple to use as possible. Sometimes coders can get too caught up in the code and overlook the basic function of the app. It’s valuable to have someone who can bring another outlook to the table.”

The bootcamp also had no requirements for previous computer science experience, and several attendees had never taken a computer science class before. Method Magazine editor Ben Romero ’16 said that he attended the event to learn more about technology and design for the magazine and spoke highly of panels that he attended.

“It definitely piqued my interest in tech culture as well as social entrepreneurship,” Romero said. “While several of the seminars were a bit daunting at first, all of the speakers made it clear that the tech world is accessible to all levels of experience.”

The bootcamp, held on Saturday, Sept. 6, was divided into eight seminars, each geared toward an aspect of technological innovation. It opened with a breakfast and keynote speeches, during which alumni Tim Devane ’09 and Liza Conrad ’11 spoke about their experiences and how the tech world is open to all skill levels.

Devane is the current Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Red Sea Ventures, while Conrad is the head of Community and Partnerships at Hopscotch, where she helped build a programming language for iPad that teaches kids how to code. Later in the day, Julian Applebaum ’13—one of the founders of the Hackathon and currently a software engineer at Squarespace—led an introduction to coding languages.

Applebaum offered a distinct perspective on the University’s computer science program.

“What’s so great about the major is the timelessness of what is taught there,” Applebaum said. “Some students say, ‘We’re being taught the stuff that I didn’t end up using at my job or internship.’ Though you may not get all of the how-to’s, in my opinion, all of what you learn in the major is extremely relevant.”

The programming languages portion was followed by a lecture titled, “How to Hack It: Front-End Web Design,” taught by Matt Donahue ’14, a business analyst at Kantar Retail. Donahue covered the top front-end frameworks of web design and pointed students towards sites that are rich in design resources. Following his lecture, a Student Entrepreneur Panel featured University students who shared their start-up experiences and journeys to success as student entrepreneurs. The panelists were Mia Deng ’17, Lily Herman ’16, Olayinka Lawal ’15, Jason Brandner ’16, and Joaquin Benares ’15.

Benares expressed his excitement at seeing such a large turnout for the bootcamp.

“We finally have an answer to the energy that is entrepreneurship and technology on campus,” Benares said. “Everyone at Wesleyan is doing something and is interested in so many things but there is no outlet for them…I would like WesHack to be an avenue for Wesleyan ideas to come to light.”

The next panel covered Ruby on Rails, a programming language built to put together apps effectively. Web app developer Arielle Sullivan and Alex Wilkinson ’13 gave a crash course on the language of the program. This was followed by two presentations on the arts in technology. The first focused on Graphic Design, led by J. Dontrese “Smack” Brown, Creative Director at Victorinox Swiss Army, and the second was titled “From Zero to Wow: The Art and Craft of the Promo Video,” led by Zach Valenti ’12, founder of Project Uplift, an organization that tackles barriers to mental health care on university campuses.

Kingsley commented on the bootcamp’s effectiveness.

“It’s a fabulous compliment to what students learn in a classroom,” Kingsley said.  “It’s practical experience that supplements the research and theory they do in school.  It opens this idea of tech for everybody in a way that I don’t think Wesleyan’s culture has been able to do. Computer science classes are pretty intimidating, so we are lowering the barriers to entry to engage a much broader community of students.”

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