Sunday, December 16

Students devise unique coding projects at UCLA’s Hack on the Hill

Students learned coding and programming techniques at the Hack on the Hill event on Sunday, which was aimed at students with little or no experience with hackathons. (Ken Shin/Daily Bruin staff)

Students learned coding and programming techniques at the Hack on the Hill event on Sunday, which was aimed at students with little or no experience with hackathons. (Ken Shin/Daily Bruin staff)

Anthony Nikodym waved a pen in front of a webcam Sunday morning as he worked with two other students to create an interactive pictionary game.

Nikodym, a first-year computer science and engineering student, spent 12 hours working with his team during Hack on the Hill, a hackathon for beginners hosted by the UCLA Association for Computing Machinery. He was trying to make a pictionary game in which a player’s webcam would translate the movements of a special pen into drawings.

ACM began hosting Hack on the Hill last year to prepare students with little to no programming experience for longer hackathons and to teach them real-world programming techniques, said Breanna Nery, the event’s co-director and a fourth-year computer science student. ACM held the event on the Hill to encourage more first- and second-year students to attend, she added.

ACM Hack President Yvonne Chen said she thinks events like Hack on the Hill help create a community among students interested in computer science.

“A lot of beginners come in and get a wrong notion that they’re super behind,” she said. “Computer science courses actually have one of the lowest retention rates at UCLA.”

Before starting on their projects, students participated in workshops taught by ACM members to learn how to code web and iOS applications, Chen said. Students then worked on project ideas they came up with on their own.

Daniel Schwartz, a first-year computer science student, worked with three friends to create a quiz for engineering students that tells them which major they should switch to if they fail their engineering classes.

For example, if a student eats at Bruin Plate everyday, the quiz suggests they become an environmental science major. If they watch the cartoon Rick and Morty, it recommends they focus on philosophy or psychology. Owning Yeezys, a high-end shoe, could mean the student should study business economics.

“When we came (into the hackathon) none of us had experience with any of this stuff, so it’s been fun to try to learn new things and apply them,” Schwartz said.

Edwin Chau, a first-year applied mathematics student, and Tristan Melton, a second-year electrical engineering student, worked on creating a website that uses Google Maps to calculate travel times between different places on campus. They said they want to make it easier for students to predict when they need to leave for class.

“(It was) something easy to start out with, because we don’t want to do anything too advanced to the point where we can’t even finish it,” Chau said.

Chris Lin, a second-year chemical engineering student who worked with his group to create a social networking platform where users can play board games like chess and checkers, said he thinks hackathons help students learn how to work better in teams.

“It’s really cool that this environment forces you to work with people,” he said. “In any given room, there’s always a lot of really smart people, and you can learn a lot from them.”

After several hours, some participants encountered problems with their code but were able to find ways to work around them.

Nikodym said after his team experienced bugs in their code, an ACM mentor encouraged his team to switch their project’s format from webcam, which requires higher-level computer science skills to navigate, to the easier format HTML.

“I feel I learned that it’s always great to be optimistic, but to also be realistic in terms of your understanding of the code and what you’ve learned,” he said.

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  • Sir Kenneth Pooliosh

    My, my. I stumbled upon this exquisite bit of journalism about a fortnight ago but upon returning today am again bamboozled by just how wonderfully crafted the piece is. Bravo, I say. Bravo!
    -Sir Kenneth Pooliosh