HackNC 2019 celebrates largest hackathon yet

HackNC competitors work on projects in Woollen Gym
HackNC 2019 competitors work on projects in Woollen Gym. Photo by Austin Wang.

Hundreds of undergraduate students gathered in Woollen Gym on October 12 for HackNC 2019, the largest hackathon held annually at UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Hackathons are time-limited, team-based coding competitions involving both software and hardware. Students at HackNC form teams, come up with an idea, and spend 24 hours building that idea, learning skills from free workshops, eating food from several local restaurants and spending time with their fellow coders. The 2019 event was the largest yet, featuring 650 hackers, 96 project submissions, 50 industry representatives at the sponsor fair, a women in tech panel, an inflatable Mobile Planetarium exhibit from the Morehead Planetarium, a basketball shootout with Capital One, multiple palettes of free succulents and more.

A team of students at HackNC 2019 works to solve a problem
A team of students works to solve a problem at HackNC. Photo by Austin Wang.

Workshops at HackNC 2019 were led by representatives from sponsor companies and by volunteer mentors. Topics included backend development in Python, pitching research projects, cloud architecture for healthcare, tips for getting a job at a tech company, machine learning techniques for chemistry, user experience advice and more.

This year’s winning hack was SafeWallet, an application that allows parents and caregivers to set limits on how much money their dependents can spend, as well as where they can spend it. Using the web interface, users can add funds and adjust spending constraints on the fly. The project was developed by UNC students Vibhu Ambil, George Dimitrov, Sahil Patel and Tyler Youngberg, who said they had to learn a lot during the hackathon to pull the project together.

Tyler Youngberg, George Dimitrov, Vibhu Ambil and Sahil Patel accept first place prizes from organizer Shreya Gullapalli at HackNC 2019
Tyler Youngberg, George Dimitrov, Vibhu Ambil and Sahil Patel accept prizes from organizer Shreya Gullapalli at HackNC 2019. Photo by Austin Wang.

Youngberg said the team members were shocked when they heard their name called as the first prize winner. The team wants to continue working on the project after HackNC, and their next step is to enable smartphone payment using near field communication (NFC) in a secured mobile app.

Another impressive project was RxTranslate, which took 2nd place, as well as the Wolfram Award, Best Health Hack, and Best Hack Empowering Minorities. RxTranslate is an application that addresses health literacy by helping users consolidate and document their prescriptions, translate directions for use into other languages and avoid negative drug interactions. It was developed by Tiffany Nguyen and Maria Ortiz, two students at East Carolina University, after Ortiz witnessed a family member suffer the effects of a drug interaction. Ortiz said it was an amazing experience learning experience and growth opportunity to work on the project.

Tiffany Nguyen, Maria Ortiz, and Shreya Gullapalli at HackNC 2019
Tiffany Nguyen and Maria Ortiz accept prizes from organizer Shreya Gullapalli at HackNC 2019. Photo by Austin Wang.

“It was an inspiration to know that we can use our knowledge to aid people in avoiding these problems,” Ortiz said. “Computer science is a great field, and I wonder what we can accomplish with all this knowledge and experience.”

Nguyen said that she and Ortiz hope to expand RxTranslate to use machine learning techniques to automatically extract prescription information from pill bottles and search the web for known drug interactions with a categorization of the danger posed. They want to build it into a mobile application that allows users to make an account and store things like known allergies, while also conforming to HIPAA standards for the storage and flow of healthcare information.

While Nguyen is a veteran of hackathons, Ortiz and all four developers of SafeWallet were competing for the very first time. One of the goals of HackNC is to be a welcoming environment for computer science students of any experience level to push themselves and hone their skills, while building community and growing together with other students.

“I had no idea what to expect going in, but I really enjoyed it,” Youngberg said. “It’s not at all intimidating. Even if you’re brand new, you can learn a lot and have a good time.”

Ambil wanted to give credit to the environment that the organizers had created at HackNC.

“The resources and workshops were really great, and we were able to learn a lot on the fly,” Ambil said. “You could come to the event just to learn and still have a great time. We were able to learn a lot from each other and push each other to new levels, because of that.”

For more information about HackNC visit hacknc.com.

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