Hundreds of voices rang in my ears as I squeezed by throngs of people at the Hack Western 1 Project Expo last year. The Mustang Lounge was filled with rows of tables, where teams stood with their laptops and phones to show off what they’d made this past weekend. My head spun as I passed by a virtual piano and a smart mirror. A large wooden frame with tubes and wires sticking out caught my eye, and I went over to investigate.
It was an omelette-making robot.
The students explained to me you could use their mobile app to tell the machine which toppings to put on the omelette, and the machine would squirt the egg and toppings onto their metal cooking plate.
Hack Western is a 36-hour hackathon where students from all over Ontario come to Western to build a web, mobile or hardware app from scratch. It’s run by a team of 17 full-time students studying everything from biochemistry to economics to software engineering, united by a passion for spreading tech skills to empower students to build anything.
The organization was born at MHacks IV in Michigan, a huge 1,000-student hackathon where Ruth (a biochemistry student), Shirley (a computer science student) and Artur (a business student) were working on an Android app to show students how to get around campus without going outside in the snow.
Inspired by the intense energy and collaborative atmosphere, they resolved to grow a tech community and bring the hackathon back to Western. Where previously only a couple students applied to hackathons, the community grew until Hack the North at Waterloo sent us a bus. That weekend, 40 students skipped out on homecoming weekend to make projects, winning two sponsor prizes, as well as Top 10 overall.
By the time Hack Western 1 rolled around, the community had grown enough to support inviting more than 300 students from all over Ontario to learn and build projects.
The growth in the community is sustained by growth in our students. Bailey Hanna, a third-year Software Engineering student, borrowed a Myo armband controller, and made a project that allowed it to control a wheelchair. At Hack Western, she met Magnet Forensics, a digital forensics firm and Hack Western sponsor that helps various law enforcement agencies catch criminals. She’s currently working there for a 16- month internship.
Eva Xu, a first-year Psychology student, came to Hack Western 1 with very little programming skill. “I didn’t know what to expect going in, but I found Hack Western to be a pretty amazing experience. It’s something that can appeal to anyone, even those who don’t come from a prominent tech background. Everyone, from the organizers, to the mentors, to the volunteers, really tries to make sure you have the best possible hackathon experience.”
Eva and her team to made Sonder, an app that makes networking easier.
“During the Hackathon, I primarily focused on defining a market for the app, determining a list of competitive features, gauging which of those features were implementable, and populating content. I also worked on developing a pitch for the app, so that we could summarize three days of work into a two-minute presentation to judges.”
Hack Western sponsor Big Viking Games was impressed, and hired Eva as a Marketing Analyst in the summer.
This year, I am proud to be hosting Hack Western 2.
When I joined the team, I only knew HTML, but my experience at Hack Western has ignited my passion for creating awareness and spreading tech knowledge. We are delivering on our mission to increase accessibility to tech skills and tech careers by increasing the number of attendees, running an expanded Zero to Hero pre-event workshop series covering introductory skills for web, Android, iOS and hardware projects, as well as inviting 50 high school students and 50 university students that are new to programming.
On behalf of the organizing team, I invite you to attend the Hack Western Project Showcase, to celebrate the hard work that 450 students have put into their projects this weekend, as well as the incredible growth the Western tech community has experienced these past two years, and will experience for many years to come.
Joy Pak is an organizer for Hack Western and is a second-year student in Economics. She has a deep interest in technology, coding and hopes to backpack across Europe the summer.