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Tufts computer science students to host university’s first Hackathon

Published: Friday, April 13, 2012

Updated: Friday, April 13, 2012 09:04

A group of Tufts Computer Science students tonight are hosting Tufts’ first-ever Hackathon, a 24 hour marathon of programming and design during which they will work on project ideas and meet with technology leaders.

Juniors Marshall Moutenot, Alden Keefe Sampson, Russell Stern and Adrienne Dreyfus organized the event.

The Hackathon, presented by Evernote, a privately held company based in California that specializes in note-taking technology, is sponsored by Microsoft, Crashlytics, GitHub, Thoughtbot and New England Venture Capital Association.

The team of up to three students that best uses Evernote’s note-taking technology in their project will win the grand prize — a trip to Silicon Valley to attend the Evernote Trunk Conference this summer, where they will be able to network with developers.

The event begins at 5:00 p.m. at 196 Boston Ave. Registrants will form small teams for a full day of brainstorming, coding and constructing new software projects from the ground up. Faculty and guest judges will award prizes for the best ideas and executions.

“We’re expecting around 80 to 90 people with about a dozen sponsors and mentors coming,” Moutenot said. “With school going on, you always have these cute little ideas, but never have time to execute them. My hope is that people will finally have a chance to get momentum with those projects.”

The event will also feature speeches from technology leaders as well as from Tufts Computer Science Lecturer Ming Chow (E ‘02).

Senior Lecturer of Computer Science Benjamin Hescott, who guided the four students in the initial stages of planning, said he was impressed that they were able to secure outside sponsors.

“They got all of the sponsors on their own,” Hescott said. “We basically said that [the Department of Computer Science] could be a safety net, but they went out and approached all of the sponsors on their own. They did an amazing job.”

Sampson said he and his team reached out to the Boston entrepreneur and technology communities for funding.

“Raising money was actually a lot easier than I anticipated,” he said. “Companies were really excited about sponsoring it. Getting students to work on projects using a company’s technology is great for that company. If you could write an application that interfaces with their system, then that application gets published and more people start using their services.”

Sampson said the idea for the Hackathon originated from a blog post. 

“I thought, that’s something that we don’t do at Tufts, but it sounds like it’d be pretty fun, so I brought it up to my group of friends who are now planning it all together,” he said. 

Other Boston-area schools have previously hosted hackathons, Moutenot said.

“There are a lot of events in Boston happening where people network, or have meetings, or see a bunch of lightning talks about new productions,” he said. “We thought it was weird that Tufts has such a big Computer Science department but has never had a hackathon. Northeastern [University], MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], they’ve all had Hackathons, so we thought it’d be a great opportunity to get Tufts more connected with the Boston startup community and companies elsewhere.”

According to Moutenot, although Tufts’ first Hackathon has attracted a larger crowd than previous events at MIT, few people not affiliated with the Department of Computer Science have registered.

“It seems like the way we marketed it was primarily aimed at developers and computer scientists,” he said. “In the future, we hope to get a wider variety, maybe entrepreneurs, maybe people who are interested in product design or aesthetics. Companies like Facebook and Microsoft have armies of these graphic designers and artistic people.”

Moutenot and his colleagues remain optimistic about the future of the Hackathon.

“I think this is probably not going to be a one-shot event,” Sampson said. “There’s more to come, so keep an eye out, and hopefully we’ll have some cool products and ideas that get launched at the event.”

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