News, On Campus

Hack the Heights Puts Students to the Test

From 12 p.m. on Saturday to 12 p.m. on Sunday, 10 student teams worked a full 24 hours at Boston College’s second annual Hack the Heights. Sleep-deprived but determined to finish,  around 80 students gathered in Carney for the event.

The event, alongside the main hacking competition, featured educational workshops, a screening of The Internship, and a Super Smash Bros. tournament. The BC Computer Science Society (BCCSS) put together the event, which was sponsored by Google, Amazon, Accenture, Deloitte, and PwC.

Hackathons allow participants the unique opportunity to create a project from start to finish within 24 hours. Students come to work on pre-existing projects they might not have had the time to do before, but ideas can also be formed during the event.

Participants from both BC and other Boston-area universities formed teams, brainstormed ideas, and then worked collaboratively to engineer their ideas into reality.  

Throughout the hackathon, students worked on producing apps that gave a virtual tour of buildings at BC, created an augmented reality game with monsters, and organized students’ extracurricular involvement on campus.

By the end of the 24 hour time limit, 10 teams had finalized their projects and were ready to present them to the judges. John Abreu, MCAS ’20, was lead coordinator and one of the judges for Hack the Heights.

“We evaluate people partly on the idea, but a lot of it is in the actual implementation of the idea, the actual project, the actual coding of it,” Abreu said.

Along with Abreu, two other members of the BCCSS Executive Board, Julian Matos, CSOM ’20, and Andrew Chough, MCAS ’19, judged the event. The 10 teams were competing for six prizes, including Best Beginner’s prize, Best Mobile Hack, best UI or UX, Best Consulting Hack, the Social Good prize, and the grand prize.

The grand prize, consisting of Amazon Echo Spots, was awarded to a group of Boston University students who created a website displaying how much information a computer accesses about its user without their permission. They showed that if a person uses Autofill to input their name, the computer will also receive the person’s location, current battery percentage, social media information, and even the dimness of the room they’re in.

The team of four—Warren Partridge, Noah Naiman, Michael Hendrick, and Jorge Mario—were inspired to create the website, called, because of the recent controversy surrounding Facebook’s privacy violations.

“We wanted to demonstrate how easy it is to get data. If you use a browser, they can get data really easily without having to ask you,” Naiman said.

The Best Consulting Hack prize, awarded to the hack with the greatest potential business impact, was given to an app called “Cloud City.” The team of four that created the app, Andre Gomes, MCAS ’18; Gary Knapik, CSOM ’18; Seunghyen Nam, MCAS ’19; and Paewoo Jeung, CSOM ’20, were influenced by the recent push for beacon technology in a lot of industries.

Cloud city alerts users when they pass beacons, which are tiny computers that are often stuck to a wall. Beacons can then track how many visitors there are to a particular place or advertise to people with the app that an event is occuring nearby.  

This type of technology would be very useful on a college campus, Gomes explained, because professors could use beacons to take attendance, or students could utilize them to learn about campus events happening near them.

“You want to be involved on campus, and be engaged with campus, and it’s like the school talks to you while you’re walking around. It adds a lot more layers to the BC experience,” Gomes said.

The Best Beginner prize was presented to the team that created an app called “Eagle Nest.” Intended for the busy students at BC, the app consolidated all of the extracurriculars a student participates in into one place. It also created a platform for students to be in contact with club leaders, without having to utilize technology like listservs. Estevan Feliz, MCAS ’21; Brandon Larouche, MCAS ’19, and Joseph Squillaro, MCAS ’21 were given Amazon Echos for their creation.

The team that won “Best UI or UX,” awarding the app with the least hiccups, also attempted to better the BC student experience. Michael Nguyen, MCAS ’18; Roger Wang, MCAS ’21; and Anthony Chu, MCAS ’20, presented a solution for the BC housing process called “Better BC Housing Selection.”

An app called “BC Tour Guide” received the award for Best Mobile Hack. Creator Juan Suarez, MCAS ’21, employed a map of BC to fabricate an augmented reality game in which users track down and kill monsters on campus.

Though the majority of participating students were computer science or business majors, organizer Bill Nyarko, MCAS ’20, emphasized that the hackathon is geared for students with any sort of background. He said awareness of such events is key for getting other students to come.

“It’s a great opportunity to see the innovation that’s happening on campus. If more people are aware about the tech culture at BC, it’ll be easier to incorporate them into it,” Nyarko said.

Lead organizer John Abreu also hopes to target students in areas such as the humanities or social sciences for future hackathons, which moving forward will happen once per semester.

“BC isn’t a traditional tech school. The audience that we’re catering to isn’t traditional engineering students, and if we can make a hackathon that not only caters to this engineering culture that isn’t really that present here, we can make a hackathon that caters to all people,” Abreu said. “We can bring in liberal arts BC kids and turn them into creators, innovators, and engineers, and that would be a success.”

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Photo Editor

April 22, 2018