Third annual YHack draws hackers to Yale

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Over 1,200 hackers gathered in Payne Whitney Gymnasium for YHack. (Photo by Román Castellanos-Monfil)

Over 1,200 students from across the country came to Yale for a weekend filled with coding, rap battles, and dance-offs at the third annual YHack. The event took place Nov. 6-8.

The main gymnasium of Payne Whitney was transformed into a tech hub for the weekend, replete with energy drinks, snacks, and air mattresses. Participants worked on projects of their choosing, ranging from apps that arranged travel plans and visualized rap rhymes to a self-teaching computer that learned how to play Super Mario Bros.

Hackers had to register ahead of time but were not required to come with an idea for a project or even a team. Once here, participants were able to join teams of three or four and brainstorm ideas. Hackers then had 36 hours to build their projects from scratch.

Frank Wu ’16, one of the founders of YHack, said that the goal of the event is to encourage students to learn how to code and build outside of the classroom. Kevin Tan ’16, co-director of YHack, added that his main hope is for participants to get their “hands dirty” and appreciate programming.

More than 30 companies sponsored YHack this year, including tech giants Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, and Paypal. Participants also had the chance to meet representatives from Huffington Post, JetBlue, and Bloomberg. In addition to providing financial support, sponsors also awarded prizes to groups in a wide range of categories. Prizes included Go Pros, flight tickets, and tablets.

The grand prize of $3,000 was awarded to “Check Me Out,” an app that allows users to scan the security tag on an item and pay for it using Paypal, bypassing the cash register. The creators hope to eliminate the long lines at stores with the app.

Beyond the coding and prizes, Mike Wu ’16 said that the event is also an opportunity for Yalies to meet other hackers from all over the world. Frank added that he has received “thank you” messages from participants at previous YHacks for giving them an opportunity to learn how to code in a fun and inclusive atmosphere.

“It’s a great group of people; you get to meet a lot of different people here,” said Dana Lee, one of the organizers. “Even though you’re sleep-deprived, you have a lot of fun. I think it’s worth it.”