HackDuke Cover

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From California to Canada, hundreds of students from across the continent gathered in the buildings of Duke’s Engineering Quad to attend "Code for Good." Unlike other collegiate Hackathons, participants in this competition spent 24 hours creating technological innovations targeted specifically at addressing some of our world’s most important current issues. Tracks this year included “Poverty and Inequality,” “Health and Wellness,” “Energy and Environment,” and “Education.” 

By noon on Sunday, 75 teams presented their creations, which just a day before had been mere ideas.

FSU at HackDuke
A group of students from Florida State University work on their hack. Photo courtesy of Chrislyn Choo

The HackDuke team provided an endless supply of energy drinks and coffee as hackers worked tirelessly through the night on their projects. Participants also received access to professional mentors representing over 20 of the top names in tech, including Google, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, and Versal.

“We’re excited to be here because, in the past, the Southeast wasn’t really involved as much in hacking activity. This event shows the increasing promise of this school and region in the tech innovation space, and we’re happy to support that,” said Molly Gregware, university relations manager at eBay. Several of the companies offered job search tips as well. 

Representatives from local nonprofits also attended, many of whom identified problems their organizations were facing for teams to help solve. Urban Ministries of Durham, for example, shared a need for a better way to track clothing donations. A group of four Duke freshmen responded by creating Tagged, a web database that simplifies the inventory process by allowing volunteers to scan clothing barcodes, which enters data such as size and donation date automatically into the system. The software also includes notifications for when clothes have been in the inventory too long and should be donated to Goodwill.

Tagged won the prize for this year’s newly introduced “novice track.” To those that were new to coding or whose fortes weren’t computer science, the track offered opportunities to get introduced to the hacking arena by way of mentorship from acclaimed experts. “Crash Courses” such as Intro to Ruby on Rails were also offered on Duke’s campus the weeks leading up to the Hackathon.

HackDuke Want Help With?
Photo courtesy of Chrislyn Choo

Other winners included: 

  • Education—JustRead: This team created a 50-cent scanner device that attaches to a smartphone and allows blind people to read books by extracting text and hearing it out loud. 
  • Poverty and Inequality—DailyDonor: This is an app that turns revenues from video advertising into donations for charities. For every promotional ad users watch, they are able to donate immediately to a worthy cause of their choice. 
  • Energy and Environment—Compost Crony: Ever wonder exactly how composting works? This hack provides a resource for anyone to learn about the process and receive advice from “Doctor Worm” when they run into problems.
  • Health and Wellness—Flash Aid: This app strives to address some of the limits of emergency response by providing a crowdsourcing platform for community first responders.

While only a few teams may have left with cash prizes, everyone that attended HackDuke left with the satisfaction and pride of knowing they engineered something to improve society. Some groups may even choose to develop their ideas beyond this one night, but it’s tough to argue that HackDuke offered an ideal environment to get started. And as the team anticipated in their spirited promo video (see below), the weekend was filled with the smiles and laughter of accomplishment.