Code Nation’s First Ever Virtual Hackathon

The WINNING Project!

Each year, excitement builds within the Code Nation community for our annual marquee events: regional hackathons. Traditionally, our students and volunteers gather in the hundreds to embark upon a day of coding and (friendly!) competition with hopes of snagging the top prize. In the past, students have said that Code Nation Hackathons are their “favorite day of the year” and we have valued the events for bringing together our extended community of tech lovers and tech leaders.

When the coronavirus and stay-at-home orders upended plans for community gatherings across the country, Code Nation NYC Fellow Ariana saw a unique opportunity. Why not host a hackathon challenge in the virtual space? She brought the idea to her Program Manager and immediately, the ball was rolling.

“I thought a virtual hackathon would help people feel closer and less bored! I love coding and I know it makes people happy! I knew having the opportunity to code something from scratch would really improve people’s moods during this time.” – Ariana Hernandez

The Idea:

As soon as Ariana planted the seed, Code Nation staff understood the potential impact and hit the ground running. An important facet of Code Nation’s mission is to provide students with the industry-aligned experiences that will prepare them for careers in tech and a virtual hackathon would accomplish that goal while reflecting the real-world shifts within industries around the globe. Further, this event would reveal a silver lining of the difficult current reality; because a virtual hackathon is not confined within a physical space, we can bring our community together from across the country.

The Plan:

We’ve always said that we know our students will change the world, so why not today? The theme of our first ever virtual Hackathon was “Code Nation Combats COVID,” enabling students to flex their coding and collaboration skills to solve the problems that are most pertinent within our global community. And better yet, for the first time in Code Nation history, the virtual hackathon was a week-long sprint of cross-country coding. In addition to competing for first place, our teams aimed to meet some pretty big goals:

The Hacking:

For a week, our students and volunteers met virtually to collaborate and coordinate the creation of their projects. Each team determined roles for their members:

  • Project Manager – Oversees the entire operation. Ensures the project is feasible to accomplish (not too big, not too small!). Must make sure all components of this project are properly assigned and being tended to. In charge of timekeeping and scheduling. Assist in code review and research.
  • Lead Developer  – Ensures that the project functions correctly. Takes charge in creating the JavaScript code that makes this webapp a functioning and interactive finished product.
  • Lead Designer – Responsible for implementing how the project looks. They should have a keen eye for webapp styling. Focus is on CSS and HTML, with additional libraries such as Bootstrap as a bonus.
  • Researcher – In charge of looking up (Googling) solutions to issues that the rest of the team gets stumped by. This person helps those who are in need!
  • Volunteer Mentors – Helps with scoping of the initial project idea and any tech issues that come up. Ensure the team is working together. Must check in with all members at least 1x/day.

Each day, students contributed to their projects on the IDEs of their choosing, attended stand ups with their teams, and asked for help during designated office hours. At the end, each team submitted final GitHub repositories as well as functional sites hosted on GitHub pages. Along with their websites, teams collaborated to create videos that would be presented to the judges.

An outline of a schedule for the week – some groups dedicated over 100 hours collectively to perfecting their projects!

“It was fun, and also allowed me to learn how to communicate with others and ask for help without being with them face to face, as well as be independent and learn how to do things on my own.”

The Final Projects:

The Final Project Gallery

To say that the virtual hackathon projects exceeded our expectations would be a huge understatement. These final projects. Blew. Us. Away. In only a week, students created websites to help people find volunteer opportunities in their communities, protect against misinformation on the internet, destress during difficult times, and more. Teams put upwards of 50 hours of work into these projects and the effort is certainly clear. Take a look at the final projects, repositories, and video presentations here.

The Winners:

Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for! We’re excited to congratulate Group ASEC 2/5 for winning Code Nation’s first ever virtual hackathon! ASEC 2/5 created an interactive game that challenges users to flatten the coronavirus curve by mimicking travel patterns. Check out their final project here, their repository here, and their video presentation here.

Huge congrats to every team that participated in Code Nation Combats COVID! We could not be more proud of their hard work and dedication to coding and helping their global community.

Ultimately, Code Nation’s first ever virtual hackathon feels like a win for us all. We are thankful to all of the volunteers who dedicate their time and energy to mentoring our students, to our champions for supporting our important mission, and to each one of our students for spending their time with us to invest in their futures. We are thrilled to be able to provide important tech experiences to our students in the virtual space and to be able to connect as a community across the country.

See you at the next hackathon!

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