Hack the North 2016

If you read my previous post about Toronto, you would have known that I may or may not have skipped school this past weekend to go to Hack the North, Canada's largest hackathon. But if you haven't, then you should go read it here!

Skipping class on my second week of school was definitely nerve-racking, but how could I pass up a free trip to Toronto / Waterloo AND the opportunity to attend a hackathon that I have heard nothing but amazing things about. Therefore, I made my way to Waterloo on Friday night, with my laptop fully charged, and prepared myself for 36 hours of hacking.

I met my team through Facebook and in hindsight, I am so glad we did! They are all from Waterloo and they are so so so nice. We all have the same kind of humour, so we all pretty much clicked the second we met. After spending 36 hours with them, we bonded so well as a team that we figured even if we didn't win, we won FRIENDSHIP. Haha, okay that's way to cheesy, but you know what I mean.

Prior to attending Hack the North, I thought nwHacks- which I attended in February was HUGE. However, this hackathon was at least twice that size, with a much larger (and in my opinion, more beautiful, but don't tell anyone I said that) building- E5 to work in and there was free food up for grabs ALL THE TIME (I mean GOOD food like pasta, beaver tails, ice cream, DIY cottoncandy, popcorn etc). Also, there were tons of booths with different sponsors to chat with throughout the night. There was also a photobooth and claw machine for free prizes! There was pretty much always something to do if you were taking a break- tech talks, demos, shirt painting stations and even air mattresses, blankets & showers! (I am not usually one to sleep on air mattresses, especially since I am a clean freak, but I was so tired I couldn't resist - they were very comfy). 

In addition to the neverending list of activities they offered, Waterloo also had lots to offer. My teammates showed me around the plaza, their residences, the little museum etc. We squeezed in some great walks & talks during our down time!

Okay, now let's move on to the actual hacking! Brainstorming and getting everyone to agree on an idea took us a very long time. Therefore, even when we finally agreed on creating a Pebble smartwatch app for tracking user location & converting restaurant currency to the user's desired currency, we already felt super behind in the whole hacking timeline. We were all so excited to do our first hardware hack together, but at the same time, things just weren't quite working out for us on the first night. Both our front end and backend were experiencing lots of trouble. We couldn't even get anything to display on the smartwatch by the end of the night. NOTHING. How scary is it knowing you are 24 hours into a hack, and nothing is even showing up on a display screen?!? At that point, we all just silently agreed to give up on our hack, as things just weren't looking good. We slept through the night and I finally woke up at 7am.

I freaked out when I woke up because despite knowing that we probably couldn't finish our hack, deep down, I still really wanted to at least submit something. At that point, we had less than 2 hours before submissions were due. I woke everyone up and we all agreed to go all in during the last 2 hours. The second all of us plugged in our headphone, magic was created. It was crazy, we were all so well concentrated, and our brains just functioned so much better than the night before. The APIs (XE.com & zomato) were working seamlessly, our UI was working perfectly, and the backend connected everything & worked out without encountering too many problems. However, I must admit that we didn't actually finish everything at 9am, but we kept pushing and pushing. Since Devpost just happened to be experiencing technical difficulties, we managed to submit our project, right before the extended deadline. We then rushed to our demo and you could tell, we were all suppressing our nervousness while giving that talk. Thankfully, we had each other's back, and kept the whole presentation flowing. 

We walked out of the demo knowing that we tried our best and that was really all the mattered. We each exhaled a sigh of relief and headed to line up for food. While we were lining up, one of our teammates got a phone call from XE.com and was told that they had something for us. We literally screamed in the line. We knew we didn't get first place, but even an honourable mention would have made our day at that point. So we ran to their booth, where they told us we won second place for our use of XE.com's API! We were ECSTATIC! We then proceeded to take pictures, in which afterwards, they asked us if we wanted to pose with the drones that were going to be given out to the first place winners. We sensed something was up and suddenly, they told us that they were joking, and we actually won first place. We flipped out, we were screaming and jumping up and down. We looked around and we all knew how much we appreciated each other, and how grateful we were that we didn't give up and just kept going, despite our lack of faith. 

 The sick drone we won after it surviving the ride from Waterloo to Vancouver!

The sick drone we won after it surviving the ride from Waterloo to Vancouver!

So to sum it up, Hack the North was a phenomenal experience where I met some of the best people ever & tons of like-minded computer geeks on the bus & plane. I also learnt how important a positive mindset is during hackathons because it might just be the one thing that leads you to your victory. Watch out, Hack the North 2017, I'm coming back for you!

Read more about Pubble here: http://devpost.com/software/pubble