HackPrinceton 2017

I’ve experienced Murphy’s law at its finest on my trip to Princeton- the only thing that didn’t go wrong was the hackathon itself.

To start off with, I woke up at 5am to an email saying my flight to Toronto was cancelled. That was the first leg of my flight to Philadelphia. After being kept on hold for about 30 minutes, I finally got on the phone with an airline operator where she told me to call their partner airline instead. The blame was shifted back and forth for over an hour. They kept insisting that they can refund me that leg of the flight, but what good would that have done if I wouldn’t even be able to go the rest of my destinations? After multiple holds and a couple impatient sighs, they finally rerouted me to fly to Newark. I hastily drove to the airport and was very lucky I made it in time because of a huge delay.

I peeked out the window at the Newark airport and noticed the heavy rain. As a Vancouverite, I’m not easily fazed by the rain. However, at that point, I still had a 2 hour commute ahead of me before getting to Princeton University, so I certainly wasn’t in the best mood. I ended up arriving a little early so I was able to go around Palmer Square and take some pictures. However, with the heavy rain and the lack of an umbrella, I ended up just working for a bit at Panera’s.

Princeton itself was like a castle. As someone who has grown up watching A Cinderella Story (the best chick flick ever), I felt like I was fulfilling some sort of childhood dream because Hilary Duff went to Princeton University in the movie. 

A conscious effort was made by the HackPrinceton team to revolutionize the hackathon experience. To begin with, they had bouncy castles and laser tagging. Those were put in place to encourage hackers to take breaks while hacking. They also had delicious food and a room that looked like it came straight from Tumblr. There were fairy lights, bean bags and very boho chic decor. The best of all was the fact that instead of taking a 30 minute nap on the floor like regular hackathons, we were assigned dorms to stay in. Everyone had to go to a dorm and sleep for the night. Unfortunately, my original host didn’t respond to me so I had to go through a whole process of finding a new host. However, with the help of the accommodating HackPrinceton team, we were able to figure it out in no time. I ended up having a nice chat with my roommates before heading to sleep.

When I woke up, I received yet another email saying my flight back home was cancelled. This worried me so much more than the first time, as I was now stranded in a foreign place. After SEVEN hours of calling between WestJet and their partner airlines, I was finally told that the flight was never cancelled in the first place- one of their employees removed me off the plane by accident. I was so frustrated not only by the situation, but also because I wasted 7 hours of work time on the phone. Thankfully, my team was very understanding and trusted me to work while I was put on hold, time and time again. 

We ended up developing an Android app that sets up a buddy system to ensure users safety when going out for the night. We originally planned on making a React Native app. However, half the team couldn’t set it up and it was also evident that the majority of the team didn’t know React, so it would have been rather difficult to pick up everything on the spot. However, it turned out that I was the only one with Android dev experience, so that was simply another recipe for disaster. We took a break and explored Princeton for a bit. We took lots of pictures and even found ourselves in the middle of a concert at one point. My team ended up going to sleep after the walk, feeling very defeated. I napped for 15 minutes and jolted awake, knowing that I would regret it if I didn’t give it my best shot. I stayed up for the whole night and ended up with a simple but functional app, the UI was cute as well! I was able to set up IBM Bluemix and Firebase, but couldn’t quite get to integrating Twilio’s API into the app (even though I really wanted to try Twilio :( ) It felt great knowing that my team could at least present a finished project though, and I think my teammates really appreciated it as well. When they woke up, we polished up our Devpost and bootstrapped a landing page.

Project submissions were followed by demos and the closing ceremony. You should definitely browse through the HackPrinceton Devpost if you have time, the project that won first place has got to be one of my favourite hackathon projects ever.

I snuck out of the ceremony a bit early as I had to catch my flight. I ended up waiting 20 minutes for an Uber and when the driver arrived, he told me to cancel the trip because the airport was too far for him. We were then in this sticky situation where neither of us wanted to cancel the trip as whoever cancels would have to pay, but he also refused to drive me. He ended up driving a block down and pretended that he dropped me off on the app, so that I had to pay him $8 for a ride he cancelled- I had to send an email to Uber after to get this fixed :(. I’m surprised I made it in time for the flight at all in the end.

All in all, although my luck ran out in terms of the travel itself, HackPrinceton was a fantastic experience and New Jersey was a beautiful city. I do hope that I’ll be back next year. :)