Hackathons can best be described as “invention marathons” where people with an interest in technology gather to learn, build and share their creations over the course of a weekend. Major League Hacking (MLH) is the official student hackathon league that each year powers more than 200 weekend-long invention competitions for more than 65,000 students around the world.
Simon Guo ’19 earned Upper Canada College’s first Major League Hacking point when his team placed third and received the SAP Innovation Award at the Electric City Hackathon at Trent University in November 2016. Guo says he first became interested in hacking by playing with micro-controllers and circuits.
“I found connecting and coding different combinations of electronics is really interesting, and I started to create many fun projects that could solve some social problems. Later on, I explored web servers and languages because I wanted to add more features. It is a pretty unique approach to learning about computer science.”
Guo takes UCC’s computer science course taught by Mark Hoel, which has helped him better understand the fundamentals of coding and made learning different computer languages and algorithms easier. He’s also a member of the College’s robotics, digital media and computer science clubs.
Guo teamed up with fellow UCC students (John Mace, Camran Hansen, Nicholas O’Brien, Matthew Wang and Jack Sarick have all participated) in his three previous hackathons. But, for the Electric City event, he worked with a group of three university students for the first time.
“It is mostly university students, but there are more and more high school students showing up,” says Guo. “There are about 20 high school students at every hackathon, and they are really talented and passionate.”
Greater Toronto Area high school students have created the Toronto Hacker Club and a high school student-only hackathon called T.hack that Guo took part in along with Mace and Hansen.
Guo and his third place teammates’ project at Electric City Hackathon was called Farm Radar, a modular remote sensing system that scans agricultural and environmental data and gives real-time feedback. You can see a detailed description of it here.
“I mostly design and code the electronic system, and send data to the server,” says Guo. “My project basically combines hardware, software and websites together, and collects useful data for users to help them understand and improve something important.”
MLH often organizes buses from different cities to get to its hackathons. Teams are usually formed by participants chatting online on the team collaboration platform Slack or through socializing after hackathon opening ceremonies.
Typical MLH hackathons take 36 hours. Food and drinks are generally supplied by sponsors, who also provide hardware, mentorship and suggestions regarding projects.
“Everyone usually brings their sleeping bag and organizers will provide quiet sleeping zones,” says Guo.
“There are many workshops and coding challenges during the event. After 36 hours of hacking, all hackers demo their projects. There will be top three team and several sponsor prizes given out at the end of the event. Great projects usually receive sponsor interest or group members receive internship opportunities.
“Schools receive points if their students receive medals, and there will be a seasonal ranking among high schools and universities in North America and Europe.”
Guo plans to pursue a career in electrical and computer engineering, and all of his interactions with university students and technology companies at hackathons are giving him a good head start on that goal.