Coding, climate change, and ukuleles: Facebook hosts Wilson Hackathon

Hadley Carr

With seven hours left on the clock, you and your team are left with a daunting task: come up with a solution to climate change through code. So it’s off to the drawing boards. What code will emerge from the minds of a few high school students and computers? A game simulating natural disasters? A website raising awareness on biodiversity? A calculator of carbon emissions? The possibilities are endless at 575 Seventh Street, Facebook’s DC Headquarters, and the location of Wilson’s second annual Hackathon. With a constant circulation of highly-qualified Facebook and Amazon officials in addition to a supply of scrumptious snacks, Wilson’s hackathon earns five out of five stars.

When we arrived at the floor of the Hackathon at Facebook HQ, we were met with a lively display of multi-colored trees plastered on the walls of the Facebook office, plants lining the hallways, and cleverly-named rooms. After receiving my personalized name card on a Facebook lanyard, I was at last allowed to enter the heart of the office. I happily accepted a bag, water bottle, and a T-Shirt, each branded with the logo of Wilson Hacks, a tiger in the midst of computer monitors. We were then directed into a room called 295 Traffic where we would wait among bagels, muffins, fruit, and flavored sparkling water until the Hackathon began. 

At the strike of 9:30, the theme was introduced—use code to find a solution to climate change. With that, the clock began and the coders were off. But never fear, for at the Wilson Hackathon, there is a place for all coders: new and experienced. There were five workshops throughout the day held by Wilson students, environmental science teacher Dani Moore, and other various technology experts. If I ever ran into trouble, whether it be finding the bathroom in the maze of the eco-friendly office or solving climate change, I would simply shoot my hand into the air and an answer would be bestowed upon me. Many impressive employees of the event’s sponsors such as Amazon and Facebook introduced themselves, genuinely interested in the progress and learning process of our coding experience. One programmer had even helped develop Amazon’s Alexa. 

Around an hour into coding, more snacks were brought in: Chips Ahoy, Nutter Butters, and Oreos, which had no limit to consumption, but caution was of course advised. Then came the delicious lunch of wraps and chips, and finally, the day ended with pizza—but not until the judging finished. The judging was the few minutes that everyone’s entire day had been leading up to, the moment to show off their website or game. At five o’clock, clusters of programmers began entering 295 Traffic, asking the hackers about their program or game. This was it. Seven hours of your entire life, after staring into a screen and hoping for the best, with semicolons and coding languages embedded in your brain for hours to come, the judges had made their final decision. But first, pizza.

While eating pizza and anticipating the results, I decided to investigate the projects of other hackers. For most of the day I focused on completing my project, but now I had to check out the competition. Unfortunately, it was difficult to complete my espionage mission in a manner that did not invade privacy or include breathing over a programmer’s shoulder, considering that they were busy or did not wish to speak on the topic. 

But as I surveyed the room, I realized some coders had much more stressful days than I did. I noticed one group had lost their entire code and had to join another group of programmers.  Other groups had never journeyed into the wonders of coding, while the more seasoned hackers struggled with creating the final project. Eva Flaherty, a member of the winning team at the Hackathon, said she, “struggled combining the coding languages.” Her project was called A Step in the Right Direction for its ability to calculate a person’s carbon footprint and offer solutions. Other projects include Isabella and her partner Avery’s project that raises awareness on the threats and protection of biodiversity. The two struggled with their header, which is known to non-coders as the page title. Despite the struggles, teamwork was certainly in the air—both hackers said their favorite part was working and collaborating with their teammates.

My investigation was disrupted when the coordinators and organizers piled back into the room for the much anticipated awards ceremony. Winners were announced and prizes were awarded. Participants won speakers, ukuleles, 3D pens, socks, and Nerf guns, but the grand prize was a Raspberry Pi. Not a real pie, but a constructible mini computer with impressive capabilities for its size. The day came to a close with a raffle auctioning T-Shirts, and the lucky winner receiving an Amazon Echo.

While coders may have hit some bumps along the way, the Hackathon was an overall success. Food, fun, and prizes promised by the posters that decorated the halls of Wilson for weeks did not let us down. I would encourage you to come next time, but then I would have a worse chance of winning the raffle.