Managing event logistics for a large crowd is complex. How do you keep everyone organized? Regulate entrances and exits? Make sure folks get fed? Easily identify guests, staff, and VIPs?
Before we dive into how something as low-tech as printed wristbands and badges fit into the execution of Cal Hacks 4.0, an annual collegiate hacking competition that has produced things like mind-controlled drones, we’re guessing you’re wondering what, exactly, a hackathon is.
A hackathon is an event in which a group of software programmers and designers gather to bring an idea to fruition through technology. Participants get together to share ideas, gain experience, and use their knowledge to create a product. More commonly used by technology companies to develop innovative products, the hackathon idea has been adopted by universities. Due to the intense, collaborative nature, hackathons are excellent for those new to coding to gain real-life experience, knowledge, and make connections, all of which helps students after they graduate.
A collegiate hackathon may include hundreds (or even thousands) of hackers comprised of small teams, and groups are encouraged to join forces to build a solution for a specific idea that excites them. The goal is to have a finished hack such as a mobile app or robot by the end of a one-day or two-day period. There’s usually no sleep and lots of snacking involved, and since it’s a competition, there are prizes to be won!
Located in the Silicon Valley region, UC Berkeley is one of the top computer science schools in the country. In 2014, it hosted Cal Hacks 1.0, the first Bay Area collegiate hackathon. An annual, non-profit hackathon open to undergraduates from all universities, Cal Hacks has become the largest on the west coast. Brandon Berookhim, a member of the Cal Hacks planning team, explained to us that the event is a really great opportunity for hackers to learn a new coding language and then use that language to complete a project ready for judging within 36 hours.
Earlier this month, 2,500 hackers, sponsors, and volunteers convened at California Memorial Stadium for Cal Hacks 4.0. The competition featured prizes for first, second, and third place, as well as a host of other prizes to be won. Sponsors also awarded prizes to hackers who best used their API (application program interface) and/or software. For example, the Cal Hacks 4.0 hacker team that created the Best Re-Imagination of Markets by NASDAQ won an internship (and possibly a full-time job!) at NASDAQ and a trip to NASDAQ headquarters. The team that won Best Use of Blackrock API won drones, while the winners of Best Use of Azure or Microsoft Tech were awarded Microsoft Surface laptops and Razor Scooters…and that’s just a few of the many challenges and associated prizes that were offered. Plus, every hacker who participated not only learned new tech skills and built a project from start to finish, but they walked away with something notable to put on a resume.
Previously, hackers at Cal Hacks were allowed to have ideas about what projects they’d like to work on, but they could not start on them until the hackathon began. However, Cal Hacks 4.0 unveiled three new programs to make the event more approachable to student hackers of all stages: Cubstart, Cal Hacks Fellowship, and Continuation Projects. Cal Hacks describes the Cubstart program as “a beginner hacker program to make hackathons less intimidating and more accessible to everyone,” while the Cal Hacks Fellowship program supports a handful of hackathon teams to continue their projects beyond the Cal Hacks event. Continuation Projects are just that—experienced hackers can bring to Cal Hacks the project on which they have been working. In short, Cal Hacks 4.0 threw open its doors to enable all collegiate hackers and their creative ideas to percolate, resolve, and become reality.
Though futuristic and forward-looking, a hackathon still involves a bunch of human beings who need needed to check in and check out, eat food, and come and go from the event. In order to organize all of that, as well as make it easy to differentiate between mentors, sponsors, hackers and volunteers, Brandon and the Cal Hacks 4.0 team ordered custom badges and wristbands from TicketPrinting.com!
The wristbands helped identify everyone that was a part of Cal Hacks and made re-entry as simple as a glance at a wrist. The badges, Brandon explained, made it easy to differentiate who was who, and they also helped manage feeding everyone. Fronts of badges spelled out whether a person was a mentor, sponsor, or hacker, while the backs were printed with checkboxes for the various meals—when someone arrived to nosh, a corresponding box would be checked so that Cal Hacks volunteers would know who had eaten. The badges also indicated to which meal group the wearer belonged. In this capacity, the badges worked much like a boarding pass, except instead of boarding a flight with your group, it was time to eat!
We’re thrilled to be a part of Cal Hacks and are looking forward to Cal Hacks 5.0!