A behind the scenes look at Hack the North
This week, over 1,000 students from across the globe will be arriving at the University of Waterloo for Canada’s biggest hackathon, Hack the North. The inaugural Hack the North was started in the Velocity Residence and has since grown to touch the lives of thousands of people. Participants share a common goal of building a hack in 36 hours, these participants are technically and creatively brilliant, and have no shortage of energy or determination. We had the chance to chat with marketing team lead, Ashna Mankotia to learn more about the upcoming phenomenon.
How does Hack the North differ from other hackathons?
One of the founding visions of Hack the North was to do things differently. We like to take chances and experiment. In 2014, at the first Hack the North, we introduced a different style of judging than any other hackathon of similar size where we brought in industry leaders and had hackers demo to a small panel. Furthermore, we sought to learn if prizes really did matter to hackers. There was no mention of prizes beforehand, and when the moment arose to announce the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, we presented the same prize to the top 10 hacks. Since then, this is a trend we’ve noticed other hackathons follow. We always aim to have collaboration trump competition at Hack the North. We’ve also made efforts to bring opportunities to students they wouldn’t have elsewhere, not even at other hackathons. One of those was bringing “Y Combinator Office Hours” to Hack the North in 2015, where hackers got to have real, insightful and inspiring conversations with various Y Combinator partners.
As Hack the North attracts students from all across the world, are there any unique or far off places that people have travelled from to attend?
This year we had applications from students from close to 60 different countries! Hackers come from almost any country you can think of. This year we have hackers travelling from Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Africa, Australia, and Uzbekistan to name a few. It’s pretty humbling to know that people are willing to travel 20+ hours (each way), to attend our event!
Are there any limitations on what hackers can build?
There are no limitations, and while hackers are allowed to have an idea of what they want to build, they are not allowed to work on their project before the event. We’ve seen nanotech hacks, hardware hacks, robots, 3D printing, crypto currency, and even hacking on home appliances! In a way, anything complete or almost complete is truly amazing because to build something in 36 hours is a feat in itself. One story we love to share is the app very similar to Pokemon Go that came out of the very first Hack the North in 2014. It was featured on CBC News here.
This is Canada’s biggest hackathon, can you explain the logistics of organizing and planning such a large event?
We have 28 organizers with cross-functional roles handling travel, sponsorship, attendee experience, mobile development, platform development, branding, design, finance, and marketing. Our team is distributed across the world in anywhere from 3-8 different time zones, and has an even 50/50 gender split consisting of UWaterloo students in various programs including Computer Science, English, Management Engineering, Systems Design Engineering, Global Business & Digital Arts, and Physics. Hack the North is like our baby, so it appropriately takes about nine months to plan.
It’s really hard to explain in detail the magnitude of how much needs to get done. One of the things we take pride in doing is developing an awesome software platform to be used by our hackers, sponsors, judges, and our organizing team and volunteers, which really adds to the overarching event experience. When it comes to complicated logistics like travel, application reviewing and attendee check-in, the software we’ve built strives to improve everyone’s experience.
Many of our team members are on co-op or exchange, so most communication happens over Slack and Google Hangout. Despite crazy time zone differences, we still get everyone to attend almost every meeting. It’s amazing to have people calling in from all over the world to help us plan this event. We each volunteer anywhere from 10-30 hours a week, and we do it because we love it.
What does it mean to house Canada’s biggest hackathon at the University of Waterloo?
Hosting Hack the North at a university where tech is celebrated and supported like UWaterloo definitely gives us a great space for Canada’s biggest hackathon. We couldn’t run the event without the help of the Faculty of Engineering in particular. One thing I think we do best in Kitchener-Waterloo is building a sense of community. The entire city seems to be rooting for us, as they do for many innovative startups, projects and events in the Region. We are proud we can share Canada’s biggest hackathon with the KW community.
We can’t wait to hear about the brilliant ideas these innovative students will create within the week. Be sure to follow Hack the North on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates, pictures and live posts from Canada’s biggest Hackathon!