StudentHack Hackathon 2014 at MMU


Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th February 2014, hosted at Manchester Metropolitan University.

This last weekend I went up to Manchester to attend and mentor at a Hackathon organised and put on by StudentHack (, an independent body of students based in Manchester. For those that don’t know what a Hackathon is (I was new to the game too!) it’s basically an intense coding competition for web developers. The aim is for web developers and ‘hackers’ for all over the country and beyond to get together and challenge their skills by designing and building a website or mobile application (typically) in a short turn around period, usually a weekend or 24 hours.

This Hackathon was put on for students only, with attendees from colleges and universities across the UK and even some from abroad. Manchester Metropolitan University supported and provided the venue (their rather nice new Business and Law building) but the affair was entirely organised and run by a team of students otherwise.

To fund the event and make it attractive to students and employees in the web development / online world, the StudentHack was sponsored by a number of large and medium sized companies from the UK, which is where I came in. TalkTalk were a title sponsor, along with the likes of AutoTrader, Capital One, Mongo HQ, NameCheap and a few others. Through work (TalkTalk) I was offered the chance to attend, represent TalkTalk, help out and offer mentoring to any of the student groups who wanted an extra team member. This was a great opportunity for me to do some networking, improve my understanding of web development, and maybe meet some developers or entrepreneurs to work with in the future.

The event ran from Saturday through Sunday, with the coding competitions officially kicking off at 12 noon on the Saturday and running non-stop for 26 hours through the night to finish at 2pm on the Sunday. There were a number of design and coding challenges running concurrently throughout the event. AutoTrader sponsored one of the big competitions and offered a prize for the team which developed a product making best use of their API which linked into their huge database of used cars. CapitalOne offered a similar prize, for the ‘best use of technology to enhance banking for future customers’.

Once the coding was underway I quickly got stuck in and went round most of the groups to have a chat, see what they we’re working on and what kinds of web technologies were the most prevalent (php, Ruby on Rails, Javascript, Java, if you’re interested). I came across some brilliant ideas including “Collabit” – a collaborative story telling website, “HashGag” – a website which makes a game of Twitter, using hashtags and Twitter’s API, “CurrGitulum” – which was  a mash-up of your CV and GitHub.

Throughout out the event the organising team did an awesome job of keeping everyone entertained and well fed. There was a constant stream of food and drink, and for evening meal no less than 80 pizzas arrived, which went down well with the coding crowd. In the middle of the night there was a big Fifa tournament (or so I’m told, I was asleep thanks!), and there was even a trip to a local bar (or two, depending if you were in my team or not!).

On the Sunday I came back to the hack (after a good night’s sleep in my hotel down the road thanks!), to find bodies asleep all over the place. Tired students ‘hacking’ away, hunched over laptops with headphones in, and a lot of interesting looking websites and apps on screens and monitors everywhere. By 2pm most of the teams had completed their builds and decided if they were presenting and entering for the competitions or not, and after that we sat down to watch a first round of pitches.

Each team had 1minute to quickly present what they had built, and the concept behind the idea. This was great fun to watch, no one was scared to show and tell in front of the 150- strong crowd, and there were some brilliant ideas and pieces of coding being presented! After the first round, the judges then decided on those teams which had impressed them the most and the finalists were brought back in for a demo and 4-5min presentation.

There were some really brilliant ideas! Here are a few of my favourites;

–          “Crazy Golf” – uses a basic UI to map out your office space, tables and desks, turn it into 3d and then plot a virtual crazy golf course through your office floor!

–           “Grand Theft AutoTrader” – tongue-in-cheek and an excellent abuse of the AutoTrader API – a website which let you locate banks in your local area, then find a range of potential get-away cars, plot your ‘heist’ on a map, and then locate a nearby warehouse or dumping spot for disposing of the vehicle post bank robbery!

–          “NSA – No Specific Acronym / Not Spying on Anyone” – a website based game, taking the piss out of the recent revelations in US spying by feeding a user interface with your friends social media posts (Facebook, Twitter etc.), and then letting you send them a virtual ‘predator drone strike’, tank etc. if their post displeases you. Pretty funny stuff and the mock ups they had looked ace!

The best comedy category was awarded to the NSA game website, the best use of the AutoTrader API was won by an App. called CarGo which lets you take a picture of a car then by use of the DVLA database and AutoTrader; returns you a range of potential alternatives which are available to buy. The runner up in the overall competition was an App. for buying web domains called Domainigo, and the overall went to an idea called “Crowd Relief”, which crowd sources donations and relief in times of natural disaster. The big crowd favourite though was a website application based around the concept of ‘musical packets’. This great piece of coding took packets of data as they fly back and forth between your computer and the internet, and turned them into musical notes. The result was a synthesised sound which tracked the size and frequency of data packets as you upload and download to/from the web. What an interesting idea!

You can look through some of my photos from the event on the Facebook page: