Report from the Facebook Camp Hackathon

This weekend, Facebook held their first international Camp Hackathon event for students from the University of Toronto (U of T) and University of Waterloo (UW). For a full 24 hours from 5:00 PM on January 21 to January 22, over 200 students (including a full coach bus of students from U of T) occupied UW's Student Life Center, designing, developing, and hacking fantastic new software. The goal of the hackathon was completely open-ended. While there had been rumors of a development theme for teams to work on, at the beginning of the event the organizer announced that teams should work on anything they wanted, and focus on learning new skills and developing "something awesome".

The Facebook employees running the event did a great job of keeping the students engaged by providing meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a midnight snack), knowledge (they flew in Rasmus Lerdorf, the inventor of PHP) raffling off prizes every hour, and taking care of issues with power and internet service. Though all the facilities issues were eventually sorted out, the event did get off to a rocky start as the chained and overloaded power bars snaking across the floor of the SLC tripped the circuit breakers numerous times. But the teams took the issues in stride - with most teams working on laptops, the power issues were generally a minor inconvenience.

The food provided by the organizers was excellent. Dinner Friday was chinese, a tradition according to the Facebook team. Later in the night, trays of chicken wings from local favourite Morty's were brought in, helping to fend off those middle-of-the-night hunger pangs. Breakfast the next morning was bagels and croissants with jam, and lunch soon afterwards came from Pizza Pizza.

Around 3PM, hacking stopped and the development teams were asked to give a 2-minute overview of their project to the other teams. Approximately 50 teams gave a presentation, and the collective sum of work produced over those 24 hours is breathtaking (for a complete list of projects, check out the event's Facebook page). Project themes were varied, and included games, academic research assistants, Facebook addons, and more. Some of the highlights included:

For my part, I teamed up with a pair of first-year software engineers and developed a multi-platform OpenGL game called Orbits. Our game was somewhat of a cross between Angry Birds and Breakout, requiring the players to launch a projectile and destroy a target, but with the added twist of planetary gravity wells that the projectile needed to "slingshot" through.

Lessons Learned

Hackathons alread are a lot of fun, but I felt that the Facebook Camp Hackathon did a lot of things really well, and has given me some ideas for running future hackathon events to enhance the experience.

The Good:

The Bad:

The Mixed Bag: