Hacker Life

Written by Waseem Ahmad on. Posted in Blog, Computer Science

I’ve attended quite a few hackathons in the past month. This happened as a combination of my personal interest, opportunities coming along my way, and immersion in the hacker culture at Facebook during my internship. Here are my views about hackathons:
  • You sacrifice on sleep to create something really cool that interests you with an incredibly limited amount of time and resources.
  • Along the way, you run into issues that you could not have foreseen. Sometimes this leads to a pivot or a restart to a completely different idea. Other times, you can alleviate the issue through a clever hack.
  • You have to fully leverage your team and make sure every cylinder is firing.
  • You have to create a product / prototype that everyone will find creative, innovative, useful, and technically challenging.
  • If you’re solely in it for money / prizes, you’re unlikely to succeed or remain motivated. The whole point is to program and collaborate in a playful and exploratory manner. The biggest win is the knowledge and experience you gain coming out of the hackathon.
I really enjoyed the last three hackathons I attended and they were some of the most competitive hackathons put together: Greylock’s Hackfest, University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Apps, and Signal Fire’s University Hacker Olympics. All three hackathons were selective and had an application process. As I attended each hackathon, I learned lots of new stuff every single time. I also became a faster hacker and much better at deliberating and iterating through ideas. Part of the reason why I attended so many hackathons in such a short period of time was to see how they are run so that I can give Hack Rice – the hackathon tradition that I started at Rice University – my last best shot in organizing. I thoroughly enjoyed each one of the hackathons and made lots of new friends and connections. I also got a travel and connect with a lot of companies. Due to all of the traveling that I’ve been recently doing, I haven’t spent a single weekend at Rice this semester. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends this weekend and getting more time to sleep for once.

Greylock Hackfest

When: 07/27/2013 – 07/28/2013
Where: Airbnb Headquarters, San Francisco
How many hackers: 175
My teammates: Nick Gavalas, Alexander Ramirez, Brian Donghee Shin
What we made: A/B Test Your Life
What is that: It is a website where you can a/b test your life decisions on your friends. You post two versions of a status message or photo to two different groups of your friends and you can see how many likes or comments you get. Then, when you’ve decided which one is better, you can post that version to all of your friends.
Why: Because we spent 5 hours trying to come up with a better idea and we couldn’t. This was the funniest thing we thought of and people seemed to really like it.
Where is ithttp://m.adr2370.com/abtestyourlife
Where is the codehttps://github.com/adr2370/abtestyourlife



When: 09/06/2013 – 09/08/2013
Where: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelhpia
How many hackers: 1000! (from all over the world)
My teammates: Brian Donghee Shin, Sal Testa, Nathan Alison
What we made: Town Floor
What is that: Townfloor is a web application that lets audience at town hall style meetings ask questions by using their smartphone as a microphone. Audience members simply enter a short code into the application to queue in. Speakers can then interactively manage the queue of audience questions, pausing and skipping over them in real time. This application alleviates the need of bringing a microphone to the audience.
Why: Why not?
Where is it: http://townfloor.com
Youtube Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqF2BxaRntc
What we won: 3rd place for best use of Firebase API – $250 Firebase credit each


University Hacker Olympics

When: 09/13/2013 – 09/15/2013
Where: SOMA Central, San Francisco
How many hackers: 100
My teammates: Jerry Ma, Bonnie Eisenman, Daniel Ge, Matthew Vaughn
What we made: Clarity
What is that: Clarity is a web application that lets you conduct a presentation through Google Glass. Users simply enter a Google Drive presentation link into our website and click load. The website then generates a QR code that is scanned into Google Glass. This lets the presenter see the current and next slide. The Glass application lets the presenter navigate through the slides through the flick forward / backward gesture on Google Glass. The slide shown on the presenter laptop is the same slide that the Glass application is navigated to. It also shows a running timer of the presentation and lets you toggle between the slide and presentation notes. Future enhancements would include presentation feedback such as eye contact distribution, frequency of stop words, nervousness, crowd reaction (laughter, silence, etc.) and a live teleprompter.
Why: I would personally find this very useful. Also, I bought Google Glass to make apps for it and hadn’t gotten to it yet.
Where is it: http://clarity-uho.appspot.com
Where is the code: https://github.com/waseemAtRice/glass-present
What we won: 1st Place. $2500 AWS Credit and iPad Minis


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Waseem Ahmad

I love technology! I love how it improves our lives by allowing us to instantly communicate with people across the globe, access tremendous amounts of data in an instant, and produce and consume meaningful information. Computers give you the power to take tasks of enormous size and complexity and simplify them. I find computing very exciting and challenging which is why I'm working at Facebook as a Software Engineer. I recently completed my Bachelors in Computer Science from Rice University.

I've moved a lot as I grew up. So I've lived in 8 different cities across the world and hope to live in and travel to many more. Currently, I live in San Francisco, CA. When I'm not working or exercising at the gym, I'm always ready for an adventure! I love coffee, good conversations, movies, biking, reading, writing, flying remote control aircrafts, and most of all, the company of good friends.

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