Their entire Saturday coding

University of Ottawa hosts a “hackathon”

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Poirier (in blue) and a team member

Fuelled by energy drinks and pizza, future engineers from the University of Ottawa spent 24 hours one recent Saturday hunched over keyboards for the campus’ first-ever ‘hackathon.’

Student Antoine Grondin organized what he said was the first event of its kind at U of O.“I was frustrated that people in my class don’t tend to code on their own,” he said, adding that he wanted to make people who enjoy coding realize “they don’t have to wait for an assignment.”

More than 20 students participated in the contest during which teams of up to four tried to out-code the others. Each team got a programmable tank, an animated robot that drove around the computer screen. The tank could be customized by adding more code to do things like dodge bullets, drive in patterns or change colours. After the 24 hour period was up, the tanks competed on a virtual battlefield. The last one standing was the winner. Students had to predict opponents’ moves and tell their tanks how to react.

Christopher Poirier only got a couple hours of sleep that Saturday night sprawled on chairs in the classroom. His team spent four hours putting a strobe light effect on their tank. “You kinda invent your own stuff using the base,” explained the software engineering student. He added that the event was kind of like exams, with “Red Bull and no sleep,” but obviously more fun.

The hackathon was sponsored by the company Noteshares, which provided drinks and food to participants and job interviews to the winners. Grondin said other companies in Ottawa have contacted him about presenting similar challenges to students. He hopes to make it monthly.

It’s not just Ottawa where students are competitively coding. Hackathons are planned as part of the Canadian Undergraduate Technology Conference’s Infect 2013 in May in Vancouver and Toronto.