Student hackers create apps for competition

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Instant messaging platform sponsored its first 24-hour student hackathon at Northwestern over the weekend. The company collaborated with Hack Northwestern, a new student group on campus founded under the university’s Creative Arts & Technology Studio(CATS).

“Working with Northwestern students, and particularly Hack Northwestern, seemed like a perfect fit given imo’s entrepreneurial background and Hack Northwestern’s dedication to student creativity, entrepreneurship and hacker spirit,” said Ralph Harik, imo’s CEO in a press release. The company also gave away free merchandise and Babycakes pancakes at theTheta/ZBT Philanthropy Carnival on November 8.

The hackathon was open to all Chicagoland students and drew participants from Northwestern, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago and Heartland Community College. Students — working individually or in pairs — were given 22 hours from November 9-10 to build an application that correlates with’s chat oriented model. allows users to simultaneously chat with friends on any IM network including MSN, Skype, AIM, Facebook chat and Yahoo! Messenger.

Eighty-five students registered for the event, which took place in the auditorium of the Pancoe Life Sciences building, but only nine submissions were received at the closing of the hackathon Saturday afternoon.

The first place prize was a $1,000 Amazon gift card for the team, while second and third place winners won $600 and $200 Amazon gift cards, respectively. The apps were judged by Nikola Borisov, an engineer and Northwestern alum (MEAS ’10), and Derek Morris, another alum (MEAS ’12) and co-founder of the app

Yan Xue, a Nothwestern graduate student working towards his Master of Science & Analytics, and his designer, Samantha Chang, an IMC graduate student, took home the first place prize. Both Xue and Chang attended Fudan University in Shanghai and worked for a student website together. Their winning application transformed a first-person shooter (FPS) game into a role-playing game (RPG) that multiple users could play and chat on.

Second place was awarded to McCormick sophomore Caleb Young and his partner, McCormick graduate student Alex Wilson, who created “MeetNU,” an application modeled after the internet calendar tool Doodle. Users are able to view intersections within their schedules, while a corresponding chat allows them to set a final meeting time.

Third place winners, McCormick seniors Gabriel Peal and Kashif Malik, built “RedditMash,” an app where users are presented with two of Reddit’s most popular photos. They then vote on which photo is best and are connected to a chat room with others who are shown the same two photos.

Many of the hackathon’s participants were eager to create an application without any rigid restrictions or a framework. “Usually when I’m caught up in class … I don’t have the time and motivation to just sit down and build something cool that’s not a class project,” said McCormick junior Sheng Wu. “This was an opportunity to take a break from schoolwork.” Wu built an app called “Me or Jay-Z,” a forum where participants construct and submit a tweet written in the same style as Jay-Z’s actual tweets.

McCormick senior and Hack Northwestern president Gursimran Singh was excited to collaborate for the hackathon because he saw it as a chance for students to network with, a growing start-up that is currently recruiting. After the event, Hackathon judge Borisov encouraged everyone present to submit their resumes to him. If participants also chose to polish up the apps they created, promised to market them on their own website.

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