Pulling an all-nighter

12-hour CS50 hackathon a showcase of coding and collaboration

By Alana Davitt, A.B. ’19, SEAS Correspondent | Press contact

Sophie Pesek, A.B. ’20, an environmental science and engineering concentrator, and Joel Balkaran, A.B. ’20, a biomedical engineering concentrator, seek help on their code from course assistants Derek Wang, A.B. ’20, and Teddy Lou, A.B. ’20, computer science concentrators. (Photo by Alana Davitt/SEAS Communications.)

Part frenzied study session and part late night party, the annual Introduction to Computer Science (CS50) hackathon drew hundreds of students for a 12-hour coding marathon.

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Held in the Harvard Innovation Labs from Nov. 30 through the early morning hours of Dec. 1, the hackathon brought together students, teaching staff, and a production crew who filmed the fast-paced event.

CS50, spearheaded by David Malan, Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), has emerged in recent years as one of Harvard’s most popular courses. It offers entertaining and informative lectures on a challenging learning track, beginning with the language C and progressing to Python, SQL, and JavaScript.

In place of a final exam, students are challenged to create a final project, alone or in teams, using the coding skills they have acquired throughout the semester. As the hours ticked down to the final project deadline, students worked furiously into the night.

But the atmosphere at the hackathon was not what one would expect from a late night work session; rather the event featured tables lined with dinner, drinks, and sweets, blaring music, and a large photo booth.

“The TFs were cheering when we walked in,” said Malia Ellington, A.B. ’19, a human evolutionary biology concentrator.

Malia Ellington, A.B. ’19, and Gillian Meeks, A.B. ’20, human evolutionary biology concentrators, are happy to work on their website that allows users to make public or password-protected playlists so event attendees can log in and add their favorite songs. (Photo by Alana Davitt/SEAS Communications.)

In the midst of all the excitement, students got down to work.

Liam Fitzgerald, S.B. ’19, and Julie Ortiz, S.B. ’19, mechanical engineering concentrators, are collaborating on an app that lets pet owners in the Cambridge community find others to help with tasks like walking dogs. They hope to design user profile pages and develop a points system to reward distance dog-walked.

Freshman Guadalupe Jacobson-Peregrino is working on a website called “Cabot Connect.” Similar to a Snapchat map, the site allows students to find friends and study mates throughout Cabot Library in Harvard’s Science Center.

“CS50 is stressful and at times hard, but when you succeed you really feel you've succeeded,” Jacobsen-Peregrino said.

Gillian Meeks, A.B. ’20, human evolutionary biology concentrator, shared that sentiment. “I know I’ve learned a lot. CS50 is fun, but stressful, however you get enjoyment out of doing the work," she said.

The hackathon emphasized to Ana Olano that, more than fun and games, the lessons of CS50 can be applied to a wide range of different areas.

“The class has been a lot of fun, I have definitely acquired useful skills and now have a foundation I'm going to build on," said Olano, A.B. ’19, a physics concentrator.

Ana Olano, A.B. ’19, a physics concentrator, and Raul Cuevas, A.B. ’20, a biomedical engineering concentrator, are friends and teammates for this final project. (Photo by Alana Davitt/SEAS Communications.)

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