Hack Upstate XV: The Results Are In For Our First Virtual Hackathon

Hack Upstate’s mission is to advance Upstate NY’s technology community.

Check out Zoom screenshots from Hack Upstate XV here — images courtesy of Dana McMullen, Jen Tran, and Jesse Peplinski of Hack Upstate.

Huge thanks to everyone who joined us for the 15th installment of Hack Upstate! It was amazing to see so many talented folks get together for our first ever virtual hackathon and build such amazing projects in 24 hours. Altogether, we awarded $2425 in total prize, raffle money, and gift cards. We also had over 300 sign ups with 28 total project submissions.

Our mission with Hack Upstate is to unite and facilitate collaboration among the Central New York technology community and beyond in order to grow the local sector and create a robust network of technologists. This weekend’s hackathon was another step forward in that mission!

We’re extremely fortunate to have The Tech Garden as the presenting sponsor for #HackUpstateXV. The Tech Garden is Central New York’s premier tech incubator with more than 100 startup members. They help to build and nurture tech startups! Learn more at www.thetechgarden.com.

Here’s what our amazing community built:

Grand Prize

D.I.R.T (Direct Interactive Real Tabletop) was our $1000 grand prize winning team! Created by Stephen Shaffer, D.I.R.T allows you to use your computer to connect remote “real things” that are off of a computer.

“Instead of sharing your screen with somebody else, I wanted to actually share your physical space”.

Here’s how it works:

  • Person #1 would need an external camera, and a projector to see what’s being projected.
  • Person #2 would have the ability to see and follow the camera of person #1 and be able to interact with that video.

Steve then demonstrated his interactive desktop space. As he walks over to the desktop of the person who will be drawing on the interactive workspace that is set up, his assistant draws an image on her screen. Once back at his desk, he shows that this same image that she drew on her screen now appears on a piece of paper on his table.

You can view the devpost project here.

First Runner Up

Our First Runner Up for the $500 prize was Edward Deaver, for his project, “Is the Mail Here Yet?” After missing an important package, he says it was born out of necessity in order to help people to know when a UPS or FedEx package is being delivered. The project is powered on Python and a webcam via OpenCV that passes it to TensorFlow. The models are built using Google’s Teachable Machine. If it recognizes it as a FedEx or UPS truck, it will send the user an email. No more missed packages!

You can view the devpost project here.

Honorable Mention

Our honorable mention goes out to Max Matthews for his 1099 Generator. When looking into how to file a 1099 form, he discovered he needed to receive the form in the mail. After receiving the confusing instructions, he explored “Filing Information Returns Electronically”. Max decided to create a simple 3-step form powered on React to facilitate the process. After submitting the form data, the project generates an ASCII file that is accepted by the IRS’ FIRE system. Check out the code here!

You can view the devpost project here.

Prize Categories

Social Impact Prize

The $100 Social Impact Prize winner goes to Fundit, a platform that democratizes access to capital for small business via crowdfunding. Given how startup founders often don’t have connections to profits to get funding, many investors are skeptical to invest in small businesses. Fundit allows small businesses to make a video pitch so that an investor can decide if they’d like to further pursue an investment opportunity.

You can view the Devpost project here.

Best “Central and Upstate NY are a great place to work from home” Hack (Provided by The Tech Garden)

The $100 winner of our Best “Central and Upstate NY are a great place to work from home” Hack went to Alexander Jansing for New York State Attractions. Growing up in the area, Alex ended up coming back to Central NY because he enjoys living here. So, he wanted to try to create an app that would help people find and filter nearby attractions. Using a New York Open data set, he used the Google Maps API in a Flutter app to find these attractions.

You can view the Devpost project here.

Best Hardware Hack (provided by Density)

Our best Hardware Hack went to D.I.R.T (Direct Interactive Real Tabletop) was our $1000 grand prize winning team! Created by Stephen Shaffer, D.I.R.T allows you to use your computer to connect remote “real things” that are off of a computer.

Best Use of Open Data (Provided by Syracuse iSchool)

The $100 winner of our open data award went to NYS Covid-19 Parent Portal. Creators Jesse Ellis and Justin white said: “With the pandemic still very much affecting all parts of everyone’s life, it’s more pressing than ever that children receive the help they need academically in order to not fall behind in their studies or get discouraged in their ability to learn. It’s with this thought in mind that we designed the NYS COVID-19 Parent Portal to aid families in assessing the help their younger members may need and to provide means for them to get that help.”

They created an interactive map that collects NYS’ public health data and NYS’ school funding data using React, Tableau, and Google Firebase database. Their application also collected helpful resources for families to use that are grouped by region. Users can also submit resources they find to the application.

You can view the Devpost project here.

Best Effort Hack (Provided by Tompkins Trust Company)

The judges awarded the $100 Best Effort Hack to Jui Thombre for her project, Easy Park. When people have to travel using their vehicles, they often pay high parking fees for small amounts of time. Easy Park allows owners with private parking spaces on their homes or apartments to rent the space for a small fee, connecting folks looking for affordable parking and those who own private parking. The app was built using React, Express, MongoDB, and Leaflet.js.

You can view the Devpost project here.

Other Fun Prizes and Raffles

We had a handful of other prizes and raffles at our first virtual event.

Living in Central and Upstate NY — Video or Text Submission

Alexander Jansing was awarded a $100 amazon gift card for the best video, audio, or text submission explaining why Central and Upstate NY is a great place to live and work.

Interested in submitting? You can here!

Best Virtual Zoom Background

Edward Deaver was awarded a $25 amazon gift card for the best virtual Zoom background.

CNY Trivia Winner

Melissa Schmitz was awarded a $25 amazon gift card for being the winner of CNY trivia. A couple of the questions included:

  • Which city is the largest in the Central, NY region?
  • Which city is the smallest in the Central, NY region.
  • Frank Buckwalter, H. Leo Dickinson, and Amel Menotti invented the synthetic version of this miracle drug in 1948 at Bristol-Myers Squibb drug company in East Syracuse New York.
  • This event draws 1.3 million visitors over 13 days to the Syracuse area. It happens at the end of summer with a smorgasbord of fried food, carnival games, rides, and free concerts.

Feedback Prize

Wyatt Matt won a $25 amazon gift card for submitting our feedback form during the closing ceremony.

Gift Card Matching

As part of our gift-card matching program, we encourage our community to purchase gift cards from local restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. We matched all purchases that were made at the event. We gave away gift cards to Ignacio Mejias and Chris Berry to Otro Cinco and Salt City Coffee

Raffles (6pm on Saturday)

We hosted a raffle at 6pm on Saturday and awarded the following:

  • Samuel Metras — $100
  • Justin White — $50
  • Glenn Allen — $50
  • Mary Ann Gundel — $50

Panels and Side Events

We were extremely fortunate to be joined by so many individuals from our community. Here were the scheduled events on Saturday.

Successes and Lessons Learned

At the end of each hackathon, we ask all participants to share the feedback on what worked and what didn’t so we can continue to improve our events. As our first virtual hackathon, we were thrilled to hear that most folks had an enjoyable experience.

In fact, 28 of 28 folks that filled out our survey during our raffle said they found Hack Upstate to be an enjoyable virtual experience, and the 100% of folks who filled out the post-event survey (17 total) said they’d recommend Hack Upstate to a friend. So thank you all who submitted!

What did you think of Hack Upstate XV? Take our feedback survey here!

Based on the feedback you submitted, here are the things we think went well and things that need improvement.

Here are the things we think went well

  • Project Pitches. We think creating a simple Google Form and spreadsheet worked well. That being said, we’d like to explore a more robust and sophisticated system for the next event.
  • Project Demos. We had everyone submit a 2–3 minute video on their pitch. Overall, we think it went really smooth.
  • No Zoom Bombers. Security for us was a top priority (i.e. everyone was muted by default and Zoom chat was disabled) We were fortunate in that we didn’t have any bad actors or Zoom bombers to disrupt the experience for hackers.
  • Side Events and Breakout Rooms. We had some awesome side events, panels, and breakout sessions on Saturday that had a lot of engagement.
  • Mentors / participants getting questions answered. We were so fortunate to have so many incredible mentors helping our hackers with questions they had. We made it a goal of our event to answer all the questions our participants had. Thank you mentors!!!
  • Project submissions. We had the most projects submitted ever (at 27!!). An interesting side effect was that we received project submissions from timezones outside of EST. Thanks to all that submitted a project! In the future, we may consider starting the closing ceremony sooner or having a 5 minute break during the project submissions.

Here are the things that we think need improvement

  • Too many platforms / people not knowing where to go. For our first event, we thought that throwing multiple things at the wall and seeing what stuck was the best approach. We used Slack, Discord, and Gather.Town. However, we think that for our next event we just use one platform (i.e. Discord). We think people were a bit spread out among all platforms. We also noticed Discord had some downsides. We found a couple teams breaking off into their own Zoom sessions, which is totally OK, but for folks that wanted to get involved, they weren’t sure where they went.
  • Team formation, networking and building connections. It’s much more difficult in a virtual setting to network with folks. In person, you can simply flag someone down and start talking. Virtually, there need to be different systems. We think much of this problem surfaced from having too many platforms as we mentioned (i.e. Slack, Discord, and Gather.Town). That being said, one of our side events included a Zoom breakout room, which we think worked really well. For our event, we’ll consider having a breakout room session at the end of the closing ceremony for ~10 minutes or so.
  • Sponsor engagement. We allocated breakout rooms for all sponsors in Discord, but we didn’t have many folks network with our sponsors. We’re looking for ways to help improve sponsor engagement for our next event.
  • High Attrition. We had over 300 sign ups, but only ~60 people joined us on the opening ceremony and ~40 on the closing ceremony. With a free virtual event, we totally understand how people might not have been able to attend, but we’d like to find ways to get more folks to commit to participating.
  • More hands-on and technical workshops. We absolutely loved all of the side events and sessions we held on Saturday, but we’d love to explore having more technical, hands-on content for folks to engage in.
  • More structured check-ins / milestones / progress report. We think it might be helpful for folks to have visibility as to where everyone is at on their projects. For our next, we will consider having a touchpoint or milestone form every 8 hours so folks can see the progress they’ve made, questions people have, etc.
  • Running behind schedule. Given how there were so many projects, the closing ceremony started 15 minutes late. We were also scrambling to allow for late submissions so that we could get each project shown. The overall judging process typically runs over, so we also plan to start scheduling 30 minutes for deliberations.
  • No free food. We explored some options for getting folks a GrubHub gift card so they could grab a bite to eat during the event, but logistically, it was too challenging. We hope if we’re in person in the spring, we’ll be able to get you all the free food and coffee.

Thank you!

Sincerest thank you to all who came, hacked, and helped make Hack Upstate XV a HUGE success for our first virtual event. Our mission to advance Upstate NY’s technology community will not be deterred in spite of the obstacles and challenges that our community faces.

We encourage you to check out all 27 projects on Devpost (our most submissions ever!) and take a look at the gallery on Facebook along with live streams of our kickoff, demos and side events (here and here).

We’d be remiss if we didn’t take one last opportunity to thank all of our incredibly generous and supportive sponsors. We also must again thank our awesome panel of judges. We’re extremely fortunate to have their backing as we collectively work together and continue to advance Upstate NY’s technology community.

You can also leave a testimonial if you’d like that we’ll add to our website.

Happy hacking :)

Anxious for next spring’s event? Fight the withdrawal by joining the Hack Upstate community on Slack and Discord.

Enjoy this? You may enjoy reading about projects from Hack Upstate XIV, Hack Upstate XIII, Hack Upstate XII, Hack Upstate XI, Hack Upstate X, Hack Upstate IX, Hack Upstate VIII, and Hack Upstate VII.

Hack Upstate’s mission is to unite and facilitate collaboration among the greater Upstate New York technology community. In pursuit, we organize hackathons, offer web and mobile development classes, facilitate talks and lectures, and ultimately help align Upstate tech talent with promising employment opportunities. To date, we’ve built a growing network comprised of thousands of Upstate New York engineers and nearly a hundred technology employers.

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Advancing Upstate New York's tech community through events and education. http://hackupstate.com/ && https://careersincode.org/