[TechConneXt Summit] Hackathon Recap

And the winner is ...

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Part of Black Enterprise’s TechConneXt event in Silicon Valley included a hackathon. A portmanteau of “hacking” and “marathon,” hackathons are events in which computer programmers create apps over a period of 24 hours or more. Hackathons test the mettle of developers and are great ways for those studying app development in school to test their skills.

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BE’s hackathon included five groups of students from HBCUs: Howard University, Spelman College, Southern University, Johnson C. Smith University, and Morgan State University. Each team was made up of computer science and engineering majors.

The event was sponsored by Capital One, which provided an API (application programming interface) to each team. An API is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. The students were tasked with turning the API into a useful financial app for budgeting, saving, or making purchases on a mobile device. Whichever team developed the best app would win the hackathon and an assortment of prizes from BE and event sponsors.

The hackathon winner was chosen by an elite group of judges that included Mark Mathewson, VP, Technology from Capital One; Dawn Chirwa, Chief of Staff US—Program, Bill and Melinda Gates foundation; and Kim Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code.

Before the hackathon began—and perhaps for a little inspiration—the students toured AT&T’s Foundry Innovation Center and the Google campus, both locations in the heart of Silicon Valley. Then they sat for nearly 24 hours of straight coding. Each team set about creating a financial services app with relevant and unique features.

The judges’ criteria for the winning app included looking at the social impact the finished app would have, how innovative a solution the app was, and whether the students delivered the product that was asked of them on time.

The winning team was comprised of four young men from Morgan State University. Their app, “Oculus,” was a predictive thinking app designed to help college students avoid debt. The app’s features included spending alerts and a visual gauge that let users know whether they were on target with their budget goals. The app also had a social media element as the students created an algorithm that would create a budget score. The budget score increased as long as the user stayed on budget, and the score could be shared via the usual social media channels.

Judge Mark Mathewson was particularly impressed with the inclusion of social media in Morgan State University’s app. Kim Bryant asked the students about the tools they used to create this impressive app. They told the judges that they built the app completely from an Android suite of programming tools, although none of them had ever programmed with the Android platform before.

All of the students presented great ideas, and each team offered innovative and impressive ways of creating a financial app for mobile devices. But it was the team from Morgan State that ultimately won the judges over.