CMC students demonstrate tech savvy at 5C Hackathon

December 9, 2015

CMC was well-represented by tech-savvy students in the latest 5C Hackathon that took place in late November at Pomona College.

A team from CMC (Dhruv Manchala ’16, Scott Sonnenborn ’17, Ellis Hiroki Butterfield 16 and Manav Kohli 16 ) won in the “Advanced 1st Place” category for their Baller Button. The project used a wifi-enabled microcontroller to enable API requests with simple button clicks. Relying on the cloud, the Baller Button could do anything from posting a picture to Instragram to sending a message on Slack. 

Another mixed team of two CMCers and a Pomona College student (Davis Catolico 18, Kevin Cunanan 18 and Gianna Wu, Pomona ’19) took home the “Best App for Scaling Human Connection” award sponsored by Airbnb. 

In all, there were nine competitive categories and, in addition to Airbnb, other 5C Hackathon sponsors included Meraki, Intuit, Google, Lyft, Silicon Valley Program and Laserfiche.

For those not familiar with what a Hackathon is, it’s an event in which computer programmers, graphic and interface designers and project managers – software developers all – collaborate together on a project over a specific time period in an effort to build a program or application.

The 5C Hackathon is an event put on each semester by Hack at the Claremont Colleges with students participating from all experience levels. The Hackathon takes place concurrently with “Hack Week” which is a weeklong tutorial that teaches beginners how to build a full-featured web application from the ground up.

“To me, winning the ‘Best App. for Scaling Human Connection’ award signified that our project could have a significant impact on others,” Cunanan said. “I think it’s fitting since our application tries to connect people through food and social media.”

Catolico said that his team created a web-based application called “Dining2Know” which compiles pictures from Instagram with particular hashtags earmarked for each dining hall at the 5C's. At the same time, they created an anonymous voting and posting interface so that people can post directly on the page and chat about the most recent dining hall news.

“We fortunately had some basic ideas before going into the Hackathon, so finding out what we wanted to do wasn't too hard,” said Catolico. “The most challenging part about the competition was staying awake and focused -- we took plenty of naps and snack breaks. Luckily, the Hackathon provided us with lots of food.”

To win, the team had to build the app. in less than 12 hours. Everything from mapping the database, understanding the Instagram API, and creating a working/decent looking site was necessary to get to recognition. The team built the application using Laravel’s PHP MVC Framework, Cron Scheduling, HTML, CSS, the Instagram API and a relational MySQL database.

With 41 project submissions divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced groupings, the competition was stiff at this year’s Hackathon. “The competition always starts strong at the beginning,” Cunanan, a computer science and philosophy dual major, said. “Everyone has great ideas and lots of adrenaline. But as the night progresses people start losing steam and then leaving. The people who are left are extremely serious and putting together really awesome projects. In the advanced pool, there ended being about 10 other teams, but our award competed against all 30+ teams who made it to 8 am.”

Since last year, Cunanan says he’s been “very interested” in building web applications.” It started after taking a CS elective titled “Distributive Software Architecture” taught by Arthur Lee, W.M. Keck Associate Professor of Computer Science.

“The course taught me core web development skills and culminated in a final project titled Find Enchiladas ( Since then, I’ve attempted to build many other small applications. Attending the 5C Hackathon was a place where I could test lots of skills I learned throughout the year and throw it into one project.”

For his part, Catolico (a neuroscience major who is interested in computational neuroscience) figured participating in the Hackathon would be a fun learning experience. “In my time working at the Office of Public Affairs under Director of Web Design and New Media Production Lorraine Wang, I had the chance to learn some basic HTML and CSS skills for web development,” he says. “In terms of our team's success, I owe it all to Kevin because he did all of the challenging coding.”

Cunanan said his time at CMC has inspired him to build applications that create an impact. “Specifically, Professor Lee’s ‘Distributive Software Architecture’ course developed my knowledge of web development and a sponsored internship at a GovTech startup in San Francisco (Code for America) helped me polish my skills as a front-end developer.

“I have always wanted to build an application that the 5C’s uses daily,” Cunanan continued. “Whether that means updating an existing project or building a new app, I want to leave a technical footprint before I leave CMC.”

As far as what it takes to win in a Hackathon category; a bit of hard-won wisdom from Catolico:

“I think the most important skill to have in winning a Hackathon is communication -- the success of the project relies on teamwork and making sure everyone understands what is going on,” he said. “Also, having the power to communicate our ideas to the judges and our peers was very important. If the people could understand what exactly we were planning to do, they were more likely to give helpful input. In terms of presentation, people seemed to like our project more as we explained our rationale and intentions.”




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