A hackathon in Columbia—just for high schoolers? CodeDay Columbia was a 24-hour programming marathon for students held at IT-oLogy, and was part of a network of similar events held around the country. The Columbia CodeDay was successful for the first event of its kind—with over 50 attendees, it was the 8th most-attended CodeDay out of 26 nationwide!
When everyone arrived in the morning on Saturday, most people had no idea what they would be building that night. As the participants and their families came rolling in, it was almost surreal that these people were going to be present for the next 24 hours, for the sole purpose of writing code, or even just learning how to write code. These kids were so hyped! After idea pitches, teams formed—mostly around friends who came to the event together—and began planning out their future game or app.
Shortly after, coding time started, and more experienced programmers began laying out the framework for their application, while beginners attended our introductory programming workshop, taught by Brendan Lee, a developer at 52inc. We were also lucky enough to have three workshops unique to Columbia: Intro to Unity, Photoshop & Photo Editing, and After Effects & Video Editing. Most groups had their interest piqued in the game development department, so they began working with the Unity game design engine.
The teams thought big. They were coming up with ideas for games that were really complex: One team built a maze world where the player had to defy gravity to get through the maze, another designed an adventure around a dream the player created, and another group created a strategic zombie horde game. Most groups had to focus on one aspect of their game, because there simply wasn’t enough time to make their complete ideas a reality.
Gradually, as each one of the groups began working with the incredibly detailed and complex game design engine, they hit the inevitable wall that is to be expected when a new programmer is just starting out. They had all the world of programming in front of them, but no idea about how to actually get it going within the toolkit. Then, as each group was on the verge of giving up, the volunteer mentors swooped in to rescue them from their troubles. Many groups simply had to narrow their scope down to just a bit, other groups needed a change of program, and yet still others had to change their ideas all together. Even though each group had a different journey, one common thread was that of perseverance. No matter how many setbacks, the participants were always ready to try another avenue or pursue a different option, they simply wanted to code!
Although most people wanted to work nonstop through the night, there were breaks and games, like a giant game of Ninja and the popular pass-the-peanut-with-a-spoon-in-your-mouth contest.
There were a dozen volunteers who assisted Kevin, the organizer, in many ways. Some handled logistical issues, like picking up breakfast, snacks and beverages or setting up the meals. Others took care of registration as the students arrived and kept an eye on the front door to welcome new participants, visiting parents, and the WLTX news reporters. The judges were also critically important volunteers. Matt Thatcher, a computer science professor from USC; Matt Hooper, a software developer with VC3, and Drew Heavner, a developer with 52Inc, served as judges. They thoroughly evaluated each team’s project, meeting with them individually and attending the teams’ presentations. They also met with the coaches and mentors to get a feel for the processes the teams went through. After almost an hour of deliberations, the judges selected the winners.
The winner of the top overall prize was the Blue Team, for their game, Gravity Warp. The best app award went to Team Gray for their Piano App, while the best game award went to Team Apex Fantasy for their game, Escape of the Tardis. Special awards were given to Team HRE and their game, Hotel Purgatorio, for the best game depth, and to Team Empire Animation and their game, Humans vs. Zombies, for best original art and animation.
As the judges handed out the awards, it was so heartwarming to watch these kids be genuinely proud of the things they had built, and in the end, each of them got to make something great, even if everyone didn’t win an award.
The participants weren’t the only ones who loved it: one of our mentors was overheard saying he wouldn’t have rather been anywhere else other than CodeDay!
We’re really excited about doing this again. We’ve learned a lot from hosting this event, and plan to make the next CodeDay Columbia even better. We’ve got big plans for next time, so we hope to see everyone—and some new faces—next time!