How long has it been since you stayed up all night? For us, it’s annually at HackathonCLT, an overnight battle of brains that has quickly become Charlotte’s premier coding event attracting the best tech talent and biggest cash prizes for the busiest and most rewarding 24 hours of the year.
On Friday, March 27, more than 200 of the smartest minds in Charlotte huddled together at UNC Charlotte’s PORTAL (Partnership, Outreach, and Research to Accelerate Learning) facility to create innovative solutions to a real world big data problem. From tricked out conference rooms to makeshift offices piled high with bean bags, participants spread out throughout the building for a fast and furious night of competitive coding. In this its third year, HackathonCLT grew exponentially to more than 270 attendees and 35 competing teams. By morning, just 29 tired but wired teams remained standing to present their solutions to a panel of judges.
Why We Do It: A Celebration of Charlotte’s Tech Community
Tresata is proud that an idea we came up with in 2013 – HackathonCLT – in only its third year has become the premier tech event in the city. We look at it as our way of giving back to a city we call home as well as showcase the immense talent in the tech community here.
An event of this magnitude wouldn’t be possible without the invaluable support of our fellow sponsors: Harris Teeter, P&G, DataChambers, MillerCoors and Ettain Group. Each of them wear their love for the Charlotteltech community as proudly as we do.
Think sponsors are just there for exposure? Think again. HackathonCLT sponsors are hands on from the earliest days of planning to set-up and all the way through to the final clean up. And yes, they stay up all night in support and in awe of the the competing hackers.
“The energy at HackathonCLT is infectious,” said Tonyia Breece, P&G. “I had actually planned to go home to get some rest but ended up staying because I wanted to be a part of that energy. We love this event.”
For the first time this year, HackathonCLT found itself at home at UNC Charlotte in the gorgeous PORTAL building thanks in large part to the support, enthusiasm and energy of administrators in the College of Computing and Informatics who wanted to expose students to the opportunity.
How it Went Down: Beer, Big Data and a Big Hairy ‘Time Squeeze’
Big Data athletes from all over the southeast, including some from as far as Georgia and Alabama, competed this year to solve a business problem curated by Harris Teeter and Tresata. The challenge was to predict, model, plan and present the best, most efficient, profitable and realistic ways to deliver groceries to customers via alternative channels. There was big data (more than 140 million rows of transactional data, scrubbed and de-identified), big technology (an at-sclae hadoop cluster provided by DataChambers and manned by Tresata) and big ambitions (quite a few teams aimed for completely redoing the grocery business) with a completely open source stack (Hadoop (including HDFS | MR | YARN | HIVE | SPARK), Python, R and Ruby 1.9.3)
Participants had the opportunity to spread out and work in the space of their choosing, including branded lounges from sponsors Proctor and Gamble, DataChambers, and Tresata. Harris Teeter provided food and snacks throughout the event (including plenty of fuel in the form of Red Bull), and beverages for the opening reception were donated by MillerCoors. Proctor and Gamble made sure everyone stayed fresh enough to present by providing hygiene kits with deodorant and toothpaste for participants.
29 teams of big data athletes made it through to present the next afternoon, in three categories.
Category 1 – HACK
This category demanded true analytical talent and was be judged on quality of predictions and elegance of code built on open source technology (ideally the Hadoop stack). Winners here were husband and wife Team Preggers, who were inspired by what the couple expects to be the reality for new parents (they are expecting their first child shortly). They created a predictive app called Claire (for clairvoyant) to provide a customer something they need at the time that they need it. The app would look at buying history habits to suggest delivery of items that a customer may be running out of or need. Team member Ben Porter details their solution here.
This category challenged teams to write code that addresses the problem in a tangible, tactical way, in the solution of their choice: From mobile applications to websites and everything in between. Team HT Code Delivery created a peer-to-peer delivery network app that helps neighbors deliver groceries to neighbors. They processed 24 dimensions at 140 million records deep. Team member Paul Prae shares their code here.
In freeSTYLE we gave an opportunity for non hackers (or those without a working solution at the end of the night) to deliver a killer presentation backed by a solid business model that convincingly proves alternative modes of grocery delivery, no coding necessary. Winning Team Bioinformatics originally intended to compete in the HACK category. They worked through the night on their solution, but at 6am, dejected by their lack of progress, decided to withdraw from competition. When they came to the checkout desk ready to leave, they ran into with Tresata CEO Abhishek Mehta, who convinced them to switch categories and present all their hard work for the community to learn from. Re-energized, they decided to get a couple of hours of sleep and do just that. Their proposed solution was an automatic donation a customer could make to a food bank, by selecting their donation items and having Harris Teeter deliver them directly to a local food bank in need.
Planning is already under way for HackathonCLT MMXVI. Keep an eye on hackathonclt.org and @charlottehacks on Twitter for updates. Interested in sponsoring? Email katie[at]tresata[dot]com for a full sponsor packet.