Programmers meet for ‘hackathon'

by Gavin Huang | 4/24/11 10:00pm

by Gavin Huang and Gavin Huang / The Dartmouth

Over the course of a 12-hour "hackathon," members of the Hacker Club discussed the creation of their latest, most complicated program Course Picker, an application designed to make course selection easier for students. Gathered in Sudikoff's student lounge from noon until midnight on Saturday, Hacker Club members made plans to create an online interface that will provide a list of ideal courses based on an individual student's needs, according to Parker Phinney '12, one of the group's co-founders.

"If a student wants say, a 10 and 11 course from a specific department or that fulfills specific requirements, they can type in what they want and Course Picker will give a list of courses that match what they want," Phinney said.

The Course Picker page will likely include a timetable of classes, a major requirements page and a distribution requirements page, according to Phinney.

The Hacker Club has created other web applications to make aspects of student life more convenient, including DDS Yummy Reminders, an application that emails students every time Dartmouth Dining Services offers their favorite dishes, and Facebook De-friend Notifier, an application that alerts users every time someone de-friends them on Facebook.

"I made the Facebook De-friend Notifier during the last interim to keep myself busy," Ian Webster '11, another co-founder of the club, said. "Interim in Hanover is pretty boring and the Facebook [application programming interface] wasn't too difficult to [put together]."

Unlike DDS Yummy Reminders and Facebook Def-riend Notifier which Hacker Club members characterized as small pet projects Course Picker's complicated nature merited 12 hours of coding, according to Julian Bangert '14.

"There are many pages to synthesize," Bangert said while typing on his Linux-operated PC. "We have to make sure our application is updated whenever the course listings are updated."

Webster said the hackathon drew programmers from a wide range of skill levels to help with both the program's front and back ends how it appears to the user and the application coding aspect of the website, respectively. During the hackathon, Phinney worked on the application's front end at one side of the room while Webster, Bangert, Kyle Konrad '12 and Marco Peraza '14 were clustered on couches coding the back end.

Michael Katz '12, who said it was his first time at a Hacker Club meeting, worked on something completely different. In the middle of the session, he discovered a way to include average ratings of courses and professors in the Course Guide search results grids.

"It was a simple PHP code, but it makes searching through reviews much easier," Katz said.

The Hacker Club not only welcomed programmers, but also students who could provide input from a non-programmer standpoint. A whiteboard in the student lounge was covered with program plans and lists of features that students at the hackathon thought the new course web application should include.

"Sometimes, we as programmers don't always know how to best go about a problem," Phinney said. "It's good to get feedback from people who will use the web [application] we're creating."

The Hacker Club currently chooses its projects based on its members' interests. Will Hix '12, one of the club's members, said the group has been probing the idea of applying for Council on Student Organizations recognition, which he said would provide the club with resources to pursue more projects.

"If there are projects that maybe aren't as fun or that members don't have much of an interest in, COSO funding can allow us to pursue them," Hix said, adding that the funding could provide reimbursement for the students' work.

"I think at Dartmouth, people are quick to monetize many services and try to find ways of profiting from them," Phinney said. "We just like building cool, new things that students can use, and if we get credit for it, that's great."

The Hacker Club is focusing on creating applications that pique members' interests. Phinney said he hopes Course Picker will be available in time for the upcoming Summer term.

**The original article incorrectly referred to the new program as Course Ticker. It is in fact called Course Picker.*