Students hack their way to success

Photo of People's Choice Award winner Eron Lake. People's Choice Award winner Eron Lake developed a video game to help high school students learn cell biology. Photo by Paige Welsh.

By now, I hope the participants in last weekend's UCSC Hack event have recovered from the lack of sleep they endured in pursuit of the next great app. What an impressive event: Nearly 400 students from UCSC, Cal State Monterey Bay, and even a few from as far away as the East Coast, two dozen sponsors, and an extraordinary amount of talent filled the Merrill Cultural Center.

I was impressed by all of it, but a couple of projects really stood out, including People's Choice Award winner Eron Lake, a one-man team who developed a video game to help high school students learn cell biology. SlugBus was another winner, which I'm sure UCSC shuttle riders would appreciate. It uses peoples' smartphone data to determine the timeliness and location of campus buses and shuttles—and their capacity to pick up additional passengers, too. Finally, Avi Varshney took first place in the innovation category for creating a robot that responds to its operator's motions; when Avi raised his right arm, the robot raised its right "arm."

By Sunday evening's award dinner, the room was a sea of blue with participants sporting their Hack UCSC 2015 t-shirts. Students were pretty exhausted, but the energy in the room was great as finalists presented their projects.

Word is clearly out about this event, which quadrupled in size from last year's inaugural hackathon. So many people came together to make the hackathon possible. Kudos to organizer Doug Erickson of Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp, Bonnie Lipscomb of the Santa Cruz Economic Development Office, Lila Tretikov, executive director of Wikipedia, and all our sponsors. Brent Haddad, who runs our campus Center for Entrepreneurship, recently won a United Way Community Hero Award for his efforts to boost local employment; I think he deserves another award for Hack UCSC 2015.

Two weeks after last year's hackathon, half the participants had received a job or internship offer. That may be hard to replicate, but there's no doubt in my mind that this year's hackathon will spark some great collaborations and generate some new apps.

A full list of winners is available on Santa Cruz Tech Beat's website, thanks to alumna Sara Isenberg.


Comments or questions? Write to and put "Hackathon" in the subject line.