Bitcamp Returns to UMD

By Natalie Koltun

Bitcamp, the University of Maryland’s marathon hacking event, returned to campus April 10 to 12. The second annual hackathon in Cole Field House attracted more than 1,100 participants from 80 universities and high schools across the country for a weekend of innovation and fun.

Teams of graphic designers, computer programmers and technology enthusiasts competed in the 36-hour creative coding marathon to build a product, including websites, apps and virtual reality games.

“For a lot of people, this is the new career fair. This is how many people have gotten hired for internships and jobs,” said Jenny Hottle, press director for Bitcamp. “I mean, they have recruiters surrounding them here, and this is their best way to get a first look at things they can actually do as, say, a web developer or graphic designer.”

Started by a group of students from this university’s Startup Shell and Terrapin Hackers, campus groups dedicated to bringing ideas to reality, Bitcamp was created in response to the “strong hacker community that travels to other hackathons,” said Jose Zamora, the general director for this year’s event.

“Eventually they thought, ‘Hey, it’s about time we had one here,’” Zamora said.

Hacking began Friday evening after the opening ceremony and sponsorship fair, and continued until Sunday’s expo, where 161 final projects were showcased.

“My team is building a Pebble Smartwatch app that helps you trade stocks more conveniently. Whenever it rises or falls to whatever specifications you set, you’ll get a notification when it hits that benchmark so you don’t have to sit on your phone all day and watch the stock market,” said Franck Tchouambou, a senior finance and business analytics major at Old Dominion University. Tchouambou traveled to Bitcamp to pursue his interest in blending entrepreneurship with technology.

However, Bitcamp is not all business. Throughout the weekend, attendees got the chance to network with fellow hackers and mentors through ice cream socials, tech talks and a Super Smash Bros. tournament.

“We try to concentrate more on the experience of the hackers,” Zamora said. “We really value the exploration and learning aspects of Bitcamp instead of solely competition.”

When participants were not hacking, some participated in Color War, a live-action design competition. Five pieces were selected from more than 100 submissions on Twitter to compete in five rounds of knockout design challenges at the event. A panel of judges included an alumnus of this university, as well as designers from IBM and HackDuke, a hackathon at Duke University.

Andrea Bajcsy, a junior computer science major, won this year’s Color War competition

“This year we really wanted students to think about the theme, ‘Imagine Tomorrow,’ and to think about where technology is going,” Zamora said.

New to this year’s event was what Bitcamp organizers called “Trails,” or optional mini-events that helped hackers learn new things related to their respective projects. The four trails each had their own focus, Zamora explained. Venture Trail helped hackers approach their project from an entrepreneurship point of view. The Social Impact Trail gave students the opportunity to work directly with nonprofit organizations to use their hack to make a difference in the world. The final two trails aimed to guide beginners through the process of starting a project and to test advanced hackers’ skills from programming to design.

“We’ll take the rest of the semester to close things out, like paying remaining vendors and tying up loose ends,” Zamora said. “But once August hits, we’ll start planning again for next year’s Bitcamp.”


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