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Carlin Sack

imo.im Sponsors Student Hackathon at Northwestern University

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What do you get when you put a ton of Red Bull, a mini foosball table and a bunch of hackers in one room together? For 22 hours? The imo Hackathon @ Northwestern.

This was no ordinary all-nighter for the 20 college students that participated in the hackathon last weekend. The hackers stayed up all day and (mostly) all night to develop innovative applications and compete for the first prize of a $1000 Amazon gift card.

The hackathon was organized by HackNorthwestern, a student entrepreneurship group at Northwestern, and was sponsored by imo.im, an instant messaging platform that is based in Palo Alto.

Nikola Borisov, a 2010 Northwestern graduate and a software development engineer at File 20489File 20488imo.im, said he flew to Chicago just to hack along with the students; he built a photo-sharing app. All apps built during the competition were built using imo’s API, which encouraged hackers to build apps that were friendly to multiple users.

The winning app was a multi-player, turn-based shooting game called SHOOTER x SHOOTER. After 22 hours of hacking, first-year graduate students at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering Robert Xue and Samantha Zhang developed an entire level to the game where their users could earn points by shooting and even hide behind barriers.

A real-time meeting planner (a.k.a. a much-needed improvement on Doodle) called meet’NU took second place, while redditmash, a chat room allowing users to vote on top Reddit photos, placed third.

But the hackathon wasn’t all work and no play. (Remember, imo paid for the Red Bull.)

“There was a significant amount of watching that new, terrible video, “It’s Thanksgiving” by the same guy who created ‘Friday,’” Singh said. “Someone at the Hackathon discovered it while it was still at 30,000 views. Within like 2 hours of them telling everyone, ‘Look at how bad this wonderful, hilarious video is,’ it had already gotten up to 1 million views.”

The simultaneous stress and playfulness that make up hackathons are something that HackNorthwestern simulates at their weekly Hack Nights, which draw about 30 to 50 students. Ryan McAfee, an organizing member of HackNorthwestern, said that the group focuses both on hacking and on facilitating relationships between students and professionals in the start-up world.                              (photos courtesy of imo.im)

“One of our goals is to try to encourage people to build innovative things, to hack on stuff and to also have an interest in start-ups,” McAfee said. “In Chicago there are a lot of start-up companies and we try to build some en routes with those companies, and try to get people active in those communities.”

HackNorthwestern makes these connections with the help of McCormick’s computer science department and Northwestern’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship. Farley Director Michael Marasco said that Northwestern prioritizes linking students to start-ups in collaborative ways, like hackathons.

“At the end of the weekend, students got to know much more about imo, their products and one of their lead developers than they would have ever learned at a company presentation on a day of on-site interviews,” Marasco said.

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