Five hundred miles of road trip, thirty-six consecutive hours with nothing but coding, coding, coding, seven hundred program-aholics and unlimited pizzas, sandwiches and soft drinks...... it is like I can never find an experience that would beat this one. Held by University of Maryland, United States, Bitcamp is a Hackathon sponsored by more than 30 influential IT companies including Microsoft, Bloomberg, Intel and AT&T. As one of the 600+“Bitcampers”, I found Bitcamp a journey that was truly rewarding and enjoyable.

One of the many Hackathons supported by Major League Hacking(MLH), Bitcamp encourages its participants to “take what you love, fuse it with tech, build something the world has never seen.” Science and technology are no strangers to the hackers here: whenever an idea comes out, hackers dive into it and apply every technique possible to carry these ideas out. Nothing is ”too crazy” here - in fact, crazy ideas, once made into reality by hackers, are the ones that create so many “wow” moments in the expo time, the official displaying time following 36 consecutive working hours. “Iron Man” system is built based on Oculus 3D headsets, allowing you to have an Iron Man experience within the stadium; a team of McGill Engineering students created a software which allows user to dictate, instead of painstakingly type, math, physics and chemistry formula with just a microphone; there was even a musician-programmer team who designed a chord matcher that provides instant accompaniment for improvisational music!

What makes this event even more amazing is that you don’t have to know the language, platform or API that you are going to use in the Hackathon, as Hackathon is not just a place to apply your previous knowledge but also where you can learn a great bunch. One reason is that Hackathons require you to clear your mind and leave it with noting but programming for a long time. As the word “Hackathon” - which is composed of “hack” and “marathon” - suggests, Bitcamp really means some solid time commitment: hacking begins at 9 p.m. Friday, then goes all the way to 9 a.m. Sunday, with only air mattresses available for occasional naps. (Sounds not too cozy? In HackPrinceton they made us sleep in school buses...) Exhausting it might be, this unusual level of time commitment does grant huge chances of learning. (Or rather should I say you are forced to learn in order to carry out your project before the deadline?).

From a personal perspective, Bitcamp is my second Hackathon, following HackPrinceton which took place just one week before my trip to U of Maryland. Frankly, I have never expected much from any Hackathon experience, since I’m just a first-year university student in Computer Science and am in no way experienced in programming. However, Hackathons always turn out to teach, show, or even enable me to do things that I have had the slightest idea of before actually going. In Bitcamp, I played around with Raspberry Pi, a micro computer model based on Linux platform and tried to connect its ports to my own laptop so I can control every hardware attached to my laptop using Pi. Admittedly the result is not satisfactory - I did not successfully implant my program into Linux system of Pi, but that was the very beginning of my learning about Linux system. Most importantly, it drove my fear of learning Linux away, killed my procrastination in an instant, and once a hacker starts to learn something new and finds it cool - as you can imagine, a brand new world is once again out there for him.

by Ellery Yang, a student of Computer Science at McGill University