How A Group of UW Students Pioneered the Pacific Northwest Collegiate Hackathon Scene

By Katrina Odfina

WASHINGTON — Two years ago, a group of UW students who double as coding enthusiasts decided to start a hackathon on the UW campus. Little did they know, they were creating what would soon be known as the largest collegiate hackathon in the Pacific Northwest, or, as it is more commonly called, DubHacks.For those who are unfamiliar with the term ‘hackathon’, although it contains the word ‘hack’, it does not necessarily entail a gathering of hackers breaking into your computer.

Every weekend, students all over the nation and beyond travel to these collegiate hackathons to form teams who create and code a computer software or hardware solution from scratch in just 24 hours. Registration is free, but the ideas that are born from one sleepless night and little preparation can yield significant contribution to the tech world.

Rewind: Skipping Over Humble Beginnings and Straight To Spreading like Rapidfire

In the Spring of 2014, Grant Timmerman, the now director and sponsorship coordinator for DubHacks, and Karan Goel, DubHacks co-founder and Timmerman’s colleague in the computer science department, began leading student-run tech talks on the UW-Seattle campus under the name of Sudo Soldiers.

These tech talks attracted students in and outside of the computer science department, growing from around 200 members in their Facebook group to over 600 members currently.

In the everyday life of a hackathon frequenter and computer science entrepreneur, “coffee replaces sleep,” said Timmerman. It was this lack of sleep and abundance of passion which drove Timmerman and his friends to get Startup UW and the UW Informatics Undergraduate Association (IUGA) on board to form what is now DubHacks.

DubHacks is not actually affiliated with UW as it is not registered as a UW student organization. Every single detail and action made to put their hackathon and team together is solely student-supported work.

When asked about information on DubHacks, Zorah Fung, a member of the UW Computer Science Department faculty replied that she actually did not know much about the organization. Without reliance upon the professorial minds in the UW Computer Science faculty, this group of students pioneered the first student hackathon in the Pacific Northwest.

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Grant Timmerman, who is sponsorship coordinator, director, and co-founder of DubHacks, spends time in his home state of California when he’s not attending college at UW in Seattle.

Going International: nwHacks2016, Vancouver, B.C.

The UW DubHacks team along with 50 other UW student coding enthusiasts boarded a Vancouver, B.C.-bound bus on February 27 to compete in a Canadian collegiate hackathon called nwHacks 2016.

The team consisted of Timmerman along with UW Computer Science students Naomi Musgrave, Christopher Su, Anwell Wang, and Skyler Kidd. When they’re not organizing the next DubHacks hackathon event, these five students compete in hackathons together under the DubHacks name.

A representative from nwHacks2016 described their impression of the DubHacks team as “an innovative and inspiring group that provides creative perspectives for nwHacks 2016.”

SnowdenCam, or the James Bond Cam, was the DubHacks team’s project for nwHacks 2016. The SnowdenCam creates a way for people to send encrypted files to one another via video stream. It placed in two categories at the hackathon–winning third place and a $500 cash prize in the Security and Privacy category as well as Best Use of Amazon Web Services.

Timmerman says they will split up the earnings amongst the team and treat each other to celebratory drinks with their earnings.

However, the story of DubHacks extends much further beyond their first steps as a team onto international competition grounds, and it includes an even greater community of students who continue to contribute to its success along the way.

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Photo courtesy of the nwHacks2016 team
The DubHacks team, Naomi Musgrave, Skyler Kidd, Christopher Su, Anwell Wang, and Grant Timmerman (pictured from left to right), is all-smiles at nwHacks 2016 on February 28th after winning 3rd place in the Security and Privacy division as well as Best Use of Amazon Web Services. Their hack, the SnowdenCam, allows one to send encrypted messages to another person via videostream.

Not Just A Team But Also A Family

To someone who has no experience with these kinds of events, the hackathon world may seem overwhelmingly riddled with elite coding whizzes and complex technological jargon. The students at DubHacks state that they strive to break down these stigmatic walls to foster a community that embraces both hackathon novices and veterans.

“Many of our organizers were already part of the larger hackathon community, having traveled to attend many at other schools, but several of us were completely new to the culture. I think that’s what allowed us to create an environment that, while familiar to a hackathon veteran, was also a great introduction to a community of builders and collaborators,” Skyler Kidd, who was part of the inaugural DubHacks team, said. “We wanted our event to be a space where anyone could feel welcome and everyone had a reason to get inspired. Hopefully, that’s what people experienced.”

David Coven, a UW student who was also on the inaugural DubHacks team, reflected on his journey thus far. “DubHacks was an amazing experience, truly humbling. I got to see something come from nothing, to a beautiful organization for good,” Coven said. “The team I was on was probably the most well-oiled machine I’ve ever been a part of. Everyone was responsive, dedicated, quick, and consistent with a high level of excellence. They are each family.”

DubHacks On The Rise

The DubHacks team is now preparing for their next DubHacks hackathon, as well as continuing to compete in various collegiate hackathons throughout the country. DubHacks 2015 had such a massive attendance that they filled the maximum capacity of multiple buildings on the University of Washington campus. They are now looking at moving the event to an off-campus venue in order to accommodate their increasing number of registrants.

Many of the inaugural members will be graduating and moving onto post-graduate life this June, but, with the many successes that DubHacks has had over the past two years, the organization seeks to continue on.

“I’ve only ever been on the one team, so maybe every team out there goes through a similar journey when first establishing a community at their school,” Kidd said, “but it was incredibly rewarding to be part of that here.”

Katrina Odfina
Featured Image Photo courtesy of Major League Hacking


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