Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 16, 2024

24-Hour Hackathon inspires ingenuity

By NICHOLAS DEPAUL | February 14, 2013

By the time this article is printed, I will have completed the GOOD Hackathon.

Most of you readers will not know of GOOD, the “global community of, by and for pragmatic idealists working towards individual and collective progress” that publishes a quarterly magazine and curates a popular blog that publishes only “good” news.

Perhaps a few of you –because we are at Johns Hopkins University after all – will recognize the term “hackathon” described on Wikipedia (that’s right, I just sourced Wikipedia) as “an event in which computer programmers and others…[such as] graphic designers…and project managers collaborate intensively” on generating innovative products and solutions.

I am not a programmer, designer or project manager (yet). However, GOOD recognizes the positive impact of including a diverse group of thinkers, going so far as to include “storytellers” on the event invitation.  This year’s event is titled “Hacking Energy Culture.”  It aims to “generate new ways to interface with energy consumption, waste, and preservation.”

Did I mention this will all take place in under 24 hours?

Attendees will be split randomly into teams, and given a full day (9am-2am) to conceive, produce and present a product, app, system, you name it.  The environment of imposed guidelines, open solutions and an intense time constraint will undoubtedly result in a range of creative and, potentially, innovative ideas, some of which will likely serve as the basis for real world start-ups.

The Hackathon is being held at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), less than two miles from Homewood campus. Some of your may ask, “What?  This sounds like the perfect match with JHU, what with all of our computer wizards and aspiring entrepreneurs.”  Really, GOOD got it right.  More than right.  MICA is a school that nurtures creative thought, and puts a premium on non-conformism and the act of pushing past  traditional boundaries.

Yes, I realize that it’s an art school, and Hopkins is not.  But there’s no rule saying that a political science paper has to be boring, or that an engineering project can’t focus on improving digital projection frame rate (Note: Maybe this is going on, I hope so).

Too often my peers here are neck deep in a bunch of academic hoo-ha that no one but their professor will ever see or stuck in an essay format dictated by a professor just out of the confining cell of traditional graduate school.

So many times I myself have stuck to the script, rather than indulge my creative ideas, in order to maintain a solid GPA.

I could have said, “screw it” and written an awesome, enjoyable paper that my professor would have been shocked to receive.  But maybe I’m giving my professors too little credit, and to be sure, some successful assignments have come out a bit non-traditional.

The point stands, though.  The administration and faculty of Johns Hopkins, as an entity, in my opinion, have chosen to reinforce the notion of “academic rigor” at the cost of creative exploration.  This is wrongheaded for many reasons, but most students will likely find that their oh-so-important job prospects are limited by their inability to creatively engage with non-academics or traditionalist businesspeople.

I sincerely hope that next time a Hackathon comes to Baltimore, it is held in the state of the art facilities of Homewood campus.

At this point, though, I have my doubts.

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