HackDuke: Coding for Social Good

January 3, 2022
Research Archives

Published in our 2016-17 issue.

From November 19 to 20, 2016 hundreds of ambitious and creative college students and mentors gathered in the Duke University Engineering Quadrangle to compete in a 24-hour coding competition known as HackDuke. Since its inception in 2013, HackDuke has been a proud and highly respected student-run tradition at Duke. While it may just seem like another one of the hundreds of hackathons held at college campuses every year, what makes HackDuke so different is that it is the only college hackathon with a goal of coding for social good, a purpose emphasized by the competition’s theme: “Code for Good.”

From its modest start in 2013 as a collaborative effort between students at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, HackDuke, formerly known as HackBlue, has grown tremendously both in size and geographic representation. This year more than 500 students from universities across the nation and around the globe came to Duke to construct programs, platforms, and apps in collaborative teams for social issues in one of four tracks: Inequality, Energy & The Environment, Health & Wellness, and Education. Hackers identified a real world social issue that related to their track and worked in teams against a 24-hour deadline to create a workable solution that they had the opportunity to present to a panel of judges. In keeping line with the theme of coding for social good, the winners of each track were given the opportunity to donate their prize money to a non-profit organization of their choice.

In addition to its philanthropic contribution, the educational value of HackDuke is tremendous for seasoned veteran coders and novices alike. To foster an inclusive environment for coders of all levels, the competition includes a separate novice track. In addition, HackDuke provides access to mentors who can assist teams who need help with unfamiliar coding languages, platforms, design, and other technological problems. Mentors are a diverse group of people that include alumni, faculty members, and even representatives of tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Coinbase. Students had the opportunity to network with these companies during the event and could also attend technology themed workshops in topics such as blockchain technologies and ArcGIS JavaScript.

The winning Inequality track team created Kindling, a platform designed to build inclusive communities by allowing users to share and discuss news stories with people of differing opinions. The winning Health & Wellness track team designed Eyezheimer, an easy to use web application that diagnoses Alzheimer’s disease. In the Energy & Environment track, the winning team created Watt, a web application that assists consumers in making energy and cost efficient appliance purchases. The winning Education track team created Paizza, an integrative feature of the question-and-answer site Piazza used in many college classes that flags down duplicate questions.

HackDuke, however, has a much larger role than just a coding competition. It is an open space where computer scientists, entrepreneurs, and artists can meet other ambitious like-minded individuals. It is a place for networking and discovering the connections between ideas and real multi-disciplinary fields in technology. It is a place where people come to understand sociological issues and the solutions that technology can provide us. But it doesn’t just end after the 24-hours are up. After HackDuke, many project teams go on to make their prototypes long-term projects in the hopes that one day their creation will be a real tool for social good.

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