Microsoft and WWU Collaborate on Hackathon Event

Brainpower from both sides of the state came together in May when six Microsoft employees traveled to Walla Walla University for HACK@WWU, the university’s first hackathon event with the Seattle-based software giant.

Israel Hilerio, a representative from Microsoft, and Jonathan Duncan, Computer Science Department chairman, coordinated the event. The Microsoft volunteers included Hilerio, Vikram Rajasekaran, Eeshan Shah and three WWU alumni — Abel Cruz, Bernard Pham and Alwin Vyhmeister. The volunteers served as presenters, coaches and judges for the day-long event during which pairs of students competed to create websites.

For the first half of the competition, the volunteers guided students through tutorials on Web technologies. After a short lunch, each team hit the ground running, fighting to make a brand-new classifieds site in just a few short hours.

Students learned languages like HTML, CSS and JavaScript extremely quickly. During the tutorials, participants wrote computer code that could be used throughout the remainder of the hackathon. This code proved to be indispensable during the second half of the day, when the programmers' training wheels came off.

Programming is no easy task. Some students compare it to difficult math homework, where there are an infinite number of wrong answers and very few correct ones. While many individuals loved the puzzle-solving component of the competition, others preferred the design aspect of the process. Details like layout, color and typography have a profound effect on user-experience and were a good way to impress the judges.

After eight straight hours of programming, judges evaluated the hackers' final website implementations for functionality, content and aesthetics.

Travis Crumley, computer engineering major, and Chris Kolson, computer science major, won first place at the hackathon, attributing their success to good teamwork and an eye for design. "With very little experience, we went from nothing to a full-functioning website with a little bit of help," Crumley states. "It was definitely a great experience."

Bob Swan, a computer engineering major who took part in the event, says, "The Microsoft guys were great to have around. I learned a lot and had a good time."

Ted Swinyar, WWU's incoming alumni president and a developer consulting at Microsoft, also joined the event. "I was inspired to see alumni and friends of the university give the next generation of professionals a helping hand," he says. 

June 20, 2014 / Walla Walla University