Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel explained the importance of individuality in a world ruled by popular opinion to the 1,500 "hackers" attending LA Hacks, a free computer programming competition for students where teams of up to four members have 36 hours to create mobile and web apps at a chance to win $20,000 in prizes.
Students from all over California were bused to the University of California, Los Angeles, where they would eat, sleep and code right on the court of the Edwin W. Pauley Pavilion that the Bruins call home. LA Hacks Founder and UCLA senior says "We are by far the biggest hackathon in history in terms of size, no question about it."
Spiegel who was the surprise keynote speaker says "I believe that the best leaders are those that stand for something, who have a point of view and that point of view must be developed, not alone, but in private -or risk becoming normalized in search of popular support."
Dor, who is a fourth-year cognitive science student at UCLA, says, "This is the first large hackathon of its size on the west coast and we have a lot of first-timers. It's their first chance to experience what the community is really about; growth, collaboration, building a community of support and friendship. It's a place where all the future Zuckersbergs gather in the same room and hack together."
A four-member team of programmers from the University of California, Santa Barbara: Richard Ho, Brandon Cho, Chris Atanasian, and Marc Lindsay would not disclose any details about the project that they are working on.
Cho, who has been programming for seven years, says that he came because of the free food, free lodging, free ride and that it sounded like a lot of fun. Atanasian says that their goal is to "make a really useful app that anyone can use to improve people's lives."
The grand prize is $5,000 and will be determined by a panel of 11 judges including Myspace CEO Chris De Wolfe and Tinder CEO Jonathan Badeen.
The competition began on Friday, April 11 at 11:30 p.m. and will end on Sunday April 13 at 11:30 a.m. Winners will be announced at 4 p.m.
For more information, visit: www.lahacks.com/info
[Update at 1 a.m. Sunday]
As the second day of LA Hacks came to an end, hundreds of hackers worked restlessly at their stations in hopes of creating the winning program. Coffee, water and energy drinks were scattered on the workspaces between jumbles of wires and tech with fifteen hours to go before the 11:30 a.m. deadline.
Andrew Tesler, from Stanford University, came not to compete but to support his friends. He says, "Everyone here has been extremely nice. What amazes me the most about it is we are literally surrounded by thousands upon thousands and thousands of dollars of equipment, but I personally don't feel, and I don't think anyone else here feels, not safe with just leaving their computer there while they pass out for two hours."
Christopher Leonardo, who flew in from Purdue University in Indiana, says "I just like hackathons, they're fun. It's nice to be around people who are so open to innovation." Leonardo, who hadn't slept since he arrived on Friday, is working on an app that allows people to send their documents to retailers such as Walgreens or CVS for printing.
Casey Spencer, from Los Angeles Pierce College, says that LA Hacks isn't the biggest hackathon he's been to, noting Hacktech's Hack ByThe Beach in Santa Monica last January.
But Spencer, who is working with his team to create a drone controlled by the user's motions says "I don't even know what time it is, there's no windows or clocks or anything in here. It's like a casino in Las Vegas, so hours go by and we don't even realize it."
Isabella Benavente, from USC, had gotten just three hours of sleep since the hackathon started on Friday. She says, "It just seemed like a really large-scale hackathon, so I felt like it was one of those I shouldn't miss." Benavente and her team are working on a game where players throw tennis balls at projected targets. She says, "It's going pretty well, the game is pretty much done."
[Update at 8 p.m. Sunday]
The grand-prize of $5,000 was awarded to Team Tread, a three-man team that flew in all the way from the University of Maryland.
Team Tread, comprised of Charlie Hulcher, Shariq Hashme and Jake Rye developed a program that allows users to move through virtual reality by walking on a motion-sensitive platform rather than using a handheld controller as well as the hardware to operate it..
Hulcher says, "It feels completely amazing, completely unexpected because I only decided to come here on Tuesday."
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Hashme says he came because "It seemed pretty awesome, there were a ton of people signed up."
Jake Rye added, "It really, really feels great to have people recognized. It feels rewarding for making stuff you like doing - we'd be out here making this anyway. This is our weekend normally, and to get come to do it with 1,300 other people, free food, all these sponsors, it's something really incredible."