170 Hackers. 24 Hours. 1 winner.

August 2, 2011

On Friday night, LinkedIn’s Mountain View cafeteria was filled to capacity with over 170 interns both from leading tech companies throughout the Bay Area and leading schools (Berkeley, Stanford, Waterloo, Upenn, and MIT among others). As droves of college students checked in, the energy in the room was focused on hacking right from the start.

The interns were gathered for LinkedIn’s first open Intern Hackday — a chance to win a MacBook Air, an iPad or Apple gift card — but more importantly, a chance to earn permanent bragging rights among their peers. The anticipation mounted as teams were formed, monitors plugged in and the genesis of potential ideas discussed.

A little after 7pm, Hackday guru Adam Nash opened the flood gates unleashing the fervor of typing fingers, murmured conversations and illegible chicken scratch on whiteboards. My role at this event was to handle logistics, quickly resolving any issues that came up: food shortage, power outage, computers overheating, interns overheating, etc.

We stocked the fridge with an unhealthy supply of energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar, but it definitely came in handy as interns refueled continuously. We also made sure we had a never-ending supply of food, including snacks like ice cream, chips of all kinds, candy, Chicago deep-dish pizzas, a 2am delivery of Chinese food, breakfast burritos, tacos, and more. Many interns escaped to the lounge area to relax, an oasis complete with over-sized beanbags, Foosball and a ping pong table.

Saturday at noon marked the end of hacking and the beginning of preliminary judging. 45 projects were presented where we saw 3D games, music apps, UI frameworks, augmented reality, AI, location apps, IDE extensions, p2p file sharing and even a 20 page report. We picked 15 finalists whose 24 hour hacks were judged by James Gosling (creator of the Java programming language), Omar Hamoui (founder of AdMob), and Kevin Scott (LinkedIn’s VP of Engineering).

The final judging was lively as LinkedIn’s own Ryan Seacrest, Adam Nash, attempted to keep the interns’ heavy eyelids from closing. After 2 hours of presentations, the judges collaborated and announced the winners:

  • 3rd place went to beam.it: peer-to-peer file transfer in the browser
  • 2nd place to LinkedOut: use LinkedIn data to predict the probability of someone moving to a certain company and the effect this would have on their network.
  • 1st place went to Rocks: a real-time, 3d, multiplayer, in-browser game similar to capture the flag with some impressive feats of WebGL and hardware acceleration.

As I was pulling out of Stierlin Court almost 35 hours later, the winning team was walking away, a tired pride hung over their shoulders, and I offered them a ride to the nearby train station. Their eyes occasionally closed on the hour-long car ride but when they did talk code, I was lost.

One thing I did hear: “This hackday was awesome.” Next Play.

We also put together a timeline of tweets and relevant photographs that captured the highlights of those 24 hours. Click through the picture below for a closer look.

Intern hackday twitter stream