For 13 hours on a gray December Saturday, students from all over Boston attended the first-ever Suffolk undergraduate hackathon, part of a global day of hacking that included more than 275 communities around the world.

While Suffolk University Law School has held hackathons in the past, this was the first time the College of Arts & Sciences and the Sawyer Business School have teamed up to devote a whole day to solving problems through collaborative computing.

Sponsored by Mendix, which provided the low-code app development platform, as well as mentoring and technical support, the hackathon gave students the opportunity to work in small groups to solve a business challenge.

Assignments included:

  • Develop a games database
  • Design a better Suffolk student directory
  • Create a Suffolk-only currency called RamDollars
Each task sounds simple on its face, but, as with any process challenge, it soon became clear why a full day was needed to work out solutions.

“We went in really excited about the project and thinking that we’d get it done with time to spare,” said Chloe Dinh, BSBA ’18, one of the hackers. “Then, five hours into the project, we’re still getting started. If I learned one thing from the hackathon, it’s that the more you work on a project, the more you have to do.”

Real resolutions for a real business

By the end of the day, three of the groups had come up with workable solutions—and not all were hypotheticals. Jon Huang, BSBA ’15, came into the hackathon needing some communal brainpower for his start-up venture, The Savory Cater, which connects off-the-radar ethnic food vendors with local businesses seeking something new for company-sponsored meals and events. He asked his group to start developing a personalized inquiry form for new clients.

“The hackathon was the epitome of concurrent engineering. I have no idea how to code, but I had coders on my team,” Huang said. “I was able to explain the business requirements of what I need, and the coders were able to tell me what’s possible.”

Which was exactly the goal of the whole event. As co-organizer Spencer Hommel said, “What we’ve tried to do is enable both coders and businesspeople to better understand each other.”
Plans already are under way for the next hackathon.

Watch a two-minute video about this year’s hackathon.