Two weeks ago, I went to a hackathon being put on at my school. I went with three of my close girl friends with the intention of having fun and making a viable project at the end of our 36 hour allotted time. But before I get too deep, you’re probably wondering what a hackathon is, and why in the world I’m telling you about it. I’ll answer the first part now, and the second part at the end.
A hackathon is an event where, for a dedicated period of time (usually 1-3 days), people from different aspects of creating software (or hardware) come together to try and make a viable product. Hackathons can have themes or restrictions on what types of content they want people to work towards. They can be just for fun, educational or competitive. The goal is just to get together with a group of people and create a technical project that you can all be proud of at the end of the hackathon. For the hackathon I went to, over 500 students from across the nation participated. Tons of mentors, free swag and food were present throughout the 36 hours. I and my friends didn’t sleep much, but we had a ton of fun.
Let me outline the process of what happened during this hackathon. I promise there’s a point to it The hackathon started at 10pm at night on a Friday. We registered, got lanyards and listened to an opening ceremony and keynote. The atmosphere at once was very welcoming; hackers of all levels were invited to have fun and learn. There were prizes being offered too, but that wasn’t the main draw as to why I was there. Around 11:30pm, my group went into one of the main hacking buildings, got some caffeine, and began to discuss project ideas. We knew we wanted to work on a project that dealt with a relevant social issue. Many, many topics were tossed around. Homelessness, gender-specific issues, social movements and more were hotly debated. It was hard choosing a topic because we felt that in developing a piece of software or an app, we were limiting the potential to what our user base would be, which was not the base we wanted to reach with our project. We stayed up until 3:30 or 4am and then went to sleep. The next morning, around 8:30, we continued to brainstorm. Eventually, we settled on an outpatient monitoring system for doctors and patients, using a web platform and an iPhone app. Since I’ve had some web development experience this quarter, one other friend on my team and I buddied up to create the website portal for doctors to monitor their patients.
After getting some brunch, we worked on our hack until 4am Sunday morning. There were moments of frustration, of not understanding why the code didn’t work. Exhaustion from the night before definitely had an effect on my debugging ability (I took a nap at one point), and even with two or four sets of eyes, we often didn’t understand why things just didn’t work the way we wanted them to. Our other two team members started learning iPhone programming at 10pm Saturday night, and worked through Sunday morning to get a mock version of our app to show the general public at the expo on Sunday. And yet those crazy hours of not understanding, of rewriting code and then jumping up when the program finally worked made the weekend well worth it. At the end of the hackathon, we had a proof of our concept, and showed off our site and app to judges and venture capitalists.
So cool. I built a thing with some friends. If you’ve never programmed or even heard of a hackathon, how does this relate to you? A sleep deprived weekend typing on your computer isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But take a look at it this way. For a long, dedicated amount of time, I worked on a project with a group of friends that made me really happy, and we accomplished something that none of us could have done alone (or at least not in the time span of the weekend). We started from nothing and came out with a nice looking project we could show off. So. When was the last time you spent a focused amount of time on a creative project, either alone or with friends? Did you finish the project? Was it something you made from scratch? I believe there is a huge, huge benefit to making things on your own or with others. Creativity is one of those things in life that you can’t force, but with the right environment and mindset, it can come in with a brilliant force. And what’s even better is that it often grows from other thoughts or opinions, which friends can provide. Pretty soon you’ll have a whole garden of creative ideas growing in your mind.
And so my challenge to you is this: pick a weekend where you’ll dedicate a fair amount of time to a hobby or project you want to work on. Start something from scratch or pick up a project you already started. Work alone or with friends. Listen to good music, eat delicious food, do some yoga or whatever you need to get you through the weekend. It’ll be a transformative process, and you will thank yourself later for it. By pushing yourself, you will learn and grow in your abilities. You might even surprise yourself with what you can accomplish when you have an open mind and a project goal for yourself. If you can find the time, dedication and effort to just do it, I guarantee you’ll be rewarded.
It’s that time of year again. The time where we take a moment, look at the calendar and realize just how quickly this year went by. Whether 2014 was good, bad or somewhere in between, now is the perfect time to look back and reflect on the major happenings of the year. And by looking at what happened recently, maybe we can even predict or prepare ourselves for the future in 2015.
2014 was a pretty revolutionary year for technology. New devices emerged, technology policies were tested, and cybersecurity was exposed again and again. So let’s take a moment to look at tech trends in 2014, virtual and physical, the good and the bad.
One of the biggest tech trends this year was the advancement of wearable technology. In particular, health trackers and smart watches were pretty popular this year. With Apple releasing its own smart watch line, and introducing the HealthKit app, Silicon Valley seems to have some pretty strong ideas about what’s important to people. And it’s true. Pebble, Jawbone and Fitbit are continually revising their products to meet new demands. Even Microsoft jumped on the bandwagon (pardon the pun) and released their own health tracking device. Whether the drive for health trackers is a reflection of America’s shift toward healthier lifestyles or simply just a new trend, there’s no doubt that wearable health monitors will continue to be prevalent. With all the data people are gathering about themselves, we could see a major shift in the way we process health data, creating a more comprehensive and personalized health plan. Wearables were an exciting part of 2014, and no doubt their evolution will continue to pervade the future.
With all these new devices coming out, companies online are starting to realize they need to adapt their websites so that all consumers can access their precious web pages, no matter how they’re accessing the internet. Responsive web design existed before 2014, but this year is really when the most conversions occurred, according to several online tech blogs. And really, responsive web design is just going to become an online standard, so it’s good many sites took the plunge to revamp their online formatting sooner rather than later. Another huge trend in web design has been the emergence of long, single page web pages. Many modern sites are favoring having all their information for a particular product on one long page that users click or scroll through. Often the pages are broken into sections, which you can jump to or take your time scrolling. New web tools and the desire for simplistic layouts are, in my opinion, the main reason for this trend. And with the amount of information we have nowadays, it makes sense to combine it all onto one page, instead of clicking through to tons of linked pages. It also makes the web developer’s job easier when designing and maintaining fewer pages. This trend might continue into 2015, but we’ll have to see.
This year has perhaps been one of the biggest for online security and privacy, and not in a good way. From credit card leaks to Heartbleed to hacks, companies have been beleaguered by flawed cybersecurity. And unfortunately, the average citizen can’t exactly do much about it. Every time you use your credit card online or in a store, there is a chance your information is at risk. But it’s a risk everyone has to take in today’s world, and the best we can do is pressure those with the ability to prevent these hacks in upping their game. Recently having talking to someone on a cybersecurity team at a major retail company, I know that many businesses are doing their best to keep their customers safe and keep their company out of the news. If anything, hopefully the online disasters of 2014 will spur new research into the cybersecurity field and raise current security measures.
So that’s 2014 in a nutshell. Be sure to stay tuned if you want to hear about predictions for 2015 in my next post! I think 2015 will be another exciting year for tech, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Happy New Year!
Continuing with the safety theme of the past couple weeks, I’d like to highlight an upcoming issue that is taking the web by storm.
As mentioned in previous blog posts, the safest way to browse the web is on websites that use the HTTPS prefix. Netscape Communications came up with HTTPS for its 1994 Netscape Navigator web browser. In 2000, HTTPS gained recognition and received full documentation by The Internet Society. HTTPS was mainly created to prevent wiretapping and hackers from stealing information while it was free floating in the internet, presumably in the middle of a transaction.
According to trustworthyinternet.org, about 25% of all websites are currently configured to use secure servers and the HTTPS prefix. HTTPS provides encryption and authentication of a web site, meaning you know you are on the website you mean to be on, not an imposter site, and all information you enter on that website will be safe from hackers. Many websites that use HTTPS are ones such as stores and retailers that require secure transactions with credit cards. As a side note, never enter your credit card information on a website that doesn’t use HTTPS – there’s the potential someone could intercept your information on its way to the website’s servers. But now, many websites are employing HTTPS as a means of securing identity profiles (such as Facebook) and various accounts, as well as keeping web browsing private.
As the world becomes more conscious about security measures, especially those online, HTTPS will become more and more common. Large companies and brands, such as Facebook, have already started to make the switch on their websites. Additionally, many other forms of encryption are taking place on smartphones and tablets, and the web is next.
In fact, Google recently changed their search algorithm to prefer HTTPS webpages over HTTP pages, which affects all websites that might appear in a result. HTTPS is the new standard of web design, and many websites will be redesigned to reflect the demand for secure online browsing. In fact, HTTPS only works if an entire website uses the HTTPS prefix; whole sites will need to be overhauled, or else are left vulnerable to attacks through backdoor, unsecure web pages attached to their site. With more preference being given to secure websites, and a change in unofficial web standards, now is a good time to reflect on whether your website is HTTP Secure (HTTPS). If not, it might be in your company’s and your customers’ best interest to change the means of how your website communicates its information.