Student Stars Tackle COVID-19 Issues at hack:now Hackathon


Last month, Postman co-hosted hack:now, a global online hackathon series for students, in conjunction with Cal Hacks. April’s 36-hour virtual event—which featured a keynote by tech legend and UC Berkeley graduate Steve Wozniak—aimed to tackle a wide range of issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The hackathon provided an opportunity for students around the world to collaborate on projects across three tracks: healthcare, community, and productivity. More than 2,000 students—all of whom are superstars in the opinion of all of us here at Postman—participated from locations as far away as California, India, Belize, and Russia, and many students had never met their teammates prior to the event.

Postman sponsored the Best Use of APIs category and roughly a third of projects submitted qualified for the award. This reflects the current shift in developer mindset towards API-first development, and it also shows the importance of digital connectivity in these times of collective isolation. APIs facilitate fast, accurate information sharing, and they enable access to data that is crucial for understanding the scope of what we’re facing and the ability to create plans of actions.

A project called Pac-Maps won the Best Use of APIs prize. Pac-Maps is a mobile application that simulates Pac Man in real life. The game-like app incentivizes exercise and encourages players to give neighbors a wide berth while outdoors (people nearby are represented as ghosts). Pac-Maps was technically challenging to develop and relevant to community health and engagement. By enabling players to avoid the “ghosts” on the street, Pac-Maps helps them both to abide by physical distancing guidelines.

The creators of Pac-Maps—Avikam Chauhan (UC Berkeley), Mihir Chauhan (middle school student), and Mathew Joseph (UC Santa Cruz)—are experienced hackathon-ers and close friends, which certainly aided in their smooth collaboration as teammates. While they had each worked with APIs prior to the hackathon, building the application gave them a chance to dive deeper into different types of APIs.

As for the future? Pac-Maps will be released in the iOS App Store soon. Chauhan, Chauhan, and Joseph envision that the Pac-Maps app could enable contact tracing and help community members understand potential exposure to coronavirus from their social networks. Their parting advice to those who want to work on COVID-19 related projects (or begin any project) is that a computer and ideas are all that is needed. A fancy hardware setup or special expertise isn’t necessary, and there are many ways to learn technical skills online. In their words: “Go for it.”


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