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Andrew Furman, Rebecca Chen, Michelle Lee, and Nick Rock: Crowd Favorite at Facebook Hackathon

24 hours. That was all the time participants had to create a new and interesting application at Facebook’s Hackathon. With companies scouting Carnegie Mellon for available talent, and with a first prize trip to the Facebook Headquarters in Palo Alto on the line, competition at Hackathon was intense. I talked to one team, which consisted of junior Rebecca Chen, senior Michelle Lee, senior Andrew Furman (“Furman”), and junior Nick Rock, about their experience.
 
The main premise of a hackathon is for a team of up to four people to take an idea for something and turn it into a reality in 24 hours. The application can be anything they want. The whole point is to come up with new ideas and new ways to do things. “Most teams at hack-a-thons build new websites that they think would be useful. However, I have seen people build things at other hack-a-thons that take physical form such as robots or remote controlled planes,” said Andrew Furman.
 
When choosing their team, the two initial members, Michelle Lee and Andrew Furman, looked for variety in skill level as well as interest.  “Rebecca Chen and Andrew Furman were both IS majors, and I knew that they were also gung-ho app geeks like myself,” Michelle Lee states as she laughed to herself.
 
“I worked with Michelle Lee at a previous hackathon on campus sponsored by Yahoo. We later recruited Rebecca Chen to join our team because we knew she has great web design skills,” explained Furman.  “We then later added Nick Rock to our team, who ended up helping me write some of the backend code for our hack.”
 
Coming from a range of majors, the each member of the team was able to bring something to the table when it came time to create the application. Rebecca worked mainly on the design and graphics while Furman’s role was coding the backend functionality of the website. Nick helped with the coding and Michelle programmed and held the role of administrator and motivator. With their collaborative efforts and long brainstorming sessions at Orient Express, the team was able to create their own app, Tarot. 
 
Tarot is based on the idea of prediction markets and it’s about turning making predictions into a game. The team first familiarized themselves with current applications striving to achieve similar goals until they picked the niche their application would fall into. “Initially we tried to figure out the successes of current applications. By tackling the who, what, when, and where realm, we figured that Tarot would be best suited for the “when” aspect,” explained Michelle.
 
“This socialized application would allow you to earn points for making correct predictions and lose them for making incorrect predictions. Your total points would be on your profile and would let you show your friends how good or bad you were at making predictions,” Furman added. 
 
Although they were able to work well together to successfully create an app the group did have some difficulties. Aside from the difficulty of staying up for 24 hours, the team talked to me about how making the actual application function was a struggle since none of the members were hardcore software engineers. “We were learning new tools as we built the app,” Michelle Lee said. 
 
There may have been struggles, but the team’s hard work paid off in the end when they were awarded the “Community Choice Award,” which was awarded to the team with the most “likes” on the Facebook Hackathon page. More important than awards, however, was the experience as a whole for the team. When I asked Michelle what was most rewarding for her she said, “The gained experience in hacking and that we were able to actually develop something. It was an opportunity that also made us become excited in continuing the development of Tarot.”
 
For Rebecca the experience was a memorable one. “I was able to hang out with my friends and it’s something we can still joke about today,” she explains. 
 
While also finding Facebook’s Hackathon memorable, Furman is already planning for future hackathons. “The next hackathon I plan on going to is the EDU Hack Day in NYC on January 6-7. I also plan on going back to the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in May 2012 because I had an awesome time at this hackathon in 2011.”
 
Like Furman, the rest of the team members look forward to future hackathons. In the words of Michelle, “It’s definitely an all-nighter that you wouldn’t mind pulling on a Friday night.”

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