Where people and ideas come together.
computer scientists participate in LLNL's summer 2015 hackathon

“Cross-Pollination” of People and Ideas at Summer Hackathon

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Livermore Computing’s latest hackathon, held on July 23 and 24, attracted 79 “hackers,” the event’s largest participant pool to date. In collaboration spaces on the Livermore Valley Open Campus (LVOC) and in Building 453, students and veteran participants worked on unique projects either collectively or individually. Some set out to generate solution guides for Code.org “Hour of Code” lessons and to write programs that debug others, among other notable tasks.

Events like this idea fest, which is held a few times a year, encourage creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. “The biggest boon for the Lab is also the biggest boon for employees: the opportunity to learn,” said Thomas Mendoza, one of the organizers for this year’s event. “Computing technologies move at a feverish pace that easily overwhelms computer scientists. The hackathon provides the opportunity for an employee to explore an entirely different tool set, learn a new language, or even strengthen their knowledge in technologies they already know.”

In addition to developing individual computational skill sets, hackathons offer a venue for collaboration. First-time participant and summer student Rachael McConnell, who worked on Code.org lesson guides, said the event drew together individuals who might not typically work with one another. “The hackathon brought my department together to brainstorm for project ideas before the hackathon, too,” said McConnell. “Once we selected projects to work on, we collaborated on them in the LVOC—a space that provided a social environment where our team members could easily ask questions and interact.”

“Cross-pollination is a fantastic vehicle for encouraging the exploration of new ideas,” added Mendoza, who has participated in every hackathon for the past two years. Other participants agreed that a collective workspace enables teams to leverage the expertise of others. “Writing code is much easier when you’re near others you’re working with,” said postdoc David Boehme, who created a debugging program called Catch My Malloc.

Solutions reached during the hackathon often mitigate problems outside the 24-hour event. Summer student Udayanga Wickramasinghe—who paired with David to write the debugging program—hopes that the program to expand its applicability if successful. “We anticipate Catch My Malloc will grow to help improve a larger scope of computer applications.”

Past hackathon ventures have directly benefitted the Lab’s programs, such as a project that improved Livermore’s LITE timekeeping system. LLNL has even adopted some projects into institutional practice. This year, participant Thomas Bennett worked on making the web interface of a Livermore monitoring tool called Skummee more user-friendly by improving its navigation processes. “I frequently use Skummee, and I have always wanted to improve its interface issues,” said Bennett. “The hackathon provided an excellent opportunity to focus on projects that interest me and those that I cannot fit into my typical workload.”