The Smoke Signal, MSJ's Official Newspaper


MSJ Ideas Stand Out at Hack Gen Y


By: Staff Writer Harshita Gupta


Over 450 high school students congregated at NestGSV’s Redwood City headquarters to kick off the winter hackathon season with Hacking Generation Y (Hack Gen Y). Held from January 24-25, Hack Gen Y admitted students aged 14 to 18, and lasted 36 hours. Attendees formed teams, worked on their programming skills, and created products to solve real-world problems. Of 86 teams competing, eight qualified as finalists, and three of the eight finalist teams had MSJ students on them.

Hack Gen Y was Senior Kevin Zeng’s first hackathon – and his team placed 2nd out of 86 teams at the event. They drew from personal experiences and built a safety iPhone application called “Transponder”, which can be used when heading into unsafe or unknown areas. Transponder checks in with the user via a text message every 30 minutes. Users reply to the text to confirm their safety, but if no reply arrives within a predetermined amount of time, Transponder uses the phone’s last known location to alert emergency contacts and local police agencies. The app is built so that it works even if the phone’s battery has run out or if it is stolen. The team received interviews for the MIT Launch summer entrepreneurship program, admittance to the Praxis internship gap-year program, and nominations for multiple sponsor awards. Zeng’s team is applying for startup grants like the Thiel Scholarship and hopes to scale their product up and release it to the public. Zeng commented on the team’s commitment to the project, saying, “We want to work on this. I’m still chatting with my team members, even though we’re thousands of miles apart. ”

Juniors Srinath Goli, Anurag Papolu, Harikaran Subbaraj, and Zuhayer Quazi built “Synomyn,” an essay-editing web application with a live thesaurus to improve writing in the shortest amount of time. “While editing their work, a lot of students just end up looking up synonyms on for the words that they’re trying to replace, but if you’re writing a 1500-word essay, it’s too repetitive and time consuming,” Subbaraj says. Their app makes this everyday process easier and quicker for students. They placed in the top eight teams of the 86 who competed and received Praxis admittance. The team plans to build on their success and expand Synonym to include grammar and plagiarism checking, and is working with startup incubators to polish up their app and launch it to the public.

Seniors Michael Dong and Hemang Jangle, and Junior Shivam Parikh were on a team with Vandan Patel from Georgia and Michael Sitver from Connecticut. Their Android app “GPSMe,” was an extension of the traditional panic button app, and placed in the top eight as well. It enabled users to contact police via a Panic Button on a Bluetooth-enabled pepper spray, and sends the Police basic information followed by a text with GPS coordinates. GPSMe was built with the intent of maximizing efficiency and minimizing response times. The team received the Parse award for using Parse technology in their app, and was admitted to Praxis as well. They hope to expand the capabilities of their app and release it publicly, and are looking into partnering with emergency call centers and local police departments. Hack Gen Y was Parikh’s first hackathon, and he says it’s an experience he’ll never forget. “I took away an entirely professional experience that taught me to persevere. Another thing I enjoyed most about the hackathon was meeting new people. I had the pleasure of becoming friends with some of the people on the team from Israel and Lebanon and I gained an entirely new perspective on the way that life works and functions out of the states. Even if one does not attend hackathons for the code, the people one meets and the relationships one makes are truly some of the most important.”

All Hack Gen Y’s MSJ attendees agree that the hackathon gave students of all experience levels the chance to learn and build something unique. “If you’re passionate about learning and creating something, a space like Hack Gen Y has all the resources you need to accomplish those goals,” Zeng said. The next major high school hackathon is HS Hacks II, from February 7-8, at PayPal headquarters in San Jose. Sign up at

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