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That One Time I Hack’ed The North

September 29, 2015

Note: This has been cross-posted on my medium account at https://medium.com/@aashnisshah

    Tl;dr: Hack the North was incredible.

I finally managed to make it out to Hack The North, and I’m so happy I decided to go. I was a little worried about whether or not I should go since I had just gotten back from a trip to Kenya and South Africa, school had just started, and I had a lot of things already going on. But then I figured — this is my last year, I want to make the most of it. I jumped onto the bus on Friday, headed to Waterloo and found myself standing in a giant tent with a bunch of other hackers waiting for registration. Just seeing the sheer number of hackers in attendance, my adrenaline started pumping even more.

Hack The North

Just a small sample of the people at HTN. Image taken from the HTN Facebook PageI remember sitting through the opening ceremony, and within the first five minutes of the keynote video I was in awe. I felt so inspired to build things and make magic happen, and I could tell everyone sitting around me felt the same way. Once we made it back to the E5 building, I found my team, dropped off a lot of my things, and then went to do the obligatory swag grab and sponsor chat. If any sponsors or company representatives are reading this, I swear that means I came to chat with all the lovely company reps at the booth to find out more about the company, the company’s products and technologies and about full-time jobs at that company and was pleasantly surprised to find awesome swag at the desks as a way for me to remember the company :). I actually spent a lot of time walking around and talking to the fantastic sponsor reps about everything from hackathons and full-time jobs, to spicy chilli in San Francisco, or my recent trip to South Africa. Sponsor reps are people too, and it’s important to remember that when you go and talk to them.

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Screenshot of the Facebook Post that created our teamNormally when I attend a hackathon, I have a team of friends made before hand and we’ll figure out what we’re working on once we get to the hackathon. This time I ended up joining a team with Ruth, the director of Hack Western, along with two other students, Sarosh and Michael from Western as well. It made a positive difference in a few ways, the first being I got to meet and work with new people. The second being I worked with people with different skills, and we successfully split up the workload into the “front-end” portion and the “back-end” portion. I worked on the front-end of our project, while they focused more on the back-end. I really enjoyed working with this group, and was extremely proud of what we hacked together.

We wanted to explore the quantitive insights into growth hacking through the use of artificial intelligence. Many news sites such as BuzzFeed use AI and machine learning to help inform their content. We wanted to take it a step further and see if we could create an AI that, when given a few facts, would be able to write riveting articles. We scraped the top 100 posts on medium in the month of August 2015, and used this to train our AI machine to learn how to write articles. Obviously this wasn’t enough data, however we’re in a hackathon and had a limited amount of time. We then had the AI create text output that was then converted into a click-baity website. It was wonderful! Props to Ruth for the idea, and obvious props to the whole team for getting it running! I was extremely impressed that the content we generated seemed to resemble English, and had grammatically correct sentences, even though the content of the sentences weren’t perfect. With more data and training, we would have had more english-like sentences, but we’re in a hackathon with limited time.

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You should check out our devpost submission for a better breakdown of how we built it, the challenges we ran into and what we learned. If you’d like to see the site live, visit ConGen.co/app. Note that the content we have up there is static as we shut down the server running our machine learning. If you’re interested, here’s a github link to the repo containing the front-end part of our hack.

I learnt a lot, I had a great time, I met incredible people (including Alexis Ohanian when he came and chilled in our room for an hour), and went to some really great talks and AMAs. This weekend was a huge success and I highly recommend everyone apply for the next Hack The North.