Terrapin Hackers Awarded 1st Place Trophy in Major League Hacker Standings

photo of MLH competition in progress

On November 6, 2013, the Terrapin Hackers were officially crowned the champions of the inaugural Major League Hacking season in a ceremony held at the Jeong H. Kim Rotunda. MLH Commissioner Mike Swift presented a handmade two foot statue to the dozens of Hackers who spent countless hours building and coding innovative apps and products during the six-week season.

The president and co-founder of Terrapin Hackers, Shariq Hashme, a double major in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, stood in front of a crowd of computer science and engineering students and proudly demonstrated the winning hacks from HackRU at Rutgers University and M-Hacks at the University of Michigan.

The students were recognized by distinguished faculty and staff as well. Dr. Samir Khuller, Department Chair of Computer Science and Dr. Rama Chellappa, Department Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering offered congratulatory speeches to the members of Terrapin Hackers and Dr. Darryll Pines, Dean of the Clark School of Engineering also offered the students words of encouragement as well. 

The Terrapin Hackers http://www.terrapinhackers.com/,  are a dynamic group of over 150 Computer Science, Engineering and other students from the University of Maryland claimed first place in the Major League Hacker Standings http://mlh.io/standings/.  Throughout the first half of the fall semester, the Terrapin Hackers spent their weekends competing in Hackathons—24 to 96 hour events in which students code or ‘hack’ a software or hardware project from scratch.  The Terrapin Hackers travelled to events in:

At each hackaton, the Terrapin Hackers garnered points for participation and prizes (either from being judged ‘best overall hack’ or by winning individual categories sponsored by companies).  Yesterday, the Terrapin Hackers won the title by over 100 points.

The Terrapin Hackers are led by Shariq Hashme, Junior Computer Science and Electrical Engineering major; Ivan Melyakov, Senior Computer Science major; Diego Quispe, a Senior Computer Science major, and Kunal Sharma, a Sophomore Computer Science major.  These four students tirelessly organized transportation and helped with hackathon registration for their group members. The Terrapin Hackers took busses, cars and even planes to multiple events in order to build and showcase their software and hardware projects (more commonly known as ‘hacks’). At the same time, the students learned a great deal from each other as well as from students representing universities from all over the United States and Canada.

During the summer of 2013, while doing internships and working, Hashme, Melyakov, Quisepe and Sharma decided to form a group so that they could travel to Hackathons. “We were just doing what we loved,” said Diego Quispe, "It all started with getting other students to come with us to do what we love: HACKATHONS. However, everything we've accomplished in such a short time really shows that doing what you are passionate about always ends up in a great way."

The Hackathon season began in September with PennApps. The Terrapin Hackers brought a large delegation of students to Philadelphia and posted about their activities on Twitter and other social media. One twitter post showed a large group of Terrapin Hackers in front of a Maryland State Flag.

 Ivan Melyakov said that PennApps was really educational and that he and his team quickly had to adapt their idea because a company sponsoring the event had already built the software they had thought of creating.

“…[at] PennApps we had quickly learned that point.io ha[d] done our job for us a couple of months prior (they are a new tech company). As such, we had to entirely scrap our idea and think of a new direction[;] so on the second day, we decided to work with point.io and build a HIPAA compliant document viewer based on the point.io platform.”

That change in direction led to their team winning a prize from point.io as well as establishing a collaborative working relationship with the company.   “We’re going to work together in the future,” Melyakov mentioned.  He also encouraged other students to try Hackathons, emphasizing, “"It's not about what you can code. It's about what you can do with what you can code."

The Terrapin Hackers went on to do very well in all of the Hackathons in which they participated.  After an impressive showing in numbers and a first place win at MHacks in Michigan, the group went on to Boston to participate at HackMIT. 

Paige Nelson, a Junior Computer Science major, competed with Eric Zinnikas, a Senior Computer Science Major, Chul Kwon, a Senior Economics Major and Justin Chen, a Senior Computer Engineering Major.

She had this to say about at HackMIT: “I was a little nervous before going to HackMIT because it is such a big competition and seemed really intimidating. I had such a great experience though! It is incredible to realize how much you can learn and create in just 24 hours.” She was very excited about her project which searched specific words or phrases used in a video or searched for concepts discussed in a video. “We didn’t make top ten, but we ended up winning prizes from a couple of companies, and $1000.00, and that was pretty good.”

Because they did so well at these hackathons, by the middle of the season, the Terrapin Hackers ended up in third place behind Carnegie Melon and MIT in the Major League Hacker Standings.  The last Hackathon of the series, HackRU at Rutgers University, ended up determining the overall winner of the title “Best School for Hackers.” 

Ian Sweet and Joe Martin clinched the win for Maryland with their hack W.A.B. (Web-based Algorithmic Benchmarker) https://www.hackerleague.org/hackathons/hackru-fall-2013/hacks/wab. Their software W.A.B. (Web-based Algorithmic Benchmarker) is a web application built using Ruby on Rails. Their application benchmarks analyzing processor-time parameters (time complexity).  This custom made hack won first prize at HackRU.  That win, along with the large number of UMD student participants, earned the Terrapin Hackers bragging rights until next season.

This was Ian Sweet’s first hackathon. When asked about what his first hackathon was like, he agreed with Paige Nelson and said that it was intimidating:

“I had the conception going in that it was all about knowing APIs (Application Programming Interface) and how many you can glue together and how much you do outside of school, but I found that it was more about having the idea and finding and then finding APIs to support it[… ] but if you have an idea that you’re passionate about, that’s going to be the thing that wins you the competition[….] and it’s very different from a programming competition, it’s not about how fast you can make your brain work whereas a hackathon is product driven.”   

Sweet credited his teamwork with Joe Martin, a Mechanical Engineering and CS double major for getting him through the competition.  Earlier in the day, after hearing about the Terrapin Hackers’ win, Martin said the same thing about Ian Sweet. “I knew that if Ian and I worked together, we would come up with a really great hack.”

Shariq Hashme, the main spokesperson and relentless, positive force behind this organization, remains a bit incredulous about how large this newly formed student group has grown.  He has reached one of his goals to introduce hackathons and hackathon culture to all students at the University of Maryland. He doesn’t want to limit this organization to students with technical majors.  Overjoyed by the win, he said, "You start to realize how much is possible if you just work really, really hard--we won MLH in our first semester; now how can we take [Terrapin Hackers] to the next level?”

By all appearances, the Terrapin Hackers are poised to grow in membership. It is certain that their talent pool will deepen, and they will continue to enhance the reputation of the Department of Computer Science, and the entire University of Maryland. 


The Department welcomes comments, suggestions and corrections.  Send email to editor [-at-] cs [dot] umd [dot] edu.