A game that reveals unconscious bias in players. A website that helps ESL speakers with financial literacy. An umbrella borrowing service inspired by the belief that small acts of sustainability accumulate over time. These are just a few of the ideas brought to life by students at the 2023 HackNYU hackathon. For the first time since 2020, this in-person event on NYU’s New York City campus had more than $11,000 in cash and prizes up for grabs. The 48-hour, annual event drew over 800 college, grad school, and high school students from more than 30 institutions around the world.

Two students working together during the NYU Hackathon event.

On-the-Spot Innovation and Collaboration

At the popular event, students with wide-ranging interests and skills—from programming and computer science to business, design, media, and finance—collaborate on creating innovative software or hardware with a positive impact. There’s no need to arrive with a team, project plan, or even coding experience. In fact, students learn as they go, and everything comes together on-site.

During the hackathon, experts host workshops on everything from new technologies and inclusive design to résumé and career advice. Plus technical mentors lend support and answer questions. Students also bounce ideas off judges, organizers, and fellow hackers to refine their solutions. And participants take advantage of networking with sponsors and representatives from companies like Google, Meta, Marshall Wace, and American Express.

HackNYU groups projects into tracks such as education, sustainability, health care, financial empowerment, inclusion, gaming, and interactive media and design. Prizes go to winners in each track and also in categories like Best First Time Hack, Best Low Code Hack (for projects focused on user interfaces and design over coding), and Best Failed Hack. But prizewinner or not, everyone gains valuable skills, new connections, and practical experience.

A student testing a handmade device that is connected to their laptop.

New to Hacking? Not a Problem!

According to HackNYU codirector Shrey Kharbanda, “A lot of attendees are first-time hackers.” Shrey, a Computer Science major with a double minor in Mathematics and Web Programming and Applications at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, adds, “Part of being a hacker is having the courage to show up. Once you do, we provide resources to build your team and empower you throughout the hackathon.”

Shrey’s codirector is Tamara Bueno, a double major in Interactive Media Arts at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and Computer Science at the NYU College of Arts and Science. Amazingly, HackNYU is run entirely by NYU undergraduate students with financial support from sponsors. 

Additionally, as codirectors, fostering a welcoming, inclusive community at the event is a top priority. Helping hackers recognize and unlearn hidden biases is also a primary goal. “We consider diversity, inclusion, and equity in everything from the attendees to the sponsors, workshops, project tracks, and judging criteria,” Tamara says. “We bring together and support people from all different backgrounds. This helps everyone learn new things and create more innovative projects.”

Students attending the 2023 Hackathon opening event in a lecture hall.

Making a Bigger Impact in 2024

Tamara and Shrey are thinking even bigger for the next HackNYU hackathon, which takes place in the fall of 2024. They’re working toward getting more attendees and sponsors, increased networking opportunities, a broader mix of industry professionals to serve as mentors, judges, and workshop leaders, and a continued focus on inclusivity and diversity. “We hope to have brand-new tracks and themes to push people outside their comfort zones,” Shrey says. “The plan is a bigger venue, a bigger event, and a bigger impact on the world.”