HackNYU’s Virtual Debut

Students come together each year to hack for the greater good

A person standing in front of a projected image displaying lines of code.


For 48 hours earlier this year, more than 840 hackers gathered in virtual spaces to collaborate, learn new skills, and flex creative ideas in design, programming, and software development. This all happened at HackNYU, one of the biggest hackathon names, in pursuit of “hacking” for a greater good. As in years past, the strength of NYU’s global campuses was on display. Students from NYU in New York City, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai as well as from additional cities around the world participated. But HackNYU 2022 was the first time the event was entirely virtual. Through Zoom and Discord, hackers came together from nearly every corner of the globe.

A student sitting and working on their laptop.

Remind Me, What’s a Hackathon?

Quite simply, a hackathon is a timed event in which teams compete to invent innovative software or hardware solutions. This year, HackNYU’s competition focused on creating positive solutions within five tracks: inclusion, health and well-being, sustainability, education, and financial empowerment. In all, teams won nearly $10,000 in total prizes thanks to major sponsors such as the Walt Disney Company, Figma, and Meta.

A student sitting at a table and putting together electrical parts.

Education > Competition

HackNYU is certainly a place to practice coding and design skills. But it’s also a place to learn them. In fact, roughly 80 percent of HackNYU participants are noobs (read: beginners). “We host a lot of independent workshops for new technology, so everyone has the chance to learn something new. There are also a lot of professional development opportunities, from meeting with recruiters to fine-tuning your résumé,” says Cindy Mata, a Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies major. Cindy, alongside Tandon School of Engineering Integrated Design and Media major Sola Babatunde, will codirect next year’s hackathon.

For anyone who’s hesitant to attend HackNYU due to a lack of coding experience, Sola has the following advice: “Come anyway!” He believes hackathons are a great learning opportunity. “I learned 90 percent of my technical skills during hackathons,” Sola says. “They’re designed to be educational.” Through simple, easy-to-understand workshops, attendees can learn the field’s most cutting-edge tools and technologies.

Innovation Is Priority No. 1

HackNYU rewards innovative ideas over fancy coding skills and technical finesse. “We saw a lot of hacks this year that challenged the idea of what is possible at a hackathon,” Sola says. One of his favorite winners developed a robot that alters how it’s controlled based on the orientation of the user’s hands. This is a potential boon for individuals with kinetic or auditory impairments. Prizes were also awarded for categories such as Most Magical and Most Outrageous. A team who developed an app that, according to Cindy, is “Tinder, but for organ donors” won the latter category.

And don’t worry that your noob status means your chances of taking home a prize are slim. HackNYU has categories for those who do little to no coding. “It’s all about coming, participating in a workshop, seeing if you want to submit for a prize, and trying your best,” Cindy says.

“It’s always fascinating to see what comes out of 48 hours in the same room with all these people and their ideas. Hack NYU is a very different community. It’s been that way for years, and we want it to be that way for years to come.” —Cindy Mata
Students brainstorming in a group at a past HackNYU event.

Plans for Next Year—And for Years to Come

Plans for HackNYU 2023 are already in motion. As in previous years, it aims to be as inclusive as possible. It will welcome coders of all abilities, including high school students. But there is one slight difference, which is actually more of a return to normal. The 2023 event will be held in person, allowing teams to collaborate, innovate, and ideate side by side. “It’s always fascinating to see what comes out of 48 hours in the same room with all these people and their ideas,” Cindy says. “Hack NYU is a very different community. It’s been that way for years, and we want it to be that way for years to come.”