Hack The North: Break Rules and Aim High

I knew when I applied, this event would be special. Initially appearing to be small, it exponentially grew, attracting local heavyweights like Thalmic and Velocity, as well as Y Combinator and Apple—with 1,000 hackers, 36 hours, and all the tools to make something great.

I arrived late Friday evening and could feel excitement in the air. The engineering building was filled with entrepreneurs and students. A large banner read “Hack The North.” The halls were filled with advanced technology and brilliant minds; one couldn’t help but be inspired.

The opening ceremonies were introduced by entrepreneurs Chamath Palihapitiya and Jason Calacanis. Chamath is an electrical engineering alumni from Waterloo, former VP at Facebook, and founder of Social+Capital Partnerships. Jason is the founder of Inside.com, an angel investor, and founder of This Week In Startups.

The pair brought down the house by being open, honest, and edgy. The audience was captivated from start to finish. The takeaway was quite simple: pursue something great. There are great problems for entrepreneurs to solve, and it is our duty to find and solve them.

Chamath and Jason received a standing ovation and were whisked off the stage. I was determined to meet them. (If you want to know what I mean, please watch Chamath’s “A Path to A billion Users” and almost any of Jason’s “This Week in Startups.” I highly recommend the episodes with either DHH or Chamath.)

Just as I caught up, they were placed in a restricted back room. In the commotion, I noticed another hacker standing a few feet away. Without saying a word, I knew both of us intended to get into that room. We bolted to the doors and entered a room filled with speakers, sponsors, and other technology community members. Knowing that we could be thrown out of the room and perhaps the competition, we immediately began to mingle to blend in. Act like you belong, and others will believe it.



Jason approached. With a huge grin and a hand extended, he said, “that was a really good question.” I had forgotten about the question I had asked earlier in evening and was even more surprised that he remembered both the question and me. As we chatted about various topics on technology, entrepreneurship and Waterloo, Chamath joined the conversation. Just hearing the passion in his voice, you knew he cares about the ventures he backs. 

Later I pitched myself to Chamath, as an Ontario entrepreneur actively studying data science, and that my weekend hack would be based around a health condition experienced in my family. Before I could finish, he interrupted “Are you serious?” I told him I was. “Thats awesome. Those are the best ones.” I gave him my card, he asked me to email him immediately and then he was off. I was speechless.

On the first night of Hack The North, I had done a hack of my own. I did what I wasn’t supposed to do because I knew it was right. I met people who have indirectly shaped my entrepreneurial pursuits and knowledge, challenging me to execute ideas that could change lives.

With the ceremony over and the hackathon in motion, there was only one thing to do. Let the hacking begin.

Hack the North Promises to be One of the Biggest Hackathons Canada has ever seen

Have you ever wanted to attend a hackathon but couldn’t travel to one of the many big-league events in the United States? Now’s your chance.

Techyon, a startup run by University of Waterloo students, has created Hack the North, Waterloo Region’s answer to those events, and it’s going to be big. We’re talking 1,000 hackers all in one place, working on projects over 36 hours, where sleep is optional, but fun is not.

From Sept. 19 to 21, participants will gather in the university’s Engineering 5 building to compete for prizes, take part in activities and network.

As frequent attendees at other hackathons, the founding team wanted to show fellow hackers and students around the world why Waterloo Region is amazing. Victor Vucicevich, one of the creators, said the big-name companies and sponsors at other hackathons know about the region and University of Waterloo, but participating students often don’t.

“I’ve noticed that people from all of these schools don’t know where Waterloo is,” Vucicevich said. “We’re trying to put us back on the map for these people.”

To attract people, the team built a high-profile judging panel consisting of Sam Altman, President of the exclusive California-based accelerator Y Combinator; Andy Yang, COO of 500 Pixels; Mike Kirkup, Director of UW’s Velocity program; and Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum. Participants can compete in the main competition or go for smaller prizes.

Vucicevich, who is clearly excited about the event, said the team will announce more special guests soon.

The team sought help from Pearl Sullivan, UW’s Dean of Engineering, and Kirkup, who have been key in making the event happen. Sullivan convinced Altman to judge, and Kirkup helped with funding.

The entire event is free for participants, including food and drinks, grab bags and sleeping gear. The only cost is travel, but the Hack the North team is working on reducing those costs as well.

“We can reimburse flights up to a certain amount right now, and we’re working towards getting more sponsorship to help [with] flight costs to Canada,” Vucicevich said. “We’re also paying for cabs, limos or buses and everything from the airport to Waterloo.”

The event is not only an opportunity to show off skills or learn new ones, but it’s a chance to network with engineers and recruiters from companies like Microsoft and Apple. Vucicevich said copies of participants’ applications, which resemble resumes, will be given to companies attending the event.

More than 1,500 people have already applied for the 1,000 spots, and with more applications coming in everyday, it seems everyone wants to be part of Hack the North.

Participants are chosen based on projects they’ve worked on and other relevant resume components. Due to limited space, priority will be given to those with previous hackathon experience, but applicants with no experience will still be considered.

When asked why the team chose Waterloo Region to host the event, Vucicevich said it just made sense given the region’s thriving tech scene.

“We had contemplated doing this in Toronto because Toronto has better facilities for this,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we had to keep it home. This is Hack the North Waterloo.”

This article originally appeared on Communitech.