Photo: Joey Pereira (left) and Kaitlyn Yong, Hack the North 2016 co-directors, outside Hagey Hall at the University of Waterloo after this year’s closing ceremonies. See more in our Facebook gallery of the closing ceremonies.

“We’re literally hacking our way to the event, it’s the best way to put it,” says Hack the North co-director Joey Pereira. “It felt like every week was a hackathon for us. We had two weeks leading up to the event where we were all stuck in a meeting room, it was just every day, all day, all night… It was a hackathon forever.”

If the toughest hack at Hack the North is the event itself, the results this year were incredible.

The Hack the North team.

The Hack the North team.

This was the smoothest year yet for Hack the North, the massive, student-led event that’s been drawing 1,000 participants from around the world to the University of Waterloo for a weekend each September since 2014. And with blockbuster speaking guest Vinod Khosla on stage Friday night, the hacking skills of the organizing team clearly paid off.

When asked how the team convinced Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and one of Silicon Valley’s most influential investors, to come speak for free and travel out of his own pocket, Pereira says “honestly, it’s another hack.”

“I really think it’s the opportunity to talk to a thousand students who are using their weekend, their spare time, to work on a computer, to build something,” adds co-director Kaitlyn Yong. “It’s just really inspiring. Why wouldn’t you want to talk to these students?”

It’s true; in his speech, Khosla reiterated his happiness at being able to speak to the assembled hackers, for the opportunity to convince even one of them to do things differently. Anti-establishment firesides from the likes of Chamath Palihapitya and Alexis Ohanian are a tradition for Hack the North, and Khosla didn’t disappoint.

Along with big names, the hacks themselves were incredible this year. “Duo,” a pair of VR-guided, gesture-controlled arms:

Duo (Communitech Video: Trish Crompton)

“Third Sense,” a haptic wearable that let VR gamers feel incoming attacks:

Third Sense (Communitech Video: Trish Crompton)

“Bullshit Breaker,” a game that lets you break Donald Trump’s Tweets (scraped from his account using Twitter’s APIs and filtered by a sentiment analysis algorithm to determine bullshit):

Bullshit Breaker (Communitech Photo:Phil Froklage)

Bullshit Breaker (Communitech Photo: Phil Froklage)

These are just a few of the incredible finalists.

Both Pereira and Yong are veterans of all three annual Hack the North events — Pereira a volunteer in his first year and Yong a hacker and they get emotional talking about how glad they are to see the event grow since its launch in 2014.

“Personally, it really touches my heart,” says Yong. “I can remember two years ago I was literally in that seat, I was at closing ceremonies and I was just watching, thinking ‘Wow, I really want to be a part of organizing this event.’ So I’m really glad to be a part of it… to share that experience with other people.”

When I asked Yong if she had anything to add, she offered a PSA for any venue-owners interested in being a part of Hack the North’s future:

“The Engineering buildings, due to (the construction of) Engineering 7, might be unavailable next year, which is kind of a call for a venue. Hack the North 2017 is definitely still happening, but we need to find a better venue; somewhere that can hold more than 1,000 hackers.”

About The Author

Phil Froklage
Digital Journalist/Multimedia Producer

Phil Froklage is a writer, filmmaker and journalist in Waterloo Region obsessed with the future. Passionate about science and technology — and how it shapes our world — Phil likes nothing more than being surprised by the amazing things human beings can do.