More than 600 students representing universities around the country and the world gathered in the Science and Engineering Complex last weekend to participate in HackHarvard, a student-run hackathon.
During the hackathon, which kicked off Friday night and lasted until early Sunday morning, students were tasked with creating a new tech product from scratch in teams. Groups could submit to one of four tracks: “Health and Fitness,” “Earth and Space,” “Efficiency Boosters,” and “So You Think You Can Do Better?”
According to student organizer Rachel V. Cevallos ’26, this year’s theme, “Hack to the Future,” aimed to reflect a futuristic mindset and differentiate itself from prior years. This year marked the eighth iteration of HackHarvard.
“Most tracks that we do are new,” Cevallos said. “Our biggest track this year is called health and fitness, and it was brought to us by our title sponsor, Terra API.”
Terra API, a wearable technology integration company, was the title sponsor of the competition. Other sponsors included Google, the Harvard COOP, and quantitative finance firm Hudson River Trading. Sponsors provided various awards and mentorship for contestants throughout the weekend.
For many, HackHarvard was their first experience participating in a hackathon.
“I think we all came into it just waiting to have fun. It was my first hackathon and there were many people’s first experiences with this in college,” Davin Jeong ’27 said.
Jeong’s team won a prize for creating a virtual reality 360-degree panorama that allows users to relive personal experiences.
The project was conceived after a casual conversation with Neal K. Shah, the founder of CareYaya — an elder companion care startup and one of the sponsors.
“It’s interesting to talk with this founder of a startup who just came to talk about his work and to try to get students interested in the field, and so he’s the guy who initially was pushing us to work on therapy,” Jeong said.
While many Harvard students had an easy commute across the Charles River to the SEC, some teams traveled from across the country to compete.
Stanford freshmen Kyler Y. Wang and Michelle B. Lau said they took a red-eye to Cambridge because they wanted to try something new.
“We wanted to get out of the Stanford bubble,” Wang said. “And we thought it looked really cool.”
“This is a warm-up for TreeHacks,” Lau added, referring to Stanford’s annual hackathon.
University of Pennsylvania sophomores Millie Gu and Caroline Chen are two organizers for Penn’s annual hackathon. They said they competed in HackHarvard to gain hackathon experience.
“I really like the vibe of everyone coming up together and just working on some things,” Gu said. “My teammates are also very dedicated to our project, which makes it even more fun. And we can sacrifice sleep for hours.”
Chen said that her team came to “learn and then also be a hacker this time ourselves.”
Contestants were judged on innovation, technical complexity, functionality, and teamwork.
Weilin Chu, a sophomore at Rutgers University who judged the hackathon, discussed how her background as a marketing major informed her selection process.
“I’m very design-focused. So I’m looking for a lot of functionality. I think if I was just a person who doesn’t really know coding — I’m just a general user,” Chu said.
“Am I going to find this app easy to understand and navigate?” Chu added. “Does this solve a problem?”
Software engineer Jay Jung said he applied to be a judge because he wanted to be a role model for fellow software developers. Jung has previously worked at Meta and Microsoft.
“I never had anyone in my family who did CS, as well as attend hackathons and stuff like this. So I’ve always wanted someone to tell me things that I wish I knew,” Jung said. “As cliche as it sounds, it’s really important, especially in this market and the competition right now for CS.”
Though there were various smaller awards, a team from Colorado College won the overall competition with TeleSpeech, a Google Chrome extension that converts Telegram messages into AI-generated speech that mimics the distinct voice of each sender.
The overall second-place winner was HackAnalyzer, an AI tool for hackathons. TrustTrace, which detects donation fraud, won third place overall.
Wang and Lau — the Stanford freshmen — said despite the outcome of the hackathon, they would walk away from the competition with a positive outlook on the weekend.
“As long as we’re learning here, we’re all winners,” Wang said.