Weekly Profile Wednesday: Nathan Alam '21

Wednesday, Mar 7, 2018
by Peter Chen '19

A Conversation with HackPrinceton Directors (Part 2)

We sat down with Nathan Alam ‘21 to discuss what it’s like putting on HackPrinceton, one of the biggest entrepreneurship events on Princeton campus. Along with his co-director David Fan ‘19, Alam leads a team of 30 organizers to coordinate the 36-hour hackathon, or marathon software and hardware product development events. Founded in Fall 2011, HackPrinceton will be seeing its sixteenth iteration this spring March 30-April 1. Applications are now live for Princeton students at hackprinceton.com. Read Part 1 with David Fan '19.

Can you briefly describe what HackPrinceton, or what a hackthon, is to those who may be unfamiliar?

Alam: “In general, a hackathon is an event where people interested in programming can come together to marathon a coding project. At HackPrinceton, over 600 students come together at the Friend Center to work on their projects for 36 hours, with the help of mentors and software company representatives throughout the process.”

What roles do you see hackathons playing in the Princeton community?

Alam: “For community members involved with Computer Science, or passionate about programming in general, hackathons provide an opportunity to apply their knowledge to create something new and learn more throughout the process. Hackathons emphasize an environment of learning by doing, and, unlike solo coding projects, they provide resources like mentors, fellow coders, and oftentimes members of companies who develop the very software components a programmer is using. Hackathons can also be a source of pride for the community because it offers Princeton students (an opportunity) to showcase their work and potentially win prizes from sponsors for it. HackPrinceton also serves as an opportunity for students to meet like-minded people,and network with companies.”

What interested you in becoming a director? What is most rewarding aspect?

Alam: “The main reason I wanted to help on the organizing team for HackPrinceton was to contribute towards creating an alternative learning environment where people can learn from experience. I just saw that, by being a director, I could have a greater impact on improving this environment. The most rewarding part of being a co-director so far has been implementing new changes. It's always exciting, if a little nerve-racking, when we propose a new idea and try to incorporate it throughout the hackathon.”

What are some challenges you've faced organizing such a large scale event?

Alam: “There are a lot of moving parts involved, with rooms to be booked, different sub-teams to be managed, companies to contact, and many other concerns that come up on short notice. While the organizing team has done a good job at dividing up the work between its members, there are inevitably tasks that require several groups to work together, and coordinating schedules and agendas can be difficult. The main way we address this is having a loose hierarchy with sub-team heads managing individual members, and then David and I as co-directors managing them and tasks pertaining to the organizing team as a whole.”

Is there anything new or different that your team is planning for the spring hackathon? What are you most excited about this time around?

Alam: “On the organizational side, we did some restructuring to encourage more cooperation between organizing members. As for the hackathon itself, we are taking measures to streamline the hardware lab with improved organization, and are currently developing an online checkout system.”

Do you have any advice for new hackers? Or students from non-CS disciplines?

Alam: “I think the best thing a new hacker can do is to join a team, and come prepared to learn a lot from others. Usually, the most difficult part can be coming up with an idea, but if you have one, or think you can come up with one, hackathons can be a great place to learn by doing, provided that you're willing to reach out for help when needed.”


Missed Part 1? Read last week's profile on co-director David Fan '19.