Lehigh University
Lehigh University

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Hacking Away

Hacking a computer application can get you five to ten. Creating apps at “hackathons” can get you a coveted internship with one of the web’s premiere architects.

A team of Lehigh students are turning their interest in software development into potential careers after wowing judges and tech reporters at regional hackathons, where computer programmers compete by collaborating on software projects.

Greyson Parrelli ’14 and Michael Toth ’14, computer science and business majors along with Ben Chen ’13, a computer engineer and Zachary Daniels ’14, a computer science and engineering major, are students with a knack for turning their free time into slick, sometimes tongue-in-cheek applications that help you stay productive, whether you want to or not.

Tech websites and local media have taken an interest in the team’s apps, and Yahoo flew them out to their Sunnyvale headquarters for in-person interviews that resulted in internships for the summer of 2013.
 
“SparkTab could be your new browser start page,” wrote TechCrunch’s John Gibbs in a January review of PennApps 2013, the hackathon where Lehigh’s team grabbed the runner-up spot and all the press coverage. SparkTab is a more efficient way to search and post content across multiple platforms. Imagine a simple text entry bar that performs traditional searches (using Google, Bing, Amazon, Kayak, Tumblr and more) but can also send texts and post to Facebook or Twitter. “Think of it as a quicker way to do lots of stuff online without having to enter a URL or click on search results,” wrote Gibbs in the online review that earned the team Yahoo interviews. The group has high hopes for the future of SparkTab. “The Internet isn’t just this list of destinations. It has a rich network of services and applications,” said Parrelli. “We’re really aiming to take advantage of that as we move forward with SparkTab.”

Parrelli, Chen and Toth won first place and the People’s Choice Award at April’s HackPrinceton with an app for all the procrastinators out there, called Tamagetitdone. It’s an extension on Google Chrome that’s also a play on the word Tamagotchi, the virtual key-chain pets created in Japan that constantly require digital “care.” Spend too much time on unproductive websites and Tamagetitdone starts eating your links. Surf unproductive websites late at night and it will ‘turn off the lights’ on the page, leaving you unable to browse. “It got a lot of laughs,” said Toth. TechCrunch raved over the app in this article.

At this year’s LVHack (Lehigh Valley Hackathon) in April, Parrelli and Toth unveiled Webstagram. The app allows users to view any website under a filtered theme, such as a 1999 Geocities page, a 1920s newspaper, or The Matrix, and send them to a friend. “LVHack isn’t the biggest hackathon, but it’s got a lot of heart,” said Toth. “It doesn’t restrict competition only to college students, meaning you often get some really impressive hacks from folks who spent years in the industry.” Participation helps to support technology growth here in the Lehigh Valley. Toth adds, “Plus, the food is fantastic.”

The team started creating apps together only last year but has attended five hackathons since. The lure for students, says Toth, is the idea of carving out time to work collaboratively and passionately on a creative project.

Story by Jordan Reese

Posted on Tuesday, May 28, 2013

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