ACES Students Win Second Place at Bitcamp 2023

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Bitcamp is a 36-hour hackathon held annually at the University of Maryland that attracts students from all over the country and is the largest collegiate hackathon on the East Coast. With the opportunity to network with sponsors, attend workshops, and create a project from scratch, Bitcamp provides an incredible learning experience and is an excellent opportunity to develop new skills.This year, several students from ACES participated in the Bitcamp, including the TAs of ACES courses like HACS101,  who decided to take part as a team!

In this article, we will hear from four ACES students, Wendy Tu, Anna Dai, Brian Xie, Shu-Ye (Joshua) Lin, who won second place in the “Best Bitcamp Hack” category for their project.


Overall Experience:

Wendy, an experienced hackathon competitor, had long desired to be part of Bitcamp and cherished the opportunity to participate alongside her friends from UMD. Brian and the other team members, being first-time participants, joined the event enticed by their friends' recommendations and quickly fell in love with the whole experience. They were inspired by the prospect of learning and having fun, and enthusiastically dove into the challenge of creating their own project within the given time. 

“This was my first ever hackathon, and it was more fun than I could ever imagine. I assumed it would be a lot of work and extremely tiring, and it was, but it was a very fun and rewarding experience. We had the chance to interact with tech companies and get a lot of free merch, we ate a lot of free food, we participated in many of the activities and events, and we left Bitcamp with a project that all of us were extremely proud of !” shared Anna.

“I wanted to experience a hackathon at least once. Safe to say, it was super worthwhile and I don't regret a second of sleep lost!” added Joshua. 

About the Project:

The team collaborated on a project called "Hotpackets," a network simulation tool designed to visualize and analyze packet flow within a network. 

The inspiration for their project came from their ACES HACS101 course, taught by professor Toby Lin, a class where they were getting into the nitty-gritty of networking. The idea took shape as they encountered challenges, such as struggling with packet tracing on an exam, and realizing that their class's average scores were a clear sign of the challenge. It got them thinking, "Why not create something that can help us understand packet flow better and maybe even assist others too?" And that's how the idea for "Hot Packets" was born. They all shared this drive to visualize packet paths and conquer those obstacles together, using their combined experiences and classroom knowledge to bring their innovative project to life.

Together, they developed an innovative tool that showcases the movement of packets as animated dots between network devices. This simulation program offers a range of functionalities and features. Users can add NAT routing rules and filters through a user interface's command line, granting them the ability to block or redirect the paths of packets in the network. By testing different network configurations, tech companies can identify potential vulnerabilities in their networks. Additionally, "Hotpackets" can also serve as an educational platform, allowing beginners to gain a better understanding of networking complexities, added Wendy. 

Working in a team:

When it came to teamwork, the team members valued effective communication and working together. Wendy and Brian stressed the importance of talking to ensure everything fit together smoothly.Anna realized the need for collaboration in implementing tasks, “When assigned a task, there are countless ways to implement it, and I needed to make sure that the method I chose was compatible with the code segments that my teammates worked on,” she explained. 

Joshua explained how they collectively organized their work, from brainstorming ideas to assigning tasks based on interests and skills. Transparency was key, with everyone knowing the goals and how they contributed.“Each of our members is uniquely skilled in their own way, so we ensured everyone got something they were both interested in and had the ability to do!” Joshua shared.

Preparing for the presentation:

When it came time to present their project, "Hot Packets," they had a clear strategy in mind, crafting a compelling PowerPoint presentation that explained the project's purpose, while also demonstrating its capabilities through live demos on multiple laptops.“Presenting was exhilarating and I'm proud of how my team performed!” recalled Wendy.

Brain explained how each team member had clear roles, with some providing an overview and background, others focusing on user interaction, and the rest delving into the implementation and real-world applications.They were flexible in their approach, adapting the presentation style to suit the different contests and categories they were targeting. 

“We tailored our presentation to the specific category we were trying to win or the company we wanted to impress, and so a lot of practice was necessary” said Anna

The team took the time to practice and refine their presentations, ensuring they were well-prepared to impress the judges. Their efforts paid off as they confidently showcased their project, leaving a lasting impression and earning their team a sense of pride in their performance.

Challenges faced:

When working on their project, the teams faced challenges that tested their skills and determination. “One of our initial challenges was deciding what to prioritize in our project and what to leave out,” told Wendy. 

“There were certainly difficulties, the largest of which is how complex networks are. Networks are far more complex than our small simulation, and so to create it, we had to deliberately use only a small subsection of the entire networking landscape, to create a cohesive simulator.”explained Joshua.

Other than technical challenges, the 36 hour hackathon itself was demanding, with little sleep as they dedicated long hours to coding and battled exhaustion. “We rarely slept, with some team members getting around 10 minutes to 4 hours on the first day and around 2 hours on the second day.” said Brian. Learning new libraries and technologies also posed difficulties, but they adapted and improved their efficiency. Despite the challenges, they pushed forward, collaborating closely and managing tasks strategically. Through their resilience, they overcame obstacles, simplified concepts, and completed their projects within the given timeframe.

Valuable learnings:

Despite the challenges faced, the rewards of the experience were undeniable, leaving them with newfound knowledge, boosted confidence, and a commitment to continuous growth. 

Wendy learned how to program with scalability in mind. “Since we planned to add more types of commands in the future, I played around with a couple of different ideas to create a system that made it easy to expand our project's functionality.”

“Overall, we learned that there is so much more to learn about coding, and that cooperation and communication in regard to code are essential in successfully completing a big project,”Brian shared.

Anna realized the value of clear explanations in team projects, to ensure efficient collaboration and understanding when working in teams.”When working on a project alone, I am able to understand the parts I wrote, but when working as a team, I didn’t have time to read through all the code and fully understand it. I just needed to know what it did and how to use it, and so I needed to make sure my comments and explanations were clear and concise.”

Joshua highlighted the project's positive impact on  the team’s confidence, “I can testify that when starting the project, many of the group members did not have any faith in their abilities despite being amazing individuals, and being able to compete and win an award has certainly helped them believe in themselves more. While being overconfident in your abilities is bad, some degree of confidence is necessary - and I believe that everyone gained just the right amount to trust in their abilities, but also understand their weaknesses and areas where they can improve.” 

Advice for future students:

Looking for advice from experienced Bitcamp participants? Here’s what the team had to say to our students at ACES-

Wendy suggests “‘diving right in, pushing boundaries, and having a blast while learning something new”.

“The experience in BItcamp is truly magnificent. Learning something new, talking to sponsors, going to workshops, and meeting new people is truly an experience that can greatly benefit you in Bitcamp” added Brian.

Anna's advice is to have fun, and aim for a memorable project while enjoying workshops.

“My advice is to go for it and have fun! My friends and I came into Bitcamp with very little expectations to win. We just wanted to create a memorable project and to have more experience with coding, so when we found out that our project won “Best Bitcamp Hack,” we were overjoyed. Either way, we would have been proud of our project that we worked so hard to create. Also, you don’t need coding experience to have fun at Bitcamp! There are so many workshops and fun events to participate in, and I also had a great time connecting with the other hackers and talking to companies (and getting a LOT of free stuff!). I would also recommend bringing a sleeping bag, warm blankets, and warm clothes, especially when planning on staying overnight like we did!”

Joshua encourages future participants to step out of their comfort zones, emphasising personal growth and the importance of trying new things at Bitcamp.

“This is kind of cliche, but my advice for future students is to be bold, and be brave! We came into Bitcamp not knowing what would happen, and certainly not expecting to win a prize. In fact, had we not received encouragement from Toby, we would not have applied for the prize category we won in! Bitcamp is a wonderful place to try new things and push your limits - and if you participate with the willingness to exit your comfort zone, you'll definitely come out a stronger individual! Side note: Bring a blanket - you won't regret it”

With their combined insights, Wendy, Brian, Anna, and Joshua provide valuable advice for anyone interested in participating in Bitcamp, inspiring them to embrace the experience, make the most of the opportunities, and create lasting memories.

Overall, Bitcamp proved to be a vibrant blend of learning, camaraderie, and thrilling challenges, leaving all four students with cherished memories and a sense of accomplishment.

Published June 15, 2023