Coders vs. Cancer: Hacking for a cause

team presentation


Oct. 14 2015, Published 3:30 a.m. ET

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My grandfather passed away due to stomach cancer, leaving my father and aunt orphans.

I never knew my father’s father, but learning that cancer was the cause of his death has always made me feel uncomfortable. Always looming in the back of my mind was the knowledge that having a family history meant being more at risk for cancer.

Still, it wasn’t me that I worried for—it was always about my dad or my sister. Once my mother started getting routine mammograms, I started worrying for her, as well.

So, when I heard about a social good hackathon called Coders vs. Cancer, I immediately froze. Hackathons, in case you are unfamiliar, are about bringing people from different backgrounds together and encouraging them to use their talents to address a specific problem or need. While I felt a sense of discomfort because Coders vs. Cancer was about cancer, I immediately signed up because it was a chance to help build something for a great cause: breast cancer prevention.

the room
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The Coders vs. Cancer hackathon is the brainchild of Self Chec, in partnership with gyro and Startup Institute. Participants were asked “to come up with innovative tools to help women learn and adhere to an effective self-examination schedule.” With incentives such as a $10,000 cash prize from JP Morgan Chase, idea protection from KISSPatent, and free access to Axosoft’s agile project management tool (among many others), participants couldn’t help but feel that these companies were serious about helping them take the ideas conceived at Coders vs. Cancer to the next level.

We started Friday evening and by Sunday afternoon, 11 teams presented the projects they had worked on all weekend. The second place team created an augmented reality program that took users through the complicated breast self examination process. The winners of the hackathon built CIRCLY, a text-based micro-social network AI that gently nudges a circle (a user’s support network) into action.

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Here’s what the organizers and participants (“hackers”) had to say about Coders vs. Cancer:

“Before September 11th, 2015 I couldn’t have conceived that a group of young strangers coming together for 48 hours, in one space on the 14th floor of an office building two blocks away from the World Trade Center, could potentially come up with answers to the lifesaving questions I’ve been asking myself for 14 years: “how do we help save the lives of the more than one million of our loved ones who die unnecessarily each year from cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. How do we stop the excuses we make that keep us inactive and reactive about our health instead of proactive, and what do we have to do to make prevention and early detection part of the zeitgeist?”

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—Joan Peckolick, Founder/Director, Self chec

“I came to the CodersVsCancer hackathon to contribute, learn and network on a cause to help others, especially cancer. Recently, our family was also affected by this dreaded disease, and it’s even more compelling to help in any way possible, especially in prevention, early detection and support, as that is the key to long term survival. I thought the ideas we embarked on could help address some of these issues. It was a terrific experience, and I met many wonderful people along the way.”

—Alex Tanchoco, Hacker

“What the hackers developed were some potentially truly important ideas to help people improve healthcare – their own and that of those they love. The approaches were varied in every way but what united them was common cause: to harness tech in service of better health.”

—Wendy Lurrie, Managing Director, gyro

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“The idea of a Hackathon has always inspired me. A group of people enter a room and 36 hours later they emerge with a Product and idea that has the ability to change our world and be the solution to a problem. I wanted to be a part of that experience. People underestimate themselves and their abilities but a hackathon is real life proof that anything can be achieved and that time doesn’t have to be an obstacle. I met some great friends at my first hackathon and look forward to participating in many more. I hope someday I might land on an idea that I’ll dedicate my life to building.”

—Noelle Fair, Hacker

“The hackathon was above and beyond expectations. The camaraderie was strong. The output was huge. The actual programs have real potential. And the connections made were immeasurable.”

—Jaime Schwarz, Associate Creative Director, gyro

The connections made were one-of-a-kind. In my opinion, the biggest takeaway was that this is the beginning of something amazing for the hackathon community. Although the hackathon took place September 11-13, it’s still going strong. The Coders vs. Cancer organizers continue to incentivize teams to keep working on their projects by giving them more venues to demo their work.

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By: Anulekha Venkatram

Anulekha Venkatram is a Product Manager who enjoys partnering with professionals to build innovative products that solve customer problems. She is passionate about producing engaging content that fosters career-development and personal growth for millennial women. In her free time, she reads voraciously about technology trends and somehow finds time for grad school.

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