Senior wins Google Home Mini in hacking competition

October 15, 2018 — by Esha Lakhotia

Senior Rohan Pandey won the BASEHacks 3.0 hackathon for an app that helps teens with mental health issues.

At the BASEHacks 3.0 hackathon on Sept. 23-24, senior Rohan Pandey and his team, consisting of three other developers from California, won the Google Cloud Platform API prize for creating an app called We & YOU that provides on-call trained teen volunteers to teens struggling with mental health issues.

For this award, Pandey and each of his three other teammates brought home a Google Home Mini.

Held in Fremont, BASEhacks is a free, student-run high school competition in which anyone under 18 can participate. Around 130 people, forming approximately 35 teams, competed in the event.

A typical hackathon lasts for around 27 hours, starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday with an opening ceremony and an optional team information session. The participants then have lunch, followed by an entire day of coding until dinner is served at about 7 p.m.

After that, most teams will continue coding throughout the night, but there are often fun activities like cup-stacking planned for newcomers at their first hackathon. At around 5 or 6 a.m. the next day, a team usually comes up with a functional application and practice for the presentation after breakfast at 8 a.m. Presentations and judging continue until about 11 a.m., when results are announced. The event officially ends around noon on Sunday.

The calling service for Pandey’s application uses the Google Conversion Professional Natural Language Sentiment Analysis API to calculate volunteer ratings from callers' reviews in hopes of tackling the issue of teenage mental health.

In surveys he and his teammates conducted before the hackathon, they found that most teenagers with mental health issues were currently talking to adult counselors, but they wanted to be talking to their friends or other teens. Pandey’s team was also aware of the long wait lines and technological issues with suicide hotlines, so they came up with a solution: a service that crowdsources and verifies teens to help other teens.

“Mental health is definitely a pressing problem for teenagers and I think we need to create good solutions as soon as possible,” Pandey said.

Though Pandey wrote his first line of code in fifth grade, he didn’t become interested in software until the second semester of his sophomore year.

“I'm honestly not too sure where my interest in it comes from, but being able to build something from scratch without needing access to a lab or engineering facility is really empowering,” Pandey said. “Once I got into the coding mindset in early 2017, I was hooked.”

Pandey built an IoT weather solution that summer, went to his first hackathon last September and then got into web development about six months ago. Hackathons soon became Pandey’s outlet to learn and experience new types of challenges. He plans to participate in four more hackathons in just the next month.

“I'm interested in hackathons because learning by doing is really effective, especially with code,” Pandey said. “Building projects at hackathons are really what took me from being an APCS Java programmer to someone who can build a full-stack web app.”

Pandey said he hopes to use what he learned from hackathons in his future jobs and college career.

“I already have a paid job at a software startup that I only have because of web development skills I learned at a hackathon,” Pandey said. “Having web development skills lets you get involved with virtually any startup because everyone needs at least a web presence, if not a full-on web app.”

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