Hack the North, Canada’s largest hackathon and one of the largest collegiate hackathons in the world, is back live and in-person at the University of Waterloo this weekend. Friday through Sunday, over 1,000 students from around the world will converge on campus for 36 intense hours of building innovative software applications and hardware projects.

This year’s live event is particularly exciting after two years of virtual versions due to COVID-19 restrictions. Attendees will get to rub shoulders with fellow students from over 100 schools including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UC Berkeley, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia, as well as schools in Australia, Brazil, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Poland, Algeria and Argentina.

Students present their project at the last in-person Hack the North in 2019.

Hackers present their project at Hack the North in 2019, the last time the huge hackathon was held in-person due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Being back in-person has energized the whole team and everyone is humming with excitement,” says Jessica Zhang, a third-year computer engineering student at Waterloo who is a co-director of this year’s event after serving on the organizing teams for the previous two virtual gatherings.

“Sure, a virtual event makes it easier to reach more people, but you lose out on the experience of being immersed in a building with 1,000 other hackers. There is so much chemistry and spontaneity among attendees at a live event which is hard to replicate in a virtual environment.”

With support from Waterloo Engineering and corporate sponsorship from some of the largest tech companies in the world, including Meta, IBM and Ubisoft, the student-led event provides free equipment, accommodation, food and ground travel transportation. With all their basic needs taken care of, participants can look forward to a weekend of hard work and fun.

Students work on their project at Hack the North in 2019.

A pair of hackers work shoulder-to-shoulder on their project at the last in-person event in 2019.

Yash Dani, a third-year software engineering student at Waterloo and the event’s back-end team lead, is looking forward to meeting as many other people as possible.

“We’ve got an incredible group of hackers and mentors this year and we really want to emphasize their ability to connect in-person,” he says. “Hack the North has a huge impact on everyone involved, including me. New friendships, work opportunities, the chance to just hack the weekend away with like-minded people and build, that’s definitely my kind of weekend.”

Adding to the buzz is this year’s keynote speaker, will.i.am. Well known as the co-founder and frontman of musical group The Black Eyed Peas, he is also a tech entrepreneur passionate about technology’s power to innovate. Given his Hack the North audience of some of the best and brightest innovators in the world, will.i.am’s highly anticipated address will likely seek to inspire them to use their talents to help solve society’s most difficult problems.

“There have been a lot of people and moving parts to coordinate,” Zhang says. “Organizing an in-person event does mean some late nights of hard work, but every second has been worth it and we can’t wait to see everyone.”