Reflections on TreeHacks

That was a whirlwind weekend.

It took a while to convince my parents that they should let me fly cross-country by myself and miss two days of school. Stanford’s travel reimbursement ultimately won the fight ($315) and off I went.

On Thursday at roughly 6, I finished up my physics quiz and went back to my dorm to collect my stuff. The greyhound I had booked earlier that week back to NYC was set to leave at 6:55 and my campus is a decent distance away from the transit center.

I packed up, called an uber to the student union, and was promptly off on my way.

I arrived earlier than I expected, before 6:30, and was able to change my ticket so that I could board an earlier bus.

Cue 3 and a half hours of listening to spotify on the bus. It’s roughly 10:20PM when I arrive at Port Authority.

I stay overnight at my house in NYC, and get up at 4:45AM because ‘security’. The flight I’m supposed to board, Delta 1424, departs at 8:15AM. The 7 train is a little slower than normal; the E train’s fine.

I get off at Sutphin, and transfer to the Airtrain. Delta is terminal 2, so I get off with two other travelers and one pilot looking guy. I literally do not know where to go. The elevator has taken us to what looks like an small enclosed space with a staircase and dark runway outside.

The pilot looking guy drags his suitcase past me, and promptly exits through that door. After some hesitation, we do the same.

I reach terminal 2, realize that the actual checking in and security check happens upstairs, and that the TSA check actually isn’t as bad as it seems.

I have literally no idea where I’m going, but two airport staff helpfully direct me to the correct security line.

I get through, get to my gate, and realize that I don’t have a seat assignment yet. There are two people at the desk. One person is already assigning seats to an older white man.

I ask the other person whether I can get my seat assigned also.

She gives me a brief curt, ok maybe not so brief, explanation that the flight was overbooked and that I would have to wait until the actual boarding, to get my seat assigned.

This being my first solo flight, I automatically assume the worst, and text my dad that I’m scared of Delta pulling a United.

It turns out everything goes fine, and I get assigned seat 32C, the rightmost seat of the left partition of the second to last row.

The two people to my left are Asian students; the people on the other side are a white couple with a baby.

The flight goes boringly with no problems whatsoever, until landing, where the pilot hits turbulence, and the baby can’t handle the air pressure combined with its stomach lurching, and promptly throws up.

I am absolutely prone to a vomit chain reaction, and my stomach feels extremely queasy. Thankfully, we land. The people in the row in front of me comfort the couple.

Getting off at San Jose Airport (SJC), I realize I have absolutely no idea where to go. I follow the main traffic flow for a bit, before asking an airport staff member where I could catch the VTA 10 (Airport flyer). I’m told to continue straight then make a left until I see the car rental signs. I should follow the signs. It’s roughly 12PM.

I follow the signs, reach outside, and see a bus about to leave. I ask the bus driver if his bus was the VTA 10. It’s not, and he points me across the street to another station.

I get on the bus with a man in full military uniform carrying, to be frank, a ton of shit. We both are aiming to get to the Caltrain, him to take to San Francisco, me to Palo Alto. He’s from Georgia, previously stationed at Fort Victoria. We reach the Santa Clara Transit Depot, and go through the tunnel to reach the northbound side.

The train zones momentarily confuses me, but it turns out fine. We’ve arrived literally 10 minutes before the Caltrain is due to arrive, something very fortunate given that it only shows up once an hour.

The Caltrain is yet another train made by Bombardier, and looks like a lesser derivative of the LIRR.

I get on, realize that the conductor doesn’t check boarding passes, and can’t help but listen in as a man two rows in back of me, chats on the phone with a friend.

I’m treated to 15 minutes about this man and a film he watched about climate change and how climate change isn’t real. He keeps quoting a purported NASA scientist from the film. Apparently the Earth goes through a period of “Dark Winter” every 200 years. The US will lose much of its agricultural production and there will be worldwide starvation. Of course, like all older guys, he specifically mentions how he’s not fucked; it’s us millenials.

We pass by stops like Lawrence, San Antonio, and Mountain View. We reach Palo Alto and I immediately sprint out because I see a sign that points to where the Stanford buses are, and I see one right there.

The guy informs me, like much of the previous people in this post, that this was bus was not the correct bus, and that the I could reach the Marguerite X by crossing over to the other side via the tunnel. The guy behind me who also rushed to get on the bus, is a TreeHacks attendee too.

He’s from El Paso, TX and this is his first hackathon.

We reach what seems to be the Marguerite X, but there doesn’t look like there’s a driver in the seat.

We wait awkwardly outside for a couple of minutes, before realizing that there are people inside. The driver turns out to be the guy leaning against a bunch of seats, and he spends 10 minutes on his phone, before heading outside.

After 5 minutes, he returns, and the bus leaves. The bus stops at a huge building with Asian-style engravings and a huge gong in front that I can’t find the name of with my googling skills.

We get off, and use Google Maps to take us the the Huang Engineering Center. The hackathon doesn’t start until 4PM and it’s only 2PM. I need to charge, so we setup in the basement, and wait.

There are a ton of boxes there, and recruiters / dev evangelists start to arrive to setup their booths. I overhear the conversation between a recruiter from DRW and a Stanford student on internships. Apparently their 2019 summer is already filled up. It’s something like two Stanford students, one Harvard student, etc.

There’s so much people setting up shop here. The Google people arrive; some people from a company named Axon get their booth ready; etc.

On the table adjacent from the one I’m sitting on, it appears like the group there are Stanford students working on developing some type of robot.

It hits 4PM and I search for the people doing the registering. It takes a minute, but I find them at the basement entrance, with a line already forming.

As more students start to stream in, I start to make booth rounds. They have so much shit. I get double-digit shirts, handfuls of stickers, 5 bags, and an assorted array of other swag. There are a couple companies with google forms to express interest as a potential intern for the summer.

It’s hard to pack this all of this into my ill-equipped backpack.

At roughly 4:30PM, I attempt to facebook friend a guy from Slack that I wanted to form a team with.

Roughly half an hour to forty five minutes later, he accepts the request, and I’m added to the team slack. He’s in a club meeting at Stanford so he can’t reach Huang basement until 7:30PM.

Time flies as I gather more stuff, until I realize it’s hit 6PM and it’s dinner time. I go circling about the building to see where it is; no luck.

I head back to my table, and awkwardly wait a couple of minutes, before heading to the organizer room. After several attempts at flagging down an organizer, he tells me that the Arcade is outside the second floor, the atrium.

I head upstairs.

My eyes are greeted with a very very long line that stretchs outside. The line seems to extend for the rough equivalent of a NYC block around the curb.

I get on the line.

After 15 minutes, the line literally moves like 2 feet. After another 10, it’s no better.

I hear noise from some distance away; it looks like a bunch of people running in some sort of frat or sorority rush. They rush onto the grassy field next to the line in a very mish-mashed spontaneous sort of way.

Its a very weird scene; only to be more weirder, as costumes start lighting up, and a guy dressed as a tree rushes out to the front dancing. Instruments are brought out and we’re treated to the weirdness (but in a good sort of way) of the Stanford marching band.

It starts to pour. The line stretches past the Arcades so the entire back of the line is getting drenched. The performance still continues; the band clearly used to this.

The three people in front of me in the line are talking about how they don’t really feel like they fit in, not being CS majors and such. I, being the antisocial and semi-CS nerd that I am, do the obvious: I don’t join in.

One of them eventually leaves to meet someone, leaving just two.

The food line is literally not moving. The organizers are becoming a little more animated, and start to call out for vegetarians to join the other line. Like literally no one moves, but they still keep calling.

Vegetarians! I repeat, Vegetarians! If you are a VEGETARIAN, please join the MUCH much SHORTER line on the right.

One of the people in front of me turns out to be a vegetarian and he opts to join that line. That leaves the girl in front of me, an EE non-CS major from Berkeley and me, the completely awkward and very unsocial CS nerd standing in line and silence awkwardly (then again I think every silence is awkward).

The organizers become more desperate. The line has still literally not moved an inch.

Anybody on the LEFT! Even if you are NOT a vegetarian, if you don’t want to wait, please join the MUCH much SHORTER line on the RIGHT.

I, like most people fleeing from awkward silence, turn to my phone. My group member has finished his club meeting and is trying to locate me in Huang Basement.

I inform him that I am in the arcades, near some white sign.

The awkward silence continues.

He literally cannot locate me. I message that I’m in a pretty distinct red coat.

She literally cannot take this silence anymore and turns around to introduce herself. Of course, as luck would have it, my group member rushes through the doors to find me at the exact same time.

The line actually begins to move. It’s Indian food, but by now, the food’s kinda cold (read: cold) and the organizers are restricting portions to a bare minimum. The result is one samosa, a piece of naan, and a lop of some meat and sauce (I apologize in advance for not knowing what it is).

My team member and I return back to Huang Basement to meet our other team member, where we’ll group and strategize.

(PART 1) To be continued