Kaveh Khorram didn’t really care for his classes back in high school. That changed when he took a computer science class. He discovered that he could come up with an idea and create a product through computer code. Khorram’s been hooked on coding ever since.

Today, Khorram, now a junior in computer science at Washington State University, spends his free time building computer applications at programming competitions – or “hackathons” – around the country.

“Hackathons allow you to build an idea over the weekend and see how it works,” Khorram said. “You’re not sitting there with an idea and waiting to see if someone will build it for you.”

His do-it-yourself spirit has helped Khorram win prizes at several prestigious hackathons, including HackHarvard, conducted at Harvard University and Code for Good, organized by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Person is holding an iPad up with Kaveh in the camera being scanned by the app.
Khorram’s app in action.

At HackHarvard, Khorram and his team won the “Most Fundable Hack” prize for their app Eaglevision, aiming to solve the social awkwardness that occurs when meeting strangers at large networking events. Khoram’s app, using the same technology as the popular mobile game Pokemon Go, allows iPhone users to scan a group of people and generate text bubbles above each person’s face within that group that shows their interests, hobbies and other relevant information via the augmented reality technology within the app. For their idea, the team also won the “Best Customer Experience Award,” bestowed by Dell.

“We wanted to solve the problem of not knowing who’s who,” Khorram said.

At Code for Good, Khorram’s team developed an app that digitized barcodes for prescriptions and an app for doctors and pharmacies to keep track of patients’ medication and eating habits. The team came up with the app after two non-profits presented their problems concerning the fight against childhood obesity. Khorram and his team won the hackathon’s grand prize, receiving iPads and job offers at JPMorgan Chase.

“I’m inspired to build things that help other people’s lives, even if in a small way,” said Khorram.

Khorram applies to compete at several hackathons every year. When he is accepted, the hackathon either pays for his flight to the venue in advance or reimburses him after the event.

He rarely needs a hotel.

“We just don’t sleep the whole weekend of the hackathon,” he said.

Khorram is sitting at a desk, typing on his computer.
Khorram works at his computer.

Many hackathon participants drink copious amounts of coffee or energy drinks to keep going for 48 hours or more without sleep, Khorram said. Hackathons generally provide three meals a day and keep snacks and drinks available. Some even organize social activities for participants, such as sight-seeing or jogging.

Khorram believes hackathons are a great springboard for internships and software engineering jobs because they share a lot of the same networking elements.

“You’re working to build useful code from scratch in 24 to 48 hours,” said Khorram, adding that hackathons helped him learn how to be collaborative and work in a team environment.

“I almost always keep in touch with people I meet at hackathons,” said Khorram. “That’s how future collaboration happens.”