Hack Week kicks off tonight at Pomona College, and more and more students are finding coding is contagious. The semiannual crash course in web development culminates in the 5C Hackathon, an overnight team coding event on April 11-12, where teams of students conceive and create websites, mobile apps, games, software and hardware. 

Initiated by three Pomona students in 2012, Hack Week has exploded into one of the largest student events at The Claremont Colleges, growing from 30 participants the first time around to more than 200 registrations this year.

"I'm continually amazed by the number of students who are thrilled about the idea of building a web app, but just never had the opportunity to learn," says Kim Merrill '14, co-founder of Hackathon with Brennen Byrne '13 and Jesse Pollak '15.

"We always considered our mission as growing excitement around building things outside of the classroom—and creating a space where that experience was accessible to anyone."

(Byrne and Pollak have since launched their own startup, Clef)

Most of the students who sign up have never programmed before or taken a computer science class. Hack Week preps them to launch their high-octane 12-hour project, with students teaching other students HTML/CSS, databases, APIs, Javascript and more.  

Awards are given for best advanced and beginner projects, best design, best game and a people's choice award. Past winners include a mobile-friendly website called LightTime, where students from the 5Cs can view anything from dining hall hours to faculty office hours; an RSS feed visualizer to replace Google Reader; and an app that allows an iPhone to be used as a remote mouse/keyboard combo.

Professor of Computer Science Kim Bruce says the number of computer science majors has increased exponentially since Hackathon started and more non-computer science majors are taking courses.

For the founders, starting Hackathon was an opportunity to develop their own coding skills and stoke an entrepreneurial spirit at the 5Cs, Merrill says. She believes that goal has been met, as she sees more and more students are working on programming, creating apps or reading up on new technologies in their free time.

Of course, the race to code requires plenty of fuel. For the overnight event, students will be sustained by Krispy Kreme, the Crepes Bonaparte food truck and—a crowd favorite—those little Clementine oranges. At 3 a.m., students will gather outside the Lincoln-Edmunds Building for a two-minute street run (complete with screaming) to clear heads and shake off any brain drag.

"My first Hackathon was amazingly fun," says Christina Tong '17, who last year worked with friends on a Coop Fountain ordering website. "You get to pull an all-nighter with a team of friends, gorge on free food, and create a useful, cool tech project. When everything comes together at the end, it's an awesome feel."

Sponsors of Hackathon are Intuit, Cisco Meraki, Atlassian and The Silicon Valley Program.