This past weekend, four of us from the Metova-Conway office attended JOLT Hackathon at the Venture Center in the Little Rock Technology Park. There we faced off against 30 teams across Arkansas and Missouri in friendly capture-the-flag challenges ranging from Web Vulnerabilities and Forensics to Remote Access and Reverse Engineering. The event started Friday night, went all day Saturday (literally 7am – midnight), and most of Sunday. Throughout it all the Game Masters’ excitement and energy kept the teams going, provided hints and help, and always made sure that the focus of the event was to have fun.
The Metova Hackathon Team
Going in, we had people with a variety of experience levels on our team:
David Jones: Lead Developer
Alex Crafford: intern in the final year of his CS degree
Chandler Gaines and me, Karen Fletcher: graduates from the Arkansas Coding Academy Android development class, each of us with one year experience reading and writing code.
Despite our various levels and previous hackathon experience, we all found challenges we could tackle, and gained valuable experience from trying to work through puzzles we weren’t sure how to approach.
The Hackathon Challenges
Sometimes we were just overthinking possible ways to solve problems. The format of the challenges varied, but we were typically given a puzzle to solve and maybe a clue to help us get started. A lot of the puzzles were about logic and thinking differently which is often a key factor in programming. Because we were at a “hackathon” my first inclination was always to use code to solve the challenge, which turned out to be a false assumption. Several puzzles could be solved by hand on paper, by being curious and tinkering with settings, or by looking at what access we were given.
One of my favorite challenges in the Cryptography category was called Image Exfiltration. It involved finding not one but two hidden QR codes, and that was just beginning! The most fun challenge we faced as a team was the Physical Challenge of The Room. In it, we had to break into a forgetful communist hacker’s computer. Luckily, he left behind a locked case with clues to the password for his computer, a collection of books, a cube cipher, and a hidden riddle.
The JOLT Hackathon Experience
Despite the hackathon being a competition where contestants wanted to show off their skills and win, there was a lot of community in the room. We were there to learn, to have fun, and to meet other programmers in the area. It was a great and exhausting time. Everyone was well-fed and well-caffeinated (thanks JOLT Cola!), and the Game Masters were more than willing to help us progress through a challenge so we could continue to learn more about unfamiliar fields.
What We Would Do Differently
This was the first hackathon experience for me and my fellow ACA graduate, Chandler. We plan to go into the next hackathon with more experience in command line using UNIX/LINUX and a more in-depth knowledge of all the things you can easily do using Vim, a powerful text editing tool. A lot of the challenges involved penetrating local servers, or figuring out what access an account had to retrieve relevant information, which fall well outside the wheelhouse of what an IDE like Android Studio can do.
The Results Are In
While Metova didn’t bring home a 1st place trophy, we did bring home the Game Master’s Choice Award for being generally awesome and demonstrating Metova’s Nine Values throughout the event. We stayed positive, encouraging each other and other teams when we got stuck, reached out to more experienced teams for advice, and excitedly faced the challenges head-on as a way to experiment and stretch our skills. It was fun and challenging! Even when we got stuck we worked together as a team to have a great time and pushed for new things to try.
10/10 can’t wait for next season’s JOLT Hackathon.
*This post was co-written by Chandler Gaines