It happens so easily — your listening to one sad song, it becomes two, soon enough your daily playlist is filled with Adele and Phoebe Bridgers. While evidence shows sad songs can make listeners feel better, they can also intensify depressive symptoms. Moodify, a web app born at CruzHacks 2021, sets out to tackle this. 

The intervention mood-regulating web app analyzes the song a user is listening to and suggests the opposite. If a user plays a sad song, the app will suggest a more upbeat one. 

This was one of many projects created at CruzHacks, a weekendlong hackathon UC Santa Cruz hosts every year. Teams of students develop programs and apps that address problems in society. This year, the hackathon saw over 300 participants and 38 projects submitted.  

To shift the focus from competition to experience, this year’s organizing team eliminated the traditional first, second, and third place prizes. Instead, they created “Secret Prizes” to award a broader range of participants, experienced and not. Some of the Secret Prize categories were Most Ambitious, Most Useful, and Wildest Idea. 

Moodify, created by a team of four first-time hackers, won Most Ambitious. 

“We were especially inspired to do this project because on Spotify we can see what our friends are listening to,” the team wrote on their submission to Devpost, a hackathon project submission portal. “If they are listening to something sad, we’d often want to help them in some way but don’t know how to approach them or the situation.”

A variety in projects submitted is not uncommon. Co-organizers of the event, Neha Pamidi and Kelly Fesler said the projects are free to tackle any issue they want, although most project submissions are centered around current events. 

The event kicked off with keynote speakers Chancellor Cynthia Larive and Bev Crair, senior Vice President of Oracle Infrastructure. Pamidi and Fesler said the keynote speakers generated enthusiasm amongst the attendees. 

“Having [the chancellor] show up for a virtual event this year was exciting,” Fesler said. “A lot of the attendees weren’t aware that she was going to show up so that was a fun surprise for them, too.” 

Participants jumped into designing and building their projects at 9 p.m. on Jan. 15., working to meet the competition’s deadline 37 hours later at 10 a.m. on Jan. 17.

Devpost is a platform designed for hackathons where attendees share their creations to a network of software engineers.

Other CruzHacks 2021 projects include:

SlugLog, an app that allows you to find Banana Slugs near your location and study their habits 

Reconn, an app that helps the law enforcement respond to crimes in a safer manner

VacciNATION, an app that uses real time data of COVID-19 vaccine symptoms to reduce the fear of the vaccination

Over the weekend, attendees had the chance to participate in activities ranging from academic workshops like Software Ethics to a Bob Ross Paint Night.  

Navigating a virtual hackathon was a new experience for most of the organizing crew. Co-organizers Fesler and Pamidi said one of the biggest challenges of CruzHacks 2021 was maintaining communication between the organizers and the attendees.

Despite these challenges, organizers were encouraged for the future of CruzHacks. Timothy Nguyen, CruzHacks’ engineering team head, says the team’s efforts to adjust to a remote hackathon exposed opportunities for using virtual technology for future in-person events.

“Because everything was pushed virtual, we definitely strengthened how to communicate virtually and how to navigate being in a remote workspace,” Nguyen said. “Whether we are in-person or virtual next year, that aspect of being able to work and communicate all of the logistics of a hackathon in a virtual setting was really cool. I think we can even integrate that into how we market and plan out logistics next year.”