Four Princeton undergrads traveled to Palo Alto, Calif., last weekend to compete at Facebook’s campus in a national hackathon programming competition. They ended the weekend with top honors for their program “Color Me Bold,” and a head start on a potential future business dispensing algorithmic fashion advice to end users over the Internet.
The platform, created by Daniel Chyan ’14, Angela Dai ’13, Tiantian Zha ’13 and Amy Zhou ’13, would allow users to take a photograph of an outfit and upload it a website that then recommends modifications to the outfit based on complementary color schemes.
If the idea seems fanciful or trivial, consider the technical obstacles the group overcame: The program first reads the photograph, then normalizes for the lighting, identifies colors and articles of clothing or accessories like ties or jewelry, generates advice based on color coordination algorithms, and finally displays the recommendation in a visually appealing format. And the team designed and built the program in a period of 24 hours.
The Princeton team’s ambitious and aggressively accelerated development process was in line with an unofficial motto that guides Facebook’s culture — “Move fast and break things,” said Zhou. With that in mind, Facebook provided competitors with RipStiks — an especially volatile kind of two-wheeled skateboard — and other toys to encourage them to physically move fast and break things while doing the same with their computer code.
Despite the teams’ intense competitiveness, the event was good-spirited and teams were happy to help one another where possible. “One of the guys from Carnegie Mellon even helped us work out a particularly stupid bug,” explained Zhou. “Whenever we weren’t coding, the atmosphere was mostly relaxed. ... Nerds are just happy to meet other friendly nerds, whether they’re competing with them or not.”
According to Dai, the grueling development process led to a kind of camaraderie fueled by energy drinks and “buoyed along with RipStiks and an [Xbox] Kinect.”
And the camaraderie wasn’t limited to the students — Facebook engineers oversaw and advised the teams throughout the process. For Dai, who previously had studied academic-track applied mathematics, the Facebook hackathon provided an intimate look at corporate employment. “Facebook is kind of the first company I’ve gotten to know,” explained Dai. “It’s very open ... and everyone’s really friendly.”
For more about the hackathon, including photos of the Princeton team, visit facebook.com/hackathon.

Gavin Schlissel ’13 is a molecular biology major from Moraga, Calif.