CC Coding Team Wins Top Prize at Harvard Hackathon

From l-r: CC computer science students Kylie Bogar '27, Primera Hour '25, David Prelinger '25, and Ronan Takizawa '26 pose at Harvard Hackathon. Photo provided by Ronan Takizawa
From l-r: CC computer science students Kylie Bogar '27, Primera Hour '25, David Prelinger '25, and Ronan Takizawa '26 pose at Harvard Hackathon. Photo provided by Ronan Takizawa

It's a high-tech Cinderella story that showcases CC students’ ability to think big and find solutions to life’s problems utilizing their intelligence, raw grit, courage, and determination. One in which this small, liberal arts school took on some of the biggest names in the Ivy League and won!

Four CC Computer Science students who met for the first time last week, participated in their first hackathon, and won first place!

They say they barely believe it themselves and are still laughing about their odds as they share what happened.

Ronan Takizawa ’26, Primera Hour ’25, David Prelinger ’25, and Kylie Bogar ’27 decided to participate in HackHarvard, a student-run hackathon where 100 teams of coders build a project with a prompt in a certain amount of time. They present their idea, demonstrate how it works, and then a team of judges decides who wins. There were about 600 participants from colleges and universities all over the country, including Harvard, Stanford, Penn, Rutgers, Boston University, and many more.

“Did I think about winning? No!” laughs Takizawa, a sophomore who leads the CC Coding Club. “But I was confident we’d get a project done at least. I told my team I think we should focus on getting the most out of this experience.“

Takizawa simply wanted to host a hackathon at CC sometime and had reached out to the organizers of HackHarvard to find out how to run one. The Harvard students invited him to participate in the eighth iteration of the event with the theme “Hack to the Future,” in order to see for himself.

“So, I assembled the Avengers and we met at Rastalls,” jokes Takizawa. “We didn’t even know each other last week. We flew out to Harvard’s campus last Friday, bonded there, and worked together. Our chemistry helped us perform well.”

After taking the red-eye to Boston on October 20 with about three hours of sleep among them, and “a lot of Red Bull and coffee,” they came up with "TeleSpeech," a Chrome Extension that converts messages on an app called Telegram into custom AI-generated speech, mimicking the distinct voice of the sender.

Text-to-speech exists everywhere in tech, but there aren’t many services that use people’s actual voices. This is what made their project stand out. In a group chat, friends write their text but they hear each other’s voice. The team was able to use tools available to them and make them interact with each other using resources they already know.

The implications of this technology are far-reaching. Not only does hearing a text in your own voice create the nuance and emotion inherent in human speech, but it also helps users with special needs who rely on text-to-speech, as this feature assists them in identifying who is talking when vocalizing the messages.

“On the final day, (Sunday, October 22) David and Primera had to leave early to catch a flight back to Colorado, so Kylie and I had to present,” says Takizawa. “It was kind of like a science fair, with tables lined up in different rooms. We had three judges who reviewed our project. We gave a three-minute presentation and showcased a demo. We thought we did a great job presenting and left a good impression, but we weren’t sure. Later, Kylie was fast asleep on the floor and a lady woke her up and told her she was in the final round.”

Bogar adds, “I got woken up by this lady who said ‘you’re going to finals.’ Everyone was very nervous. I thought we did a good job. But I didn’t think we did the best job. I had medium high hopes.”

“So, we walk into this room with 15 judges,” continues Takizawa. “It was a mix of senior Harvard Computer Science Students, software engineers, and venture capitalists.

The two did the presentation, showcased their project, and answered a few questions about the technology they used and how it works. Then came the closing ceremony when HackHarvard announced the awards.

“We thought if we won anything we’d get an accessibility award,” says Takizawa.

“Yes, the awards we thought we might win went by, but we didn’t win those,” adds Bogar. “So, I figured we didn’t win anything. Then I thought how funny would it be if we got first place. Again, I was like, nah, that’s not happening.”

That was when the Best Overall Winner was announced. First Place: TeleSpeech by the Colorado College coding team.

“My jaw was literally on the floor like a cartoon,” laughs Bogar. “It was wild!”

Bogar and Takizawa accepted four newest-generation iPads as their prize, along with all of the clout that comes with winning a hackathon.

“It almost feels like a Cinderella story,” says Hour, who joined CC’s Coding Club last year and has the least amount of experience. “If the Block Plan prepared me for anything, it was this hackathon. It felt like I was doing a project on finals weekend.”

“Competing with students from Harvard was pretty intimidating,” Hour admits. “I just learned to type ‘Hello World’ two years ago and now I’m winning HackHarvard!”

“I had just landed in Denver, opened my phone, and saw on a group chat that we won first prize and I thought they were pranking me!” says Prelinger, a junior who says he has “decent” programming experience. “I met Primera in the airport and she confirmed it. I saw the photos. I said ‘I won’t believe it until I see it.’ I needed to see the iPads to make sure they’re not trolling me!”

“I saw so many teams from colleges with high reputations and I thought they all probably have known each other longer and have competed in hackathons a lot before,” adds Prelinger. “The Chrome Extension thing was pretty new to me though.”

The team plans to continue working on “TeleSpeech,” including services and expanding it to work on other messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram. Takizawa is considering uploading it to the Chrome Extension store.

“I figure it’s an idea that can really sell. We might need more financial support though,” Takizawa says.

Takizawa and his team were able to pay their way to Massachusetts with help from the Career Center at CC using funds from the Class of 1981 Professional Development Fund, which is a fund to which alumni can donate to support students’ professional development opportunities.

Report an issue - Last updated: 10/27/2023