The EarthX 2018 hackathon took place in Austin, Texas between April 21st and April 22nd. The winners of the event were announced on April 23rd, 2018. The event centered around teams of hackers building a program while at the event, and showcasing the finished project in order to win a $3,000 grand prize. The winner of this year’s EarthX hackathon was an all-female team for building an Uber-style friend-finder called Roammate, which would allow people to plot destinations and meet up together through the app. Well, it turns out that the all-female development team didn’t actually build all the code themselves, nor was the project actually original.
The all-female team’s project, called Roamate, was originally posted up over on Devpost.com by five female students from Hockaday Highschool. It explains how the project works and that it was submitted to EarthxHack 2018. On the page they write…
“Being an all-girls team at an all-girls school, the importance of safety is immeasurable. Also, being part of our school’s environmental club, we wanted to create something that was environmentally friendly. So, we put our heads together to try and create something that embodies both of these things.
“We created an app that allows you to find a buddy when going on public transportation. After entering in your destination, our app finds the nearest public transportation and then finds other people going on a similar route. You can then contact them through the app to meet at a specific location and then travel with your buddy to your destinations.”
In the description they do note that they modified an Uber clone to turn it into the Roommate app. The lead coder on the team, going by the handle maymay3791, posted up their project over on github, which also reveals that it was based on code from YouTuber SimCoder.
As per the rules on the EarthxHack website, entrants were supposed to build their own project during the event and projects cannot be pre-made. The issue many people had was that not only was the project based on SimCoder’s work, but it was pre-made months in advance.
There’s a post over on the sub-reddit /r/PussyPass where the original coder explained that the all-female team used his code to win the EarthX hackathon. The coder, going by the handle of simCoderhere, explained that he wasn’t part of the hackathon but the team did use his code to win the contest. He explained in the post…
“I’m deeply saddened to see what I’ve worked for being used in this demeaning way. The goal behind this channel and all of the code that I write by myself and post on github is for learning purposes, mainly so that people that aren’t able to attend college (which I’m currently doing with a lot of effort) may learn and move up in life, in sum, to help anyone accomplish their dreams.
“If true, what this girls did is sickening, the lack of principles is beyond anything I’ve ever seen. With that being said, I’ve placed the MIT Licence in all my github code for a reason, it protects me in the eventuality that someone uses the code and something goes wrong with it which, because I don’t have the resources to defend myself in any legal battle is a must. The unfortunate effect of this is that the girls are able to use the code legally, even if it is completely copy and paste.”
It is true that he has been working on an Uber-style app and posting up his progress and how-to guides on YouTube over the course of the past year since 2017, under the channel SimCoder.
Various entrants to EarthxHack were quite livid that a project could win the hackathon when it wasn’t originally coded by the winning team, and furthermore, the concept of meeting up with friends based on an Uber-style app already exists… and it’s called Roammate.
Yes, as per the Twitter page, the app has been out since 2015.
Over on the official Roamateapp.com website the description of the app is identical to what the all-female team came up with for the hackathon.
After the news spread across on various sub-reddits, the organizers at EarthxHack were contacted, but the discussion thread on the site was removed.
Additionally, the entry for Roammate on the submissions page for EarthxHack was also removed. If you order the entries by alphabetical order, you’ll notice that “Roommate” no longer appears.
If you attempt to visit the developer post and check for updates, it turns out that after the story went viral on social media, the team removed the page and you can no longer access it.
All mention of the Roammate app for the EarthX hackathon competition has been seemingly scrubbed from the site. I did reach out to the organizers of the competition to find out exactly why they removed the winning submission, and if they choose to respond I’ll update the article accordingly.
(Thanks for the news tip Lyle)