Twitter, GroupMe and Docracy are three very different innovations with one thing in common: All are well-known creations born from hackathon.
Organizers of HackRU, scheduled for October 12 to 13 at the Douglass Campus Center in New Brunswick, hope the next killer application will come from the minds and creative energies of Rutgers students.
A portmanteau of the words “hack” and “marathon,” the hackathon concept arose in 1999 during professional developer brainstorming sessions and spread rapidly all over the nation. Now primarily hosted by colleges, hackathons draw large numbers of people to engage in collaborative computer programming and create original applications within 24 to 48 hours.
More than 350 programmers are expected to turn out for Rutgers' fifth hackathon – to actualize ideas, enjoy some friendly competition and, for a lucky few, win prize money. Organized by the Undergraduate Student Alliance of Computer Scientists (USACS), HackRU has become a programming frenzy for computer science students, drawing such sponsors as Google, Yahoo and Facebook. Launched in 2011 by former Rutgers students Sameen Jalal and Vaibhav Verma, HackRU is a biannual event.
“It is only a matter of time until another Facebook or Google comes out of a hackathon. These events draw the best talent from all over and the environment is ripe with innovation,” said Jalal, 22, a co-founder of HackRU who graduated in 2013 with a degree in computer science and now works for Facebook.
Jalal landed his first internship with SinglePlatfrom at HackNY, which is co-organized by faculty from NYU and Columbia.
During HackRU, students are surrounded by mentors from sponsoring companies, such as Google, AT&T and SendGrid, and fellow hackers who are willing to help them envision and create applications. After 24 hours, the students present their final projects to the judges – from companies such as MongoDB and Mashery – and computer science professors, who decide which students will take the prize money home.
The sleepless students with frantic minds get fueled by unlimited food, energy drinks and even bubble tea at HackRU. During the last two HackRU events, an icecream truck came in to serve the participants.
“We entertain and feed students six meals throughout the event so that they do not have anything to worry about other than coming up with an application,” said Verma, 21, a graduate student who is majoring in computer science.Verma believes ordinary people can participate in hackathon events and be encouraged and challenged to learn new things from fellow students and mentors.
USACS president Billy Lynch, 21, says networking is a major draw for participants, since the event brings students and experts from all over the country.
Organizers say hackathons benefit both students and companies because students gain knowledge from mentors and often internships with one of the attending companies and businesses get to recruit young talents with infinite potential to create the next wildly popular application and promote their products.
“I love seeing the students’ passion. Some projects are amazing, some are crappy – but people at the event all learn something new and meet someone new,” said Jalal.
Although hackathons present the opportunity for students to nab internships and jobs, the event’s main purpose is to come up with brilliant ideas that will lead to the next fully polished applications and, perhaps, startup companies in the near future.